A brief account of the second part of the topic has been afforded so far. The first part of the topic ‘The text of the New Testament’ is being dealt with hereunder.

The New Testament of the Bible contains ‘twenty-seven’ different writings.[1] The arrangement of the book is as follows:

 You may also have noticed that the New Testament writings are arranged in groups. The four Gospels [(1) Matthew; (2) Mark; (3) Luke; and (4) John] are grouped together at the beginning. That meant separating the gospel written by Luke from Acts, which he considered to be the second part of the work he had begun in the gospel. Then we have fourteen letters that were either written by Paul or were attributed to his authorship. The last, Hebrews, does not really belong in the group, since it does not claim any connection with the Pauline tradition. The others, whether by Paul or by disciples writing in Paul’s name, are divided into two groups, each in descending order of length. The first group comprises letters addressed to churches. The second comprises those addressed to individuals. Then we have a group of seven letters that were attributed to other apostolic figures: James, Peter, John and Jude. Finally, Revelation, a prophetic vision of the end of this world with the great victory of Jesus and his ‘holy ones,’ brings the collection to its close.[2]

Jesus Christ neither himself wrote or compiled any of the Gospels nor he asked his disciples to do so. Geddes MacGregor reports, ‘Since Jesus, like other famous teachers in the ancient world, left no writings [stress added].’[3] The apostles as well preached the gospel by word of mouth. Rev J. Kudasiewicz[4] asserts:

Hence, the faith of community, and not the Jesus of history, gave rise to the Gospels. (…). All the evangelists testify that Jesus preached the Gospel but did not write down his words and deeds; nor did he command his disciples to write but to proclaim (Mt 10:7,27; 24:14; 28:19). In carrying out Jesus’ mandate the apostles preached the Good News by word of mouth. Thus a pre-literary period preceded the writing down of Gospels during which the words and deeds of Jesus were passed on orally by the tradition of the early Church.[5]

And during this period it was ‘adapted to the various needs of community’ by the apostles:

In the course of that oral transmission those words had been explained by the apostles and adapted to the various needs of the community which received them with faith.[6]

The committal to writing of even the first Gospel commenced after more than a quarter century from the death of Jesus:

More than a quarter century transpired from the death of Jesus to the composition of the first Gospel, during which time the Gospel message was transmitted orally.[7]

The needs of the community had a great influence on the evangelists’ work of redaction. Each one of them had his determined purpose and also his own addressees whose problems and needs he took into account:

The evangelists-redactors adapted themselves to the different situations of the churches for which their works were intended. They not only wrote down and composed the words and deeds of Jesus into certain literary wholes but also explained them, taking into account the state of the churches. Thus interpretation and adaptation had their place at this stage. The needs of the community had a great influence on the evangelists’ work of redaction. Each one of them had his determined purpose and also his own addressees whose problems and needs he took into account. The needs of the churches inspired the work of redaction, affecting the work in its minutest details; because of that, the particular Gospels came to differ with each other in a marked way.[8]

There are three different and independent sources for the Gospels and their reader does not have a direct approach to the events, words and deeds of Jesus:

There are in a certain sense three sources for the Gospels: Jesus, the apostles, and the early Church as well as the evangelists-redactors. All these had their own original personality, their own tendencies and designs which left their mark on the works to whose development they contributed.

It follows from the history of the formation of the Gospels that a contemporary reader of the Gospels does not have an immediate approach to the events, words and deeds of Jesus; between him and those facts there is an early community and the evangelists-redactors. (….). The Jesus-event was interpreted in the light of faith, both by that community as well as by the evangelists-redactors. Therefore, it can be said that there exist two ‘hermeneutic instances’ between the Jesus-event and the reader. The words and deeds of Jesus had been reread anew in the light of the Pasch [Pass over] and were deepened by reference to the Old Testament and to the needs of particular church communities.[9]

The evangelists did not intend to set forth the Jesus-event in the form of naked facts; they intended to interpret them theologically. Their chief task was to impress the viewpoint of salvation:

From the genesis of the Gospels it follows that they contain in themselves an historical element: the words and deeds of Jesus from Nazareth. But this element was not set forth in the form of naked facts, or as a chronicle or official record but was interpreted theologically. (…). In the mystery of Jesus Christ what eye could not see nor ear hear was revealed to the believing readers: the salvation dimension of his activity. (…). They did not want to write the human history of Jesus but salvation history; they narrated the deeds of Jesus from the viewpoint of salvation.[10]

The transmission of historical events was not the only purpose of the evangelists:

The transmission of historical events, however, was not their only and most important purpose. Historians of the Ancient East, especially the biblical ones, understood historical truth differently from contemporary Western historians. The Western historian is especially sensitive to the facts and events of the past; he pays less attention to the meaning of those facts. For him, therefore, the ideal of truth is the chronicle, the documentary film, the recorded word. (…). But the Eastern historian was sensitive to the meaning that was contained in the events: the religious, ethical and educational sense. Since he was so taken up with the meaning of history, he attached lesser importance to the facts themselves.

