Notes on Early New Testament Manuscripts

Related posts:

From Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & New Testament by Philip W. Comfort (see Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon).

Given a twenty-five year lifespan for a church codex, whether of Paul’s epistles or of the four Gospels, it could be guessed that there would be about two hundred copies by the beginning of the second century. There would be an additional 250–300 church copies by the end of second century.  [Kindle location 1376]

J. Duplacy estimated that the total number of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament produced in the fourth century was between fifteen hundred and two thousand.  This allows for about four or five copies produced by each church (or diocese) during this century.  There were about four hundred dioceses towards AD 400.  [Kindle location 1525]

Notes on Early Christian Churches

Related posts:

From Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & New Testament by Philip W. Comfort (see Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon).

By the end of the second century, there was a church in almost every major city [in the Greco-Roman world].  [Kindle location 1353]

There were, of course, other churches in villages and the countryside. But these city churches totaled forty-three in the first century and another fifty-four in the second. Roughly, one hundred local churches were in existence by the year 200.  [Kindle location 1369]

From Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado, Baylor University Press, 2016, page 3.  In his footnote, Hurtado cites as his source Keith Hopkins in “Christian Number and Its Implications (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 1998) for this information.  He also cites two additional sources for this kind of information.

One recent estimate of the number of sites where there were bodies or “communities” of Christians posits a hundred or so (many of these comprising several house-based groups) by 100 AD and two hundred to four hundred sites by 200 AD.

New Evidence on When Bible Was Written: Ancient Shopping Lists 


…a new analysis of the handwriting suggests that literacy may have been far more widespread than previously known in the Holy Land around 600 B.C., toward the end of the First Temple period. The findings, according to the researchers from Tel Aviv University, could have some bearing on a century-old debate about when the main body of biblical texts was composed.

(a 5-minute read; 1,142 words)

Source: New Evidence on When Bible Was Written: Ancient Shopping Lists – The New York Times (April 11, 2016)

An Illustrated Introduction to Leviticus

This video clip (length: 8:16) gives an overview of the third book of Moses:  Leviticus.

Source:  The Bible Project

Posts on the Means of Determining Authorship of Ancient Texts

The following posts give information on how the authorship of New Testament texts was originally determined…and that it is the same method by which authorship is determined for all ancient texts.

Notes on Tregelles re: Authorship of the New Testament Books

Notes on Augustine re: Authorship of the New Testament Books (Contra Faustum 33:6)

Notes on Archibald Alexander re: Authorship of the New Testament Books

Notes on Archibald Alexander re: Authorship of the New Testament Books

Alexander, Archibald (1772-1851).  The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained; or, The Bible, Complete, without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions.  Presbyterian Board of Education, 1851.  Alexander was one of the founders, and the first principal, of Princeton Theological Seminary.  Alexander, B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and A. A. Hodge (named after Alexander) became known as the “Princeton theologians” and left a distinctive mark on the history of American Christianity.  (This information copied and pasted from Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.)

It is necessary, therefore, to proceed to our destined point in a more circuitous way. We must be at the pains to examine into the history of the Canon, and, as was before said, to ascertain what books were esteemed canonical by all those who had the best opportunity of judging of this matter; and when the internal evidence is found corroborating the external, the two, combined, may produce a degree of conviction which leaves no room to desire any stronger evidence.

The question to be decided is a matter of fact. It is an inquiry respecting the real authors of the books of the New Testament, whether they were written by the persons whose names they bear, or by others under their names. The inspiration of these books, though closely allied to this subject, is not now the object of inquiry. The proper method of determining a matter of fact, evidently is to have recourse to those persons who were witnesses of it, or who received their information from others who were witnesses. It is only in this way that we know that Homer, Horace, Virgil, Livy, and Tully [i.e., Cicero], wrote the books which now go under their names.  [Emphasis added]

The early Christians pursued this method of determining what books were canonical.  They searched into the records of the church, before their time, and from these ascertained what books should be received, as belonging to the sacred volume. They appeal to that certain and universal tradition, which attested the genuineness of these books. Irenæus, Tertullian,
Eusebius, Cyril, and Augustine, have all made use of this argument, in establishing the Canon of the New Testament. (p. 117-118; p. 69 on the pdf I am using, downloaded from the Internet Archive)

Parenthetically, while Alexander was making this point in America, Samuel P. Tregelles was making it in England.  See Notes on Tregelles re: Authorship of the New Testament Books.  (Tregelles wrote an entire book on the subject, and these notes recount its logic.)


For other posts on this subject, see Posts on the Means of Determining Authorship of Ancient Texts.

Notes on the Authorship of Hebrews

This post is a compilation of various notes on the authorship of the book of Hebrews.  They are not in any particular order.

Regarding the sources cited here, in some cases more information may be found for them at Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.


A Modern Scholar Makes Case for Paul as Author

Black, David Alan.  The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul.  Energion Publications, 2013.


Hebrews as a Speech of Paul’s Documented by Luke

Pitts, Andrew W. and Joshua F. Walker. “The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship.” In Paul and His Social Relations. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Pitts and Walker argue that “…Hebrews likely represents a Pauline speech, probably originally delivered in a Diaspora synagogue, which Luke documented in some way during their travels together and which Luke later published as an independent speech to be circulated among house churches in the Jewish-Christian Diaspora.”


Bart Ehrman Thinks Hebrews Implies It Is from Paul

In Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011), Bart Ehrman declares that:

…Paul did not write Hebrews…  (p. 33)

Ehrman also makes clear that in this regard he is speaking on behalf of modern scholarship:

The anonymous book of Hebrews was assigned to Paul, even though numbers of early Christian scholars realized that Paul did not write it, as scholars today agree.  (p. 221)

Yet he suggests that the writer of Hebrews wanted readers to think that he was Paul – in other words, that ancient scholars were for this reason duped:

The book of Hebrews was particularly debated ; the book does not explicitly claim to be written by Paul, but there are hints at the end that the author wants readers to think that he’s Paul (see Hebrews 13:22– 25). For centuries its Pauline authorship was a matter of dispute. The book was finally admitted into the canon only when nearly everyone came to think Paul must have written it. (p. 22)

Also anonymous are the book of Acts and the letters known as 1, 2, and 3 John . Technically speaking, the same is true of the book of Hebrews; the author never mentions his name, even if he wants you to assume he’s Paul. 12  (p. 23)

12. This has recently been argued in Clare Rothschild, Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon: The History and Significance of the Pauline Attribution of Hebrews (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009).  (p. 268)

Scholars are highly unified in thinking that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews, even though it was included in the canon of the New Testament by church fathers who thought that it was. 9  (p. 228)

9. For an argument that the author intends to make his readers think he was Paul, see Clare Rothschild, Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009).  (p. 288)

Here is Amazon’s description of the Rothschild book:

The history of scholarship on Hebrews attests a tension between the originality and Pauline character of its epistolary postscript (Hebrews 13:20-25). Generally speaking, scholars accepting the postscript’s originality reject its Pauline character, while those rejecting its originality accept its reliance on Paul’s letters. The Pauline character of the postscript is especially problematic for implying Paul’s authorship of the book – a thesis that is all but dispensed with today. Clare K. Rothschild argues that if Hebrews’ postscript is both original and imitative of Paul’s letters, and if this imitation on the part of the author of Hebrews deliberately identifies the author as Paul, the entire book of Hebrews merits consideration as a pseudepigraphon. Examining Hebrews from this perspective, Rothschild makes the case that neither the postscript nor the rest of Hebrews was composed de novo. Rather, it deliberately adopts words and phrases – including citations from the Jewish Scriptures – from a collection of Pauline materials, in order to imply Paul’s authorship of a message that stands in continuity with esteemed Pauline traditions. Furthermore, the longstanding tradition of Hebrews’ Pauline attribution suggests that it never circulated independently of other works attributed to Paul but was composed to amplify an early corpus Paulinum. This is the first ever monograph to examine the history of Hebrews’ Pauline attribution and the significance of this attribution for our understanding of the book and its author’s indebtedness to Pauline traditions.  [emphasis mine]

Thus Ehrman and Rothschild are agreeing that anyone – ancient or modern – who thinks that Paul wrote Hebrews is thinking what the writer intended its readers to think.  Ehrman is thus saying that the “anonymity” of Hebrews is a technicality (see his words from p. 23 of his book above).  That Ehrman thinks the writer was lying about this is a separate issue.  The point is that Ehrman thinks Hebrews claims to be written by Paul.


