OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

T 1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 1, Rightly Dividing the Word of God

In T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, we discussed that a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another. We also looked at the verses that charged believers to follow the tradition that was handed down by the Apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
(2Th 3:6 ESV)

From the above verses we know:

  1. There is a tradition, a set of belief(s) and practice(s), that was set up in original Christianity.
  2. Believers were expected to follow these traditions.
  3. Believers were charged to avoid brothers who walked in idleness or didn’t do the things talked about in this letter, including following the tradition handed down by the Apostles.

To see the tradition talked about in the above verses in more detail we really need to look at the beliefs and practices that the Apostles held forth. We don’t have any recordings of their words spoken, but we do have what was in their letters and the book of Acts:

That set of beliefs and practices is what this website is all about. There is no way to cover the entire tradition in a single post so I will give a sketch of some key points along with references to original Christian beliefs and practices in other posts.

There are already some points about the tradition that started in Original Christianity in the introduction, Welcome to Original Christianity.Net,  to this website.  Here are some of those points about original Christianity with links to posts on the subject.

Also in T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, I discuss that Jesus taught against the practice of establishing any tradition that negated the word of God. In fact, Original Christianity was devoted to rightly dividing scripture to keep the Word of God to full effect.

Listen to this story about something I experienced at a church not too long ago. At a service that I was attending the pastor geared the service around an exercise. Instead of chairs lined up in rows or circles even, he had the auditorium set up with tables and chairs like for dining. People gathered together in groups, and they were assigned a passage of Scripture, to be used as a starting point for discussion as to what that Scripture meant to them.
The exercise certainly had a good motive for it. The point was to set up a meal like setting and show how easy it was to talk about things around the table. The pastor was encouraging the congregation to evangelize; no problem with the motive.
There were about half a dozen people around the table where I was sitting, and I waited to hear what each would say. Now, to be sure, people took the exercise seriously and endeavored to communicate the impact of the Scripture to them. They each interpreted the verse as best they could,
However, when it came to my turn, I decided to talk about what the words meant in the context and where it had been used before. Immediately, some of the people’s heads picked up, and said, “that’s right I’m going to change what the verse means to me to that.” But not all. One person especially kept promoting a viewpoint that was full of Christianese but was not what was being taught in the verse, and maybe not true at all.  Evidently, in that church, it was perfectly acceptable for people to get different meanings and people were allowed to let loose with their ideas in what scriptures meant.

There are verses in the bible that speak directly to how scriptures are to be handled, Here’s one:

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)

Rightly dividing in the verse above is the Greek word orthotomeo, literally “straight cutting”.  Second Timothy 2:15 sets up a pair of opposites. On one side is the unashamed workmen of God’s word who “cuts the words” straight. That means he derives the correct meaning. On the other hand, then, is the workmen of the word who should be ashamed because he derives meanings that aren’t there.

Another verse that talks about how Scripture is to be handled is in second Peter:

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 ESV)

The words that I want to focus on here are “someone’s own interpretation”. The Greek here is very interesting.  Idios epilusis are the words here and they are very interesting.  Idios, meaning “one’s own”. is used elsewhere in the Bible.  But epilusis is the single occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament.  “Interpretation” is an okay translation, but my interlinear translates it as “explanation”.  I’ve seen it also translated as “letting loose”, as in letting loose with one’s own thoughts.

Now, to be sure, those words relate directly to how the prophet  gives the words as he gives them. When a prophet is giving a message from God. He gives the message that God says to give. He doesn’t let loose on his own with his own thoughts, meanings, or anything else other than the message that God directed him or her to give.  The prophet is charged not to explain the message with his own understanding.  (If you look at some prophecies like Jonah’s, you will see that he didn’t really agree with the message and want to give it.)

Let me ask you a question. If God is saying that the prophet is not allowed to put his own meaning on the message, what makes you think that you can?
The point of this verse is that it is the utmost importance that the message contains God’s meaning, not the prophet’s, and certainly not yours or mine.

Jesus and the religious leaders of his time conflicted over tradition. Jewish tradition contains the idea that every word that the Lord God revealed has 70 possible meanings. And the end result of that huge realm of possibility of what all the Scriptures mean with all the various meanings of words that are available is that it is impossible just to read something and know what it says. So there must be more than Scripture to help understand Scripture. Thus is the Jewish justification for the Talmud or oral law.
As we will see, the (Roman) Catholic tradition includes the same concept. Scripture by itself, according to Catholic tradition is insufficient. And thus there is the requirement of the church to go beyond Scripture and define what needs to be defined for people to live righteously.

There are not 70 meanings for every word in every verse in the Bible.  To be a true workman of the word we need to find the true meaning of the words we are given.