Such an understanding of history affected their historical writing. They wrote and composed so as to draw the most meanings from the historical events. Thus they often omitted that which would have been for a journalistic historian most important. At other times they selected those facts that would express the intended truth. Finally, in narrating historical facts they emphasized different things: they abbreviated some events and condensed them, while they amplified others in order to better clarify the meaning.  Today that way of writing history is considered faulty; but in those times that was the way the writing of history was practiced. Since the evangelists lived and wrote in that environment, that was the way they understood their task, as they put the words and deeds of Jesus on record.[11]

The evangelists included only those episodes and quotations that were suitable for their intended purpose:

The evangelists did not want to write a biography of Jesus according to our standards. That is why we do not find in their works a complete history of Jesus from Nazareth. They only narrated those episodes and quoted only those words that were suitable for achieving their intended purpose. The words that St. John said about himself can be referred to all: ‘There were many other signs that Jesus worked… but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ…’ (Jn 20:30).[12]

According to Rev. J. Kudasiewicz the traditional Catholic assertion about the Gospels is unacceptable. He says:

Research on the genesis of the Gospels and the analysis of the work of the evangelists-redactors have led us to the same conclusion… The four Gospels are not biographies of Jesus. The traditional Catholic assertion, according to which the evangelists are historians photographing in a way the reality to which they were witnesses or about which they found out from immediate witnesses, is unacceptable. Such a view of the Gospels is one-sided.[13]

As to the sources of the Synoptic Gospels Rev. J. Kudasiewicz asserts:

At present the most accepted hypothesis among Protestant and Catholic scholars is the so-called two-sources theory. In the present state of research it is the best documented. This hypothesis can be sketched in the following way. The Gospel of Mark was the oldest of all the Gospels; it was the source for Matthew and Luke. The last two have another common source, symbolized by Q from the German Quelle or ‘source’ which included mainly the sayings of Jesus, although not exclusively. Hence it is called the ‘source for the sayings of the Lord.’ Matthew and Luke drew on these two sources. Aside from that, however, each evangelist had his own exclusive sources, either written or preserved by oral tradition.

The first assumption of this hypothesis is the primacy of Mark with reference to Matthew. An analysis confirms that. (…). It seems then that the primitive character of Mark is justified. (…).

The second source for Matthew and Luke was the collection of the sayings of the Lord, Q. In comparing Matthew with Luke it is noticeable that they have much material in common, especially the sermons of Jesus which are partially in agreement and partially different. It cannot be that Matthew is dependent on Luke or vice versa. There are a number of reasons for that. (…). Both evangelists, however, profited from the common source [Q] in different ways. Matthew placed the words of Jesus in great masterly discourses but Luke spread them out throughout his whole work, thereby preserving their structure and even their context. Because of this it is possible with some probability to reconstruct the source Q.[14]  

It would be interesting to note some information about the compilation of the source ‘Q’ at this point:

Who is the author of that source? When did it arise? What was its first form like and its theology? Because of penetrating research a reply to the questions can be attempted. The authors of Q were the first disciples of Jesus who regarded their mission as a continuation of the teaching of the Master. Palestine was the place where this source originated, and where after the death and resurrection of Jesus the first Judeo-Christian communities developed. These were characterized by a prophetic-apocalyptic enthusiasm because they lived in an atmosphere of expectation of the end of the world and of the universal judgement. That impressed itself on the form and content of the sayings which had a clearly Palestinian, Judaic and apocalyptic color. The source Q did not arise suddenly but was the result of a very long evolutionary process. It was recorded in writing earlier than the Gospel of Matthew. Hence it cannot be identified with that Gospel. The source was edited in Greek.[15]

Some of the specific features of the source ‘Q’ are also being afforded hereunder:

There is an absence of passion and resurrection narratives in Q. (…). In the light of Q, Jesus of Nazareth is not only one of the many prophets but the eschatological prophet, the prophet of the last times, the Son of Man on earth. It is precisely that which distinguishes him from all the preceding prophets, giving him special authority. The favorite title of Jesus in Q is ‘Son of Man’ who was shown in glory (Mk 11:3; Lk 13:35) as the eschatological Judge (Lk 6:46). Jesus as the Son of Man and Judge is the court of last resort which decides the fate of all humanity (Lk 11:30; 12:40; 17:24; 26:30). Although Q does not contain narratives about the passion of Jesus, still it preserves the words of Jesus about an earthly and humiliated Son of Man (Mt 8:20; 11:6, 19). As we can see, the theology of Q has a primitive and limited character; it is shaded by Judaism and eschatology. It required a revision and deepening of perspective; the individual evangelist-redactor achieved that.[16]

