Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Divine Revelation and the Inspiration of Biblical Writings

     While God’s will has been communicated to humans in a variety of ways throughout history, it is now revealed through a “Son” (Heb. 1:1-3), viz. God’s Son (Heb. 1:5; 5:5; 6:6), Jesus the Christ (Heb. 3:6; 4:14; cf. Matt. 17:5; 28:18; John 12:48; Acts 3:22). Christ’s authority is conveyed in his words (John 8:31-32; 12:48; 14:23; 15:3, 7), and from the earliest days of the Christian movement, his teachings have been considered authoritative (cf. Acts 11:16; 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-25; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 John 1:1-4).
     The Holy Spirit was sent to transmit the authoritative message of Christ through inspired men (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:13; Acts 1:1-8; Heb. 2:3-4). Supernaturally-guided apostles and prophets communicated the divine message both orally and in written form (John 21:24; Eph. 3:1-6; 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:1; Rev. 1:10-11). The will of God is communicated via Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-3; 12:24), via the Spirit (Heb. 3:7; 10:15), via the word (Heb. 3:7; 4:12; 10:15-17).1
     The inspired message was complete and sufficient in both its oral and written forms (Acts 20:27; Rom. 15:14; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3; cf. 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:16-17; Tit. 1:9). We now have access to the complete message of God through these inspired writings (John 20:30-31; Eph. 3:3-5; Rev. 1:10-11; 2:1, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17). The divine chain of authority is God→ Christ→ Spirit→ apostles/ prophets→ written word.
The Process of Revelation and Inspiration
     Much can be learned about the process of divine revelation and inspiration from the Old Testament, which serves as the backdrop for the composition of the New Testament. Approximately 130 times in the Hebrew Bible one finds the expression (or one comparable to it), “The word of the Lord came to …” (Isa. 1:2; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; etc.), connected to twenty-eight different persons, the majority of whom were writing prophets (M. C. Tenney, The Bible 15-17). While God is recognized as the ultimate source of the divine message (cf. Ex. 4:12; Deut. 18:18; 2 Sam. 23:2), human instrumentality is also acknowledged (cf. Josh. 1:7; 8:31; 24:26; Mark 7:6, 10; 12:36-37; Acts 4:25; 28:25; Rom. 10:5, 20; 11:9).
     The Bible is the word of God communicated through the words of men. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).2
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See also Heb. 2:3-4; Matt. 10:18-20; Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 20:24-32; 1 Cor. 7:40; 11:23; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 2 Pet. 1:2-21.
     2 Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.

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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Production of a New Testament Document (Part 2 of 2)