Again, remember what Jesus said what he thought about the Jew’s need for tradition. He said it made the Word of God of no effect. Yet that is what happened to the Jews and in the Catholic tradition which started right after the gospel of John as we shall see.
Original Christianity was concerned about stopping the use of tradition to interpret scripture and make the word of God of no effect.

This is a huge part of the Apostolic tradition that was handed down by the Apostles.

We will handle more of what was handed down in future articles.

 

February 15th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Tradition | no comments

The Marvelous Story of Esther, Absent From Early Canons of Scripture

The teaching in church this week centered on the inspiring story of Esther. In a nutshell when Xerxes was king of Persia the Queen was named Vashti. And in a moment of defiance Vashti refused the command of the King. After consulting with his advisers the king decided on a process to find a new Queen, and the beautiful Queen he chose was Esther. Esther had been warned of by her kinsmen Mordecai to not advise the King that she was a Jew because of animosity towards the Jews. As it turned out an Agagite named Haman conspired to get rid of all the Jews and in a thrilling story of bravery and courage Esther is instrumental in ridding the Jews of this direct attack, in elevating her kinsmen Mordecai and in providing for the welfare of all the Jews under Xerxes.  It is an amazing story of bravery, and deliverance.

As much as I love the story of Esther however I must report that there is considerable evidence that Esther, whether true or not, was not a book of the Old Testament according to at least some writings of the day.

Look at this quotation from you Eusebius’ church history:

Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting! Since you have often, in your zeal for the Word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our entire Faith, and have also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient books, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing your zeal for the faith, and your desire to gain information in regard to the Word, and knowing that you, in your yearning after God, esteem these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation. Accordingly when I went to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and I send them to you as written below. These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of Kingdoms, 1 two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs or Wisdom, 2 Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, 3 the Twelve [minor prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. 4 From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.[i]

Notice in the above listing that the book of Esther is missing.

With that  again I have to say that it pains me to have to present this because to me the story of Esther has always been a thrilling and inspiring story. But, besides being our Savior, the Lord Jesus was also the greatest prophet ever and he said this about reading the Scriptures:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (Joh 5:39 ESV)

While the story of Esther is certainly one of the Jewish people being saved at the time it holds the distinction of being one of two books (the other being Song of Solomon) that do not mention God.  It does not include any of the genealogy of the bloodline of our Savior. While Esther is a story of deliverance it doesn’t testify of jesus.   And as noted above it was left out of at least some of the early Christian centuries’ canons of Scripture.  Also throughout the centuries it has not been accepted universally.  Look at this quote from a website called patheos.com:

John Calvin did not include the book in his biblical commentaries and only referenced it once in the Institutes(see 4.12.17). Though he included it in his Bible, Martin Luther was highly ambivalent about it. “I am so great an enemy to . . . Esther, that I wish [it] had not come to us at all, for [it has] too many heathen unnaturalities,” he said in Table Talk 24. And in one exchange with Erasmus he said it “deserves. . . to be regarded as noncanonical.”[ii]

What this suggests is significant in a number of ways:

  1. the Canon of Scripture might not be as divinely inspired as some would have us believe.
  2. The statements of belief of many Christian churches today includes the statement that the 66 books included in the modern Christian Bible are divinely inspired, and the word of God. This is a relatively recent doctrine and not something that has consistently been believed throughout the ages.

I have said elsewhere in places on this website that many churches teach that they are the first century church living in the 21st century. But this is clearly not the case. There were at least some of the earliest church fathers who did not hold that Esther and some of the other books in the Bible were divinely inspired by God. And hundreds of years ago in the forming of the Reformation the founding reformers also challenged some of the books that current statements of belief propound to be true. In other words, churches in Melito’s time, in Luther’s time, in Calvin’s time would not have made the statement that the 66 books of the Bible are all divinely inspired pieces of the word of God.

It is vitally important to me to remember that the true word of God is not a book as much as it is the person of Jesus Christ. And it is helpful in recognizing that much of the disagreement among churches centers around a dogma that God authored the 66 books and the arguments that promote divisions weaken when we acknowledge that that statement of belief is a modern invention and not one held by the reformers nor the early Christians.

The faith of the early Christians as well as the reformers like Luther and Calvin was not based on the doctrine that the 66 books of the modern Christian bible are the word of God, and neither should ours be.

[i] The Face of the Early Fathers, William a Jurgens, volume 1, p.81. This is a quote by St. Melito of Sardes which is a fragment in Eusebius, history of the church, book 4, chapter 26. The estimated date of this citation is 170 AD.