Geddes MacGregor has also dealt with the theme under the chapter ‘How the NT took shape’. He asserts that the Gospels were written after the death of St. Paul:

It was only after Paul’s death that the Gospels as we know them were written. (…). The most commonly accepted view is that Mark was written at Rome about the time of the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70; Matthew at Antioch ten years later; and Luke and Acts ten years later still. It is a pity that Luke and Acts are not placed together in the New Testament, since they were written by the same author, (…). The case of John is a special one.[17]  

As regards the Gospel of John, he says:

Some, for very complex reasons, were disposed to treat his Gospel as belonging to a very late date (perhaps the middle of the second century) and therefore very far removed indeed from the lifetime of any eye-witness. (…). It is quite probable that the Gospel according to St John, substantially in the form in which we now have it, was written before the end of the first century, and there is considerable evidence in support of it, (…), and it may well have reached its present form before A. D. 100.[18]

As to the last book of the NT, Revelation, it was written about A.D. 95. G. MacGregor says:

The Christians of the first three centuries often suffered very cruel persecution, not least, in the first century, under the Emperor Nero and the Emperor Domitian. The book called Revelation or the Apocalypse reflects this, being written probably about A.D. 95, towards the end of Domitian’s reign. Its author is called John. Whoever he was, he was certainly not the author of the Gospel bearing the name, for the style of the two books is entirely different. The author of Revelation wrote Greek with very marked Hebraisms, and he must have been a man of very different temper and outlook from the one who wrote the Gospel.[19]  

The books of the NT had mostly been written by A.D. 120, but they had not been collected by that date in their present form:

Though the books now in the New Testament were mostly written by A.D. 120 [An exception is II Peter, which is probably to be dated between A.D. 150 and 175 (footnote by G. MacGregor)], they had by no means been collected by that date in their present form, nor had they acquired anything like their present status among Christians.[20]

In most of the Western churches the list of the authoritative books of the NT was adopted by the end of 2nd century AD:

Towards the end of the second century A.D. most of the Churches in the West, notably the one at Rome, had accepted a list of books as authoritative, were calling them the New Testament, and were reading them liturgically along with Septuagint or Greek Version of the Old Testament. The body of writing that was thus recognized consisted of the four Gospels, the Acts, and thirteen letters of Paul. Other books, notably Revelation, the Epistle to the Hebrews, II Peter, II and III John, and Jude, were regarded as less authoritative. (…). In the Eastern Church (…). The great Alexandrian scholar Origen (c. 185 - c. 254), who probably knew more about the technicalities of the subject than anyone else in his day, drew up a list of books that he considered to be generally accepted by all Christians, and a list of those which, though acknowledged in some places, had no such universal status. In the first of these two lists he put the four Gospels, fourteen letters which he attributed to St. Paul–one of these was Hebrews, now known to be certainly not Paul’s letter–the Acts, I Peter, I John, and Revelation. In the second list he placed James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude, Barnabas, and the Shepherd. Origen himself was disposed to acknowledge both lists, which, taken together, give us exactly what is now contained in the New Testament, plus Barnabas and the Shepherd. Eusebius of Caesarea, another great scholar of the early Church, born about A.D. 260, preferred to omit both Barnabas and the Shepherd, so his list was similar to the one in our modern editions of the NT. But Revelation, long felt to be a very doubtful book for inclusion, was only squeezed in. Indeed in the Eastern Church in the Middle Ages it was more often omitted from than included in manuscripts of the NT.

Though the Western or Latin view of what ought to be the contents of the NT had been substantially formulated and expressed by A.D. 200 there was no such fixed or universal opinion on the subject in the Eastern Church. Among the Eastern or Greek Fathers in the fourth century there was considerable difference of opinion. For instance, the lists of Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus–all highly influential men in the history of Christian Church–differed greatly. That of Athanasius was most like the list of books we recognize today as canonical; but it was the list of Gregory of Nazianzus that won widest acceptance in the East. His list included the four Gospels, the Acts, fourteen letters attributed to Paul, and seven other letters; it excluded Revelation.

It was about this time that St Jerome undertook his translation of the Bible into Latin, in the ‘Vulgate’ that was to have an enormous influence on Christianity in the West. (…). Though he knew well that the Epistle to the Hebrews enjoyed less favour in the Western Church than it did among Christians in the East, he decided to include it and ascribe it to St Paul, though he took care to acknowledge that this was not according to Western custom. He also included Revelation. Even in the West slight departures from Jerome’s list were not unknown; but on the whole it may be said that he finally determined for Western Christians what books the NT would contain. 