A 19th-Century Author on Origen’s Oft-Quoted Statement

Tregelles, Samuel P. (1813-1875). A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament. Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852.

Origen (184-254) famously wrote, “Men of old have handed it down as Paul’s, but who wrote the Epistle God only knows.”  Samuel P. Tregelles makes clear in the section of his book titled “Epistle to the Hebrews” (p. 52-54) that Origen attributed Hebrews to Paul and was only referring in his statement to the question of who used the pen.

In the early centuries it was but little known in the West, and thus, in the Canon in Muratori, it is not mentioned. In the East, however, it was well known and received, and there it was ascribed to the Apostle Paul.  (p. 52)

The difficulty connected with its authorship being directly ascribed to St. Paul, is principally found in the omission of his name at the beginning, and the difference of style throughout.  Thus, some of those who ascribed it in a general sense to St. Paul, thought that the ideas were his, but that the language was that of another; in fact, that it bore the same relation to St. Paul, as St. Luke’s Gospel does to him, and St. Mark’s to St. Peter.  Thus Origen, who quotes this Epistle as St. Paul’s, says, that of the actual writer ‘God only knoweth.”  [emphasis his]  (p. 54)

Others through the ages have made this point as well, perhaps most notably David Alan Black in The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul in which he gives many other quotes of Origen demonstrating just this point, but, alas, it’s a point that continues to be lost in all the superficial observations made about the authorship of Hebrews in our time.


Jerome and Augustine Attributed Hebrews to Paul

Alexander, Archibald (1772-1851). The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained; or, The Bible, Complete, without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions. Presbyterian Board of Education, 1851.


Jerome, in speaking of the writings of Paul, gives the following very full and satisfactory testimony: “He wrote,” says he, “nine epistles to seven churches. To the Romans, one; to the Corinthians, two; to the Galatians, one; to the Philippians, one; to the Colossians, one; to the Thessalonians, two; to the Ephesians, one; to Timothy, two; to Titus, one; to Philemon, one. But the epistle called to the Hebrews is not thought to be his, because of the difference
of argument and style; but rather Barnabas’s, as Tertullian thought; or Luke’s, according to some others; or Clement’s, who was afterwards bishop of Rome; who being much with Paul, clothed and adorned Paul’s sense in his own language. Or if it be Paul’s, he might decline putting his name to it in the inscription, for fear of offending the Jews. Moreover, he wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, it being his own language; whence it came to pass, that being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles. This they say is the reason of its differing from Paul’s other writings. There is also an epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by every body.” Jerome commonly quotes the epistle to the Hebrews as the apostle Paul’s; and, as we have seen before, this was his prevailing opinion, which is not contradicted in the long passage just cited.  (p. 129)


 Augustine received fourteen epistles of Paul, the last of which, in his catalogue, is the epistle to the Hebrews; he was aware, however, that some in his time thought it of doubtful authority. “However,” says he, “I am inclined to follow the opinion of the churches of the east, who receive it among the canonical Scriptures.”  (p. 130)

Alexander discusses other ancient opinions, including that of Eusebius, in the same section of this book.


Notes on Forgery and Pseudepigraphy

This post is about forgeries and pseudepigrapha in ancient times – whether merely alleged or actually proven, and whether alleged by ancient scholars or modern ones.


What the Ancients Thought About Forgeries

This is found in Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.

Most church leaders did not appreciate fabricated documents.  But there were plenty to go around.  (p. 18)

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.  (p. 22)


Where Bart Ehrman and J. I. Packer Agree

Chapter 2 of Forged (titled “Alternatives to Lies and Deception”), Bart Ehrman writes (on p. 115):

Scripture says that it is inspired or breathed out by God. God does not and cannot lie. Therefore Scripture does not and cannot contain lies. Forgery, on the other hand, involves lying. For that reason there can be no forgeries in the Bible.  This conservative evangelical view is still very much held by some scholars today, at least by conservative evangelical scholars. But I should emphasize it is a view that is built on theological premises of what has to be true , not on the grounds of what actually is true.

Ehrman marks an endnote right after “true” which reads (on p. 280):

A partial exception may be the view of evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie, who tries to argue on historical, rather than dogmatic, grounds that there can be no forgeries in the New Testament; see his “The Development of the Idea of Canonical Pseudipigrapha in New Testament Criticism,” Vox Evangelica 1 (1962): 43– 59.