[ii] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/06/youre-reading-the-wrong-book-of-esther/

August 20th, 2018 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

Oral Transmissions of Religious Accounts Have Safeguards to Ensure Accuracy

I have heard people say they are suspicious about the accuracy of traditions that are passed down by word-of-mouth. Anyone familiar with the “telephone” game knows that in any given crowd if one person passes a sentence to another person and so forth, that the resulting sentence by the 10th or 20th person sometimes bears no resemblance to the original.  By this reasoning, a lot of people have discounted ancient oral traditions as being unreliable.

The passing of oral tradition, in reality, however, usually came with stringent safeguards. Nicholas Wade, in his book, The Faith Instinct, says,

“there are two reasons why some hunter gatherer religions may still reflect the ancient forms.

One is that many preliterate or primitive peoples place great importance on carrying out rites exactly as their forebears did. The justification of their rituals is that this is how they have always been performed. So religious practice is handed on with as much fidelity as possible. Among the Klamath and Modoc Indians of the northwest coast of America, certain myths may be recited only in the presence of three people who know the story, and can check the rendition for accuracy, and the myths may not be told by children less they garble them. These rules are reported to keep the myths intact over many generations.”[i]

(It is important to note the word myth as used here means “a traditional story, account, or history” as opposed to the other meaning of myth which is “a false belief”.)

This is very insightful.  Kids aren’t even allowed to recite the traditional accounts.  When the accounts are recited by adults a number of others have to be present to ensure the accuracy of the recital.  This looks like pretty good security.  This practice is not new; it is ages old.

I find this very reassuring.  Sure, unchecked retelling of events is going to get garbled as it passes from person to person, but I always thought it was foolish to think that people didn’t realize this and put safeguards in place to ensure accuracy.

Wade’s insights about how modern tribes ensure accuracy shows that oral traditions can be reliably transmitted.

[i] The Faith Instinct, Nicholas Wade, The Penguin Press, London, p. 99

October 2nd, 2014 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

Codex Sinaiticus, World’s Oldest Bible, Available Online

Would it surprise you to know that the bible read in the fourth century was not the same as the modern bible?  Most of it is the same, but there are some surprising differences. Codex Sinaiticus is called the world’s oldest bible (earlier manuscripts were probably burned by persecuting Romans, or simply didn’t survive the ages.)   As such it gives us an amazing insight into what the bible was and how it has changed since then.  And it is available online at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx.

But first a definition is in order. What is a codex?  A codex is a stack of pages bound together in a manner similar to the modern book form.  This is, of course, different from the roll form of document used in Hebrew worship.  Christians were among the first to use this style of document making.[i]

Codex Sinaiticus dates back to the 4th century. It is thought to be one of the 50 copies of the Bible commissioned to Eusebius by Constantine about 332 A.D.[ii] (Similarly, codex Vaticanus is thought to be another of the copies although it is not as complete.)[iii]

One of the first things you notice about this “bible” is that books are not exactly the same as modern versions, and the order is not the same.  The Pauline Epistles with Hebrews are between the Gospels and Acts.[iv] The Shepard of Hermas and The Gospel of Barnabas are listed after Revelation.[v] Glancing through the whole book you will find that the order of the books differs dramatically from the current order standard throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

The Shepard of Hermas was used as scripture by Iranaeus, Tertullain, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  The Gospel of Barnabas was called “catholic” by Origen, and Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on it.[vi]

The differences between Codex Sinaiticus and modern Greek texts are not just in the New Testament.  Sinaiticus includes 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach, which now are part of what is now called the Apochrypha, but that distinction did not exist then.  In Old Testament times there is no evidence that there was any concept of a bible as a complete set of collection of authorized books, rather there were individual “books”, which in the Greek is “biblion”.  These were individually recognized as part of the Law and the prophets.  In ancient times this collection of books was called “ta biblia” (“the books”) which Latin speaking Christians shortened to the singular, the book or Bible.[vii]

Codex Sinaiticus is recognized as part of the Alexandrian family of texts.  It does not have some of the errors of the Received Text.  For example, compare these readings from Codex Sinaiticus with the forgeries talked about in Examples of Scribal Forgeries in the Bible:

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)[viii]

And he said to them: This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer. (Mark 9:29)

[no verse] (Matthew 17:21)

[no verse] (Mark 16:9-20)

In these lay a multitude of sick persons, blind, lame, withered. (John 5:3, verse 4 is missing)

John 7:53 to 8:11 is missing

It is amazing to me that it took centuries for scholars to get the accepted text back to a form closer to Codex Sinaiticus.  In fairness, it wasn’t available to Erasmus and his successors when they first tried reconstructing a reliable Greek New Testament.  It was found in the late 18th century at the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, hence the name “Sinaiticus”.