Books had been made according to the modern format (that is, in bound pages, as in the book you are now reading) from at least the first century A.D. A book in this form was known as a codex. (…). But these codices were rare and the change from scroll to codex form was very gradual. It is interesting to note that Western Christians appear to have been very progressive, favouring the codex form in its earlier days. ‘From the second century, when ninety-seven per cent of the non-Christian Biblical papyri were in the roll form, we now have eight Christian Biblical papyri, and all of these are in the form of the codex. [21]

To sum up the section on the ‘Text of the NT and Some Types of Corruption in it, hereunder are the salient features of it:

1.    As to the types of corruption, almost all the points noted in the section regarding the OT are equally applicable and relevant to the NT, which can be seen in that section.

2.    The NT of the Bible contains ‘twenty-seven’ different writings starting with four Gospels.

3.    Jesus preached the Gospel but did not write down his words and deeds; nor did he command his disciples to record them in writing. The apostles preached by word of mouth and the words and deeds of Jesus were passed on orally.

4.    In the course of that oral transmission those words had been explained by the apostles and adapted [changed] to the various needs of the community.

5.    The committal to writing of even the first Gospel commenced after more than a quarter century from the death of Jesus.

6.    The needs of the community had a great influence on the evangelists’ work of redaction. Each one of them had his determined purpose and also his own addressees whose problems and needs he took into account.

7.    There are three different and independent sources for the Gospels: (a) Jesus, (b) the apostles, and (c) the early church as well as the evangelist/redactors. Their reader has no direct approach to the events, words and deeds of Jesus, because there is an early community and the evangelists-redactors between him and these facts.

8.    The evangelists did not intend to set forth the Jesus-event in the form of naked facts; they intended to interpret them theologically. Their chief task was to impress the viewpoint of salvation.

9.    Since the Eastern historian was so taken up with the meaning of history, he attached less importance to the facts themselves. The evangelists-redactors abbreviated some events and condensed them. They amplified others to clarify the meaning better. Today that way of writing history is considered faulty.

10.    The evangelists narrated only those episodes and quoted only those words that were suitable for achieving their intended purpose.

11.    The traditional Catholic assertion, according to which the evangelists are historians photographing in a way the reality to which they were witnesses or about which they found out from immediate witnesses, is unacceptable. Such a view of the Gospels is one-sided.

12.    At present the most accepted hypothesis among Protestant and Catholic scholars is the so-called two-sources theory. The Gospel of Mark was the oldest of all the Gospels; it was the source for Matthew and Luke. The last two have another common source, symbolized by ‘Q’. Matthew and Luke drew on these two sources. In addition to it each evangelist had his own exclusive sources, either written or preserved by oral tradition. It is probable to reconstruct the source ‘Q’.

13.    The authors of ‘Q’ were the first disciples of Jesus who regarded their mission as a continuation of the teaching of the Master. Palestine was the place where this source originated. It was the result of a very long evolutionary process. It was recorded in writing before the Gospel of Matthew. It was edited in Greek.

14.    There is an absence of passion and resurrection narratives in ‘Q’. In the light of ‘Q’, Jesus of Nazareth is not only one of the many prophets but the prophet of the last times. The favorite title of Jesus in ‘Q’ is the ‘Son of Man’. As we can see, the theology of ‘Q’ has a primitive and limited character. It required a revision and deepening of perspective; the individual evangelist-redactor achieved that.

15.    Mark was written at Rome about the time of the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70; Matthew at Antioch ten years later; and Luke and Acts ten years later still. The case of John is a special one.

16.    Gospel according to St John was written before the end of the first century, and it may well have reached its present form before AD 100.

17.    The last book of the NT, Revelation, was written ca. AD 95.

18.    The books of the NT had mostly been written by AD 120 (except II Peter, which is probably to be dated between A.D. 150 and 175), but they had not been collected by that date in their present form.

19.    in most of the Western churches the list of the authoritative books of the NT was adopted by the end of 2nd century AD. In the Eastern church Origen (c. 185-c. 254) prepared two lists and Eusebius (b. 260) prepared the list of books of the NT similar to the present one.

 

The section of the OT was concluded with the following passage, which is equally true in respect of the NT with some modifications that have been duly incorporated in it:

It can thus be safely concluded that the text of the NT had to suffer many types of setbacks due to a number of reasons as detailed above. As such all possible analytical and critical measures should be adopted to ascertain the validity and intent of its text. But, at the same time, withal its shortcomings, it has preserved a lot of theological, historical, and prophetic substance in it and is not to be discarded outright.

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