|Lecture 05 - Patristic Evidence|
Subtitles/captions provide a basic outline of the lecture.
Today, we are about to investigate one of the most neglected subjects in the field of New Testament textual criticism: the study of patristic evidence. The term “Patristic evidence” refers to the writings of early Christians and their contemporaries when using the New Testament text.
The patristic era overlaps the end of the apostolic age in the late first century, and continues in the east to the death of John of Damascus, in 749, or, in the west, to the death of the Venerable Bede in 735.
It will be easier to digest the patristic era if we divide it into four parts.
● The Sub-Apostolic Age begins in the late first century and includes part of the second century. The writings of this early period are among the earliest witnesses to the text of the New Testament.
● The AnteNicene Age runs from the mid-100s to the Council of Nicea in 325. Technically, every writer before the Council of Nicea was “AnteNicene.”
● The Nicene Generation includes the writings of those who attended the Council of Nicea in 325, and their contemporaries.
● The Imperial Age covers the writings of Christians from 379, when Emperor Theodosius I began to reign, until 749.
Let’s take these one by one, briefly mentioning some of the most important writers in each period. This might be a little tedious, but it is important to frame these writers in their historical context, and not see than as just a list of names. This is not an attempt to present all the patristic writers, or even half of them – just some that were more influential than others, and some who provided significant materials that are used in textual criticism.
The Sub-Apostolic Age
Clement of Rome might be the same Clement who is mentioned by Paul
in Philippians 4:3. He presided at the
There is another early writing, from another source, that has come to be known as Second Clement. Here we meet one of the challenges in patristic studies: it is not rare to find that some compositions attributed to a popular writer are not really his work, and it is not rare to find that an early author’s genuine work has been embellished by a later writer. In the second century, many compositions were written in the names of earlier writers. Sometimes this was a gesture of respect, but sometimes it was subterfuge to give authority to what would otherwise be a non-authoritative composition.
Ignatius was a leader in the church at
Ignatius was concerned about the false teaching known as docetism – a belief that Jesus merely appeared to have a physical body. As a safeguard against false teachings, Ignatius promoted the idea that an individual bishop, instead of a group of elders, should oversee each congregation.
The Epistle of Barnabas was written sometime after the year 70 and before the year 132. Its author may or may not have had the same name as Paul’s fellow missionary Barnabas. He had a heavily allegorical method of interpreting the Old Testament. This writing was considered authoritative in some parts of the early church.
The Epistle of Barnabas is unrelated to the text known as the Gospel of Barnabas, which is a very late forgery.
Papias was bishop of
The Didache [Did-uh-`kay] is a relatively brief early catechism, or teaching-text, composed to represent the teachings of the apostles. It is not impossible that it was composed in the late first century, but the early second century is probably a better estimate.
The Shepherd of Hermas is a much longer book, consisting of three main parts: Visions, Mandates, and Similitudes. This was a very popular text in the early church. Parts of the Shepherd of Hermas are preserved in Codex Sinaiticus.
Now we come to the AnteNicene Age.
Marcion was the son of a Christian bishop in the city of
Marcion developed his own collection of authoritative books: a drastically edited form of the Gospel of Luke, and ten edited letters of Paul. The orthodox reaction was to say that God the Father almighty is the Creator of heaven and earth. Marcion was declared a heretic in 144. His edition of authoritative books was thoroughly rejected, and the church more aggresively promoted the four Gospels as the canonical core of the New Testament. Marcion’s main work, Antithesis, is not extant, but extracts from it were made by some other writers later in the early church.
Polycarp, who was martyred in about 160, had once met Marcion. Later writers report that on that occasion,
when Marcion asked Polycarp, “Do you know who I am?”, Polycarp had replied,
“Yes; you are the firstborn of Satan.”
Polycarp was the bishop of
Justin Martyr got his surname by being martyred. That probably happened around 165, or slightly earlier. Justin left behind mainly three works that have survived: the First Apology, the Dialogue With Trypho, and the Second Apology.