As far as Matthew 28:19, the reading is the full Trinitarian formula:

Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Codex Sinaiticus is a fascinating bible.  I believe the above examples show that it is a better text than those used for the Received Text.  The order that the books are presented suggests loudly, to me at least, that the order of the books has been an arbitrary decision all along.  And likewise the additional books in both the Old and New Testaments, I think,  are a protest to the divine status given to the creation of the canon, as opposed to the divine “thus spake the Lord” terminology much more easily seen in and/or concerning the individual books of the Law and the Prophets.

[i] THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, Arthur G. Patzia, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1995, p. 118-119
[ii] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 207
[iii] ibid.
[iv] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 295
[v] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 65
[vi] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 188
[vii] THE BOOKS AND THE PARCHMENTS, F F Bruce, Fleming H Revell Company, 1962, p. 11
[viii] This and all the readings are found on the website at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

April 17th, 2011 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

More Manuscript Basics; Who, What, Where, and How Variant Readings are Evaluated and Rated

In More Manuscript Basics; Using a Textual Commentary, I discussed how the bible was transmitted up to the point where Greek New Testament editions were created, starting with Erasmus up until recent editions by the United Bible Society.  We finished by looking at an example of a textual variant in a textual commentary.

Next we will look the criteria that are used to determine which manuscript readings are preferable over others.

The most basic rule if we just had one simple series of copies would be that the oldest is the most reliable.  But that is not what actually pans out as scholars have discovered that sometimes a somewhat younger copy is actually a better choice if it is a reliable copy of an older copy than the oldest copy we have.  And as we saw in the last article, we have to account for the different families of texts, and how they have different tendencies that affect accuracy.  The Alexandrian is considered the most accurate, and the Byzantine is probably considered the least accurate family of text.  A younger Alexandrian text may be more reliable than an older Byzantine text because of the Byzantine family’s tendency to allow more scribal insertions.

Then there is the issue of early church father’s writings.  Sometimes they seem to be considered, and others, not.

So how are variant readings evaluated to get back to the original writing of the text?

The first thing you have to know is that is not an exact science. It is really based upon probabilities.  For example, since the Alexandrian family of texts have the least scribal additions, then it’s probable that an Alexandrian manuscript will be more accurate than a Byzantine text.  But it’s not guaranteed.  In the end, there is a certain amount of educated guessing on some variants.

Bruce Metzger includes the following observations about considering variants:

  • Every variant reading has to be considered by itself. In other words, just because other variants in the manuscript seem to be best served by using the Alexandrian reading does not mean that the one you are currently looking at does.
  • Manuscripts, in general, have less errors the older they are
    • besides the age of the document, the degree of care by this particular scribe, as well as the general condition of the type of text must be considered
    • Newer manuscripts can be more reliable than older ones if they are very good copies of even older manuscripts.
  • The more widespread the variant is in the different families of manuscripts, the greater the probability that it is accurate
    • The exception is that sometimes manuscripts in diverse geographical areas are really dependent on a common influence, for example, Tatian’s Diatesseron.
  • The total number of manuscripts supporting a variant does not count that much as it is possible that a great number of manuscripts may be copies of one single earlier manuscript.
  • Rather than use a count system, manuscripts are weighted in comparison.  For example, manuscripts that give a clearer reading should be weighted higher manuscripts with ambiguous or uncertain readings.
  • Generally more difficult to read variants are considered more accurate than variants with a smoother style as a known error made by scribes was to change the text to make it more readable. Obviously this would have exceptions, a single or relatively small number of difficult variants might be the result of a single scribal error in an earlier manuscript.
  • Shorter readings are probably more accurate than longer ones, except where homoeoarcton and homoeoteleution may have occurred or where the scribe may have deliberately omitted material that he considered objectionable. A scribe might object to something that looked to him that it had been added, changed, or was an obvious theological error in his mind.
  • Since it is a known, widespread scribal error to try to harmonize parallel passages, a variant in that situation that is the least harmonious should at least be considered as the most accurate.
  • The variant that is most consistent with the context of the text and the style of the author is likely to be given more weight.
  • The Gospels have a unique set of factors that must be considered:
    • the Aramaic background of Jesus’s teaching
    • the priority of the gospel of Mark
    • “the influence of the Christian community upon the formulation and transmission of the passage in question”[i]

Again, Metzger’s textual commentary, A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, goes into more detail on these factors in the Introduction and I highly recommend getting the book to get a better understanding.  This article just gives an overview of this tedious and complex process.


[i] A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M Metzger, United Bible Societies, London New York, 1975 , p. xxviii

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

April 1st, 2011 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments