Archive for October 17th, 2012

It has been a while since I last posted.  Please forgive me for my long delay.  There have been many responsibilities that I had to take care of the last couple of months.  At any rate, right now, I would like to continue my series on the “The Canon of the New Testament in Church History.”  The last post I did on this series can be found in this link: https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-canon-of-the-new-testament-in-church-history-lesson-2/.

Lesson 3:  I have titled this section, The Early Circulation of the Writings.  This lesson will focus on the encyclical characters of the autographs.  Details of how the autographs circulated from church to church will be discussed during a time where the NT took some time for recognition to sink into the churches.

The Circulation of Writings at the Early Years:

When studying the early circulation of the writings, one must understand that we are studying the formation of the canon.  The completion or consummation of the canon did not depend on the church receiving the NT books.  The truth is that the canon was already completed when the last book was completed, Revelation.  This is important to note for the student because the canon had all the authority even before the church recognized the authority of the NT books.  For the church, recognition took time.[1]

When the autographs arrived at its particular destination and was received by the recipient or recipients, it probably remained there for a long time.  After being publicly read, it would be preserved in the archives of the communities in which they were addressed.  They were also read repeatedly, but went no further.  However, there was an exception to this rule.  The exception to this rule included those books, which were encyclical (letter intended for a wide or general circulation) in character.  Because of the encyclical character of so many of the epistles, increased demand created a need to have a multiplication of copies so that the churches in the address may have its own copy.  Besides the epistles, books like Revelation, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians were also encyclical in nature.  Ephesians was probably also a circular letter to all of the churches in the Roman province of Asia:[2][3]  It is important to note also that the local churches would have copies of only a few apostolic epistles, and perhaps one or two gospels.  These collections were gradually formed over time.  Other books held by the local church besides the gospels and epistles were the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation of John.  See Acts 1:1 and Revelation 1:3.[4]

Eph. 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Col 4:16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.

There are more details that need to be discussed regarding the circular letters.  When the Churches had become possessors of the epistles or gospels, the word would get out to the addressee’s possession of the writing.  Because of this, requests would be made so that there would be copies of these authoritative texts utilized in other localities.  Even private persons were permitted to probably make copies or extracts for their own use of those parts that interested them.  The requests were honored and the copies became widespread over a period of time. And gradually they were made into sets of books.  It is also important to keep in mind that the evidence for such collections of the inspired writings comes from a very early time, a time even before the 27 books were composed or placed together.[1][2]

I also mentioned earlier that the autographs were written on papyrus sheets which were then joined together in a roll-form.  From an early date, the NT writings were circulated in the form of papyrus codices.  In a codex (singular), the sheets of paper would be placed on top upon another, which is similar to how modern books are constructed.  Then the sheets were folded down the middle and connected either by sewing or gluing.  Upon discovery, some of the codices were quite large.  One of the largest is the p45 which is one of the Chester Beatty series that contained 59 sheets or 118 leaves.  When it comes to codex format, there are advantages.[7]

Portions of Luke’s Gospel in P45 Chester Beatty Papyrus. The earliest papyrus to contain portions of all four gospels and Acts dated c.250 AD. [8]

Definition of codex from Milligan

Here is how Milligan defined the codex:

The original meaning of the word codex was the trunk of a tree (caudex), and hence it came to be applied to the pile of wooden tablets (pugillares) smeared over the wax, which were commonly used both by the Greeks and Romans for ordinary writing purposes, as when a ledger was called codex accepti et expensi.  And from this again the word was extended to denote any collection of papyrus or parchment sheets, in which the sheets were not rolled within one another, but laid over one another, as in a modern book.”[9] 

One advantage of the codex is that the writer is able to write on both sides, which conserves space.  The second advantage —it makes referencing easier when going through the pages.

The third format was the “parchment codex.”  The adoption of the parchment for literary purposes may be dated back to the reign of Eumenes II at Pergamum, B.C. 197-158.  It was said by Varro, that Eumenes had a desire to have a library of his own which would rival the library of Alexandria.  But when Ptolemy of Epiphanes found out what he was doing, he prevented Eumenes from exporting the papyrus from Egypt to Pergamum.  As a result, Eumenes had to fall back on the use of skins which had to be specially prepared first.  The new material came to be known pergamhnh,, (pergamena) which is where we get the word parchment from.  Another name that is synonymous to this material is vellum (vitulinum), which was manufactured from the skins of very young calves.[10]

There were advantages of the parchment literary usage.  For one thing, it was able to be manufactured in any country and was not in a limited area like the papyrus.  Secondly, its advantage was seen in its flexibility and durability, and it presented itself to a more convenient codex form.  It was also resistant to the dry climate of Egypt.  Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are some examples of the parchment-codex form.[11]

In A.D. 331, Constantine ordered fifty copies of the Scriptures for his new capital.  He gave special orders and instructions that the copies of the Scriptures be written in a legible manner on prepared skins. The Codex Sinaiticus, according to Tischendorf believed that one of the fifty Bibles was written on fairly thin parchment, which was made according to the same authority—from antelope skins.[12]

[1] Dr. Thomas, Class Lectures, pg. 4.

[2] Milligan, pp. 173-174.

[3] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[4] Bruce Manning Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp.6.

[5] Milligan, pp. 173-174.

[6] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[7] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[8] http://wordofgodorwordsofmen.com/variantreadings.aspx

[9] Milligan, pp. 188.

[10] Milligan, pp. 192.

[11] Milligan, pp. 193; Dr. Thomas, pp. 5.

[12] Milligan, pp. 193.


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