Book Forms
     It is probable that most, if not all, of the original New Testament documents were written in scroll (or roll) form. The length of the writing determined the size of the scroll, usually no more than twenty sheets pasted together, about a foot (30 cm) high and seldom exceeding thirty-five feet (10.5 m) in length. Extant papyrus scrolls of the Egyptian Book of the Dead are more than 100 feet (30 m) long, but they were meant to be buried in a tomb, not read. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts would have each filled a papyrus scroll of thirty-one or thirty-two feet (9.5 m) in length, thus having to be issued in two volumes instead of one. The English word “volume” comes from the Latin volumen, meaning “something rolled up” (cp. biblion in Luke 4:17, 20; John 20:30; Rev. 6:14). The text was written in many columns (each two or three inches [5-7½ cm] wide), so that the unused part of the scroll could be neatly rolled up on the left- and right-hand sides.
     It is possible that some of the New Testament documents, particularly those originating in major industrialized centers like Rome, were composed in codex form. A codex was shaped much like a modern book, consisting of several leaves or pages bound together. This form came into widespread use near the end of the 1st century AD.1 It was a more convenient form than the scroll, especially for reading and for text reference, and also for writing on both sides (reducing the cost of production). The codex allowed multiple volumes (e.g. all four Gospels or all the Pauline epistles) to be collected into a single book. Very early on Christians adopted and popularized the codex format in preference to the scroll. Of the approximately 172 extant biblical manuscripts or fragments transcribed prior to AD 400 or not long thereafter, all but fourteen were produced in codex form.
     Uncial or Majuscule script consists of unconnected capital letters (sometimes called “book-hand”). The word “uncial” is derived from the Latin uncia, meaning “a 12th part,” or perhaps uncialis, meaning “inch-high.” It has been suggested that the term came to be applied to writings that occupied about one-twelfth of an ordinary line of text. This term has a precise meaning in Latin writing but only a derived and less precise meaning in Greek (see B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT 17; J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to NT Textual Criticism 17).
     In the earlier centuries practically no accents, breathing or punctuation marks or adornments were used, with no division between words – a style known as scriptio continua. While scriptio continua admittedly had the potential of causing ambiguity in the text, this was less likely in the Greek language with, among other things, its structure of word endings. Greek words typically end in vowels (or diphthongs) or in one of only three consonants (nu, rho, sigma), and ancient texts were read aloud and copied syllable by syllable rather than letter by letter. Moreover, the original apostolic documents were personally delivered and publicly read by someone well acquainted with the message (cf. Acts 15:22-32; Eph. 6:21-22; Phil. 2:19-25; Col. 4:7-9). In English, the expression GODISNOWHERE could be read as either, “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” However, in Greek, the expression ΟΘΕΟΣΠΑΡΕΣΤΙΝΝΥΝ can only mean, “God is now here,” with no ambiguity. New Testament manuscripts earlier than the 10th century were written in uncial letters.
     Minuscule is descriptive of smaller (lower-case) letters. Cursive writing, wherein letters were connected and could be written rapidly, was used for non-literary documents (e.g. personal notes, receipts, lists, etc.). Although the terms “cursive” and “minuscule” are sometimes used interchangeably, “cursive” applies to the less formal style of non-literary documents, while “minuscule” refers to a neater form used for literary texts (such as New Testament manuscripts). In the early 9th century AD cursive was modified and formalized into the minuscule style that was suitable for literature; by the end of the 10th century it had replaced uncial for literary purposes. About nine-tenths of the extant Greek New Testament manuscripts are written in the minuscule style.
     It was a common practice during the Hellenistic age for skilled writers (amanuenses) to be employed for writing just about any document, from literary works and legal records to business transcripts and personal letters. In particular Paul seems to have followed the customary practice of his contemporaries by employing the aid of secretarial expertise (Rom. 16:22) and then writing his own subscription (1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philem. 19), although Paul was not the only biblical writer who utilized secretarial assistance (cf. Jer. 36:1-4; 1 Pet. 5:12; Acts 15:22-23).2
     Beyond the oral transmission of divine revelation, biblical documents serve as an extension of prophetic and apostolic teaching. More than paper and ink and human instrumentality, these writings communicate God’s will for mankind. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See C. H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat, Birth of the Codex 54-61. In Epigram 1.2 of the Roman poet Martial (d. 102), dated 84-86, reference is made to writings in the codex form (see C. P. Thiede and M. D’Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus 103-105); cf. D. C. Parker, NT Manuscripts 13-21.
     2 This convention is clearly demonstrated in the papyri (cf. E. G. Turner, Greek Papyri: An Introduction 82-83). See also R. N. Longenecker, “Ancient Amanuenses,” in New Dimensions in NT Study 282-87; E. R. Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul; G. J. Bahr, “Paul and Letter Writing in the Fi[rst] Century” 465-477; “The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters” 27-41; J. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer 8-16; M. P. Prior, Paul the Letter-Writer.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The Production of a New Testament Document (Part 1 of 2)

Writing materials
     Materials used to transmit writing in antiquity included stone, wood, bone, clay and wax tablets, various metals, ostraca (potsherds), papyrus, and parchment (or vellum). Only the latter two were used for New Testament manuscripts. Papyrus was the most inexpensive and convenient writing material, and thus the more commonly used. It is almost certain that the original New Testament documents were written on papyrus. 
     The center section of the papyrus plant,1 growing primarily in the marshlands of Egypt along the Nile, was cut into thin strips laid side by side with a second layer added crosswise, then pressed together to form sheets of primitive “paper” (see Pliny, Natural History 13.74-82). The English word “paper” (via Old French) comes from the Latin papyrus, which is transliterated from the Greek papuros
     The center section (pith) of the papyrus plant was known as biblos or bublos, and the resulting sheet of writing material was called chartēs (from which we get the English word “chart”), mentioned in 2 John 12. A roll of papyrus sheets that contained a particular writing was also called biblos or biblion (from which we get the English words “bibliography” and “Bible”), and if a plurality of rolls were required for a particular work, each roll was called tomos (from which we get the English word “tome”).
     Parchment (tanned animal skin) was used as a writing material from very ancient times but did not come into common use until the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The term “parchment” is derived from the name Pergamum (a city in Mysia of Asia Minor), noted for its fine quality of parchment (pergamēnē) or vellum, which it manufactured and exported. The words “parchment” and “vellum” are sometimes used interchangeably, but vellum is a superior quality of parchment usually made of calfskin. For parchment the skins of cattle, sheep, goats, and antelopes were used.2 This writing material was more durable than papyrus and better suited for writing on both sides. Practically all of the extant New Testament manuscripts from the 4th–14th centuries are transcribed on parchment.
Writing Utensils
     The type of writing instrument was generally determined by the material upon which the writing was done; e.g., a stylus (made of metal, ivory or bone with a pointed end) was commonly used on wax tablets. The reed pen (kalomos) was the standard writing utensil throughout antiquity, particularly for papyrus and parchment documents, mentioned in 3 John 13. The earliest reed pens were frayed at the end like a brush, but later they had a sharpened point with a split. Virtually all extant papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament were written with a reed pen.3
     Black ink (melan) was typically used (2 Cor. 3:3; 2 John 12; 3 John 13).4 It was made in one of two ways: charcoal or soot or lamp-black and gum were dissolved in water, or nut-galls were ground and mixed with other ingredients to form a black ink, although it would eventually fade into a rusty-brown color (as in Codex B and Codex D). A nut-gall is “a curious ball-like tumor, about the size of a small marble, that grows mainly on the leaves or twigs of oak trees. It is formed when the gall wasp lays its egg in the growing bud of the tree and a soft, pale green, apple-like sphere begins to form around the larva” (B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT 10). Later additional colors were used (mostly for decorative purposes), including red, gold, silver, brown, blue, yellow, and purple.
     Other tools included bronze and earthenware inkwells, a knife for sharpening or making a new pen, a sponge for erasing mistakes or cleaning the pen, and a pumice stone for smoothing the writing surface.
     In order for God’s revealed word to be available through the centuries, it needed to be transmitted in written form. Biblical writers used the materials available at the time to disseminate and preserve the divine message. This, in conjunction with the providential working of God, has ensured that “the word of the LORD endures forever” (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 “The plant has a root as thick as a person’s arm and tapers gracefully up with triangular sides …” (J. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer 4). “Its broad root stretches horizontally under the mud, and from this rise several strong stalks, triangular in cross section; short brown leaves protect the base…. growing to a height of 12 or 15 feet. At its top the stalk splits into a mass of strands (the umbel), and at the end of these the plant produces small brown flowers. The stalk of the papyrus plant has a tough green rind that contains an ivory white pith …” (B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT 4).
     2 For a good description of the process of making parchment, see B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT 9-10.
     3 The Egyptian reed pens were mostly the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses, especially from the bamboo plant, that served as a primitive form of a fountain pen. One end was cut into the form of a pen nib or point, ink filled the stem, and the reed forced the fluid to the nib. The quill pen was introduced later and eventually replaced the reed pen for writing on parchment.
     4 The Hebrew word for ink is deyo because of its blackness (cf. Jer. 36:18). There is uncertainty as to whom the invention of ink is to be attributed, whether the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Babylonians, or the Phoenicians.

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