Guthrie’s article can be found online here.   In the article, Guthrie quotes J. I. Packer in this section:

Among those who during the period since the rise of criticism have maintained the rejection of canonical pseudepigrapha two different approaches may be discerned, the dogmatic and the historical. The former approach is well represented by a recent writer, J. I. Packer, who makes the following assertion, “We may lay down as a general principle that, when biblical books specify their own authorship, the affirmation of their canonicity involves a denial of their pseudonymity. Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.” [49] He goes on to assert that since the New Testament books were received into the canon, that must ipso facto rule out the possibility of pseudonymous authorship for any New Testament writing. “As we have seen, if a New Testament book is not authentically apostolic, and if it makes false assertions (as on this hypothesis these books do), then it has not the nature of Scripture, and has no place in the New Testament canon. But the fact is that these books established their place in the canon of the early Church, and have been studied and expounded in the Church for centuries without anything unworthy of their apparent authors, or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, either in teaching or in tone, being found in them.” [50]

The footnotes are to Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), pages 184 and 185, respectively.  Guthrie goes on to say:

Packer argues strongly for the description of pseudonymous works as “forgeries”. He defines it as follows. “The dictionary definition of ‘forgery’ is fraudulent imitation, as such, irrespective of its aim, the point of the fraud being simply to get one’s own product accepted as somebody else’s”. [51] Moreover, in answer to those who postulate the highest motives, Packer maintains, “frauds are still fraudulent, even when perpetrated from noble motives”.[52] The difficulty which arises here is that different minds have different notions of what is meant by “forgery”.

The footnotes are, again, to Packer’s book, this time pages 183 and 184, respectively.

Parenthetically, regarding Packer’s view let me add what I myself found in his book because it defines his position in the most pithy way:

Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.  (p. 184)

…to deny authenticity is to deny canonicity also.  (p. 186)

 Having given Packer as his example of the “dogmatic” approach, Guthrie then goes on to give examples of the “historical” approach, which I’ll not reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that while Guthrie may respect Packer’s theological justification for rejecting pseudonymous works, he considers historical justification “more enlightened.”

The primary point for our purposes is that while Ehrman emphatically rejects Packer’s theological views, the two men are in full agreement about the definition of forgery and that any pseudonymous work deserves that label whether it is in the New Testament canon or not.  Thus Ehrman insists that the New Testament contains forgeries and Packer insists that it does not – both men fully agreeing on what constitutes a forgery.


Where Bruce Metzger Disagrees with Ehrman and Packer

Bruce Metzger wrote “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 3-24.

The idea of pseudepigrapha being in the New Testament does not bother Metzger as it bothers Packer.  Metzger begins his concluding paragraph with:

The recognized custom of antiquity allowed historians great freedom in representing the sentiments of those about whom they wrote by means of imaginary speeches, founded more or less on what was actually said. If, indeed, an entire book should appear to have been composed in order to present vividly the thoughts and feelings of an important person, there would not seem to be in this circumstance any reason to say that it could not be divinely inspired. Why, then, should inspiration be denied if, as in the case of 2 Peter (which most scholars believe was written about A.D. 125-140), the author appears to have drawn up the treatise in the name of Simon Peter (1:1) and with details lending a high degree of verisimilitude (e.g., the reference to having been present at the Transfiguration, 1:17-18) in order to recall second and third generation Christians back to the orthodox teaching and practice held to have been inculcated by Peter himself?

Metzger then concludes his essay with this sentence:

In short, since the use of the literary form of pseudepigraphy need not be regarded as necessarily involving fraudulent intent, it cannot be argued that the character of inspiration excludes the possibility of pseudepigraphy among the canonical writings.

While Packer would say that 2 Peter must have been written by Peter or else it wouldn’t be part of the New Testament canon, Metzger says it could still be canonical even if Peter didn’t write it, and Ehrman says that irrespective of its canonicity or lack thereof it was not written by Peter.  Thus modern scholars argue amonst themselves while ancient scholars settled the matter long ago – in favor of Peter’s authorship.


Miscellaneous Notes on Bart Ehrman

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.

This is found on p. 22 of Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.  Oddly, Ehrman does not go on to explain in this book why he thinks the ancients’ vetting process failed, nor what makes his vetting process superior to theirs.