In this context, an “apology” is not a statement of regret like “I am sorry.” It is a defense, απολογία, like what is referred to in First Peter 3:15 – a systematic explanation of what Christians believe, why they believe it, and the positive effects of their beliefs upon their lives.
Justin used material from the Gospels a lot – but he did not say which Gospel he was using; he simply says that he refers to the remembrances of the apostles. It is possible – I would say probable – that Justin used a harmonized account of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the Synoptic Gospels – and that this inspired one of his students to produce a similar text, in which all four Gospels are combined.
The name of that student was Tatian, and his four-Gospel Harmony was the Diatessaron. Tatian was an
Assyrian who resided in
Melito of Sardis, like Justin Martyr, was an apologist. He composed a written defense of Christianity around 170. He also wrote a composition called Peri Pascha, offering a Christ-centered interpretation of the Passover.
Irenaeus was also from Asia Minor, and he
had heard Polycarp, before moving west, to what is now the city of
Some of the Gnostic doctrines that
Irenaeus described are so unusual that some readers questioned whether Irenaeus
was representing them accurately. But beginning
in the late 1940s, Gnostic literature was found, from a site in Nag Hammadi,
Irenaeus made an abundant use of the books of the New Testament. One of his most famous and influential statements is his affirmation that the church recognizes four Gospels, no more and no less: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Except for fragments and extracts from later Greek writers, most of Against Heresies is not extant in Greek; it is preserved in an early Latin translation. Irenaeus also wrote a text called the Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching, which is preserved in an Armenian translation.
Athenagoras was another apologist in the second half of the second century. He is remembered for two works: Embassy on Behalf of Christians, and On the Resurrection of the Dead. A later writer reports that Athenagoras began studying Christian writings in order to oppose them, but became a believer in the course of studying them further.
Clement of Alexandria, an influential writer in the
late 100s, and on into the early 200s, could be re-named Clement of the
Open Road, because
he traveled a lot. He is best known for six
compositions, one of which is the Stro-`ma-teis.
Clement’s Gospels-text is interesting, because it appears to change from one book to another. His text of John is Alexandrian, but his text of Luke is more Western; he used Mark only sparingly, and his text of Matthew agrees with the Textus Receptus – which we will look at in a future lecture, I hope – as often as it agrees with Codex Vaticanus.
Meanwhile, further west, a Latin
apologist named Tertullian, based in
the city of
Hippolytus, who lived at about the same time as Tertullian, inherited the tradition of apologetics handed down from Irenaeus. In the extensive composition Phil-o-soph-uʹ-mena [Phil-o-soph-u-men-a], Hippolytus critiqued ancient religions and philosophies, especially the beliefs of the group known as Gnostics.
Our next witness, Origen, was extremely
productive. Origen was born in
When persecution became less
intense, Origen did some traveling; he visited
Around 232, Origen moved to
Although Origen had written against heretics – most notably in his work Against Celsus – some of his own teachings were considered highly questionable. Centuries later, his teachings were condemned as heretical at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, in the reign of Emperor Justinian. As a result, most of his works have been lost. Besides First Principles, many more of Origen’s works have survived, including Discussion With Heraclides, On Prayer, and several commentaries. An edited collection of extracts from Origen’s writings was released in the 300s as Philocalia.
Turning back to
In the city of
In the second half of the 200s, a philosopher named Porphyry wrote a book called Against the Christians. A substantial portion of it, including some objections that involve textual variants, can be reconstructed from citations made by Christian authors responding to his work.
Methodius was a Christian bishop who responded to his contemporary Porphyry. Methodius was also very critical of some of Origen’s teachings. His refutation of Porphyry has not survived, but his composition The Banquet has survived.
Gregory Thaumaturgus was a student of Origen and wrote a lengthy composition to honor his teacher. Writing 50 years before the Council of Nicea, he maintained Trinitarian theology in Exposition of the Faith and other works.
The next group represents the generation of writers who either attended the Council of Nicea in 325, or were the contemporaries of those who did so.
Eusebius of Caesarea was the first Christian historian. He worked mainly in the early 300s, and wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he preserved excerpts of earlier source-materials which are now lost. With his mentor Pamphilius, he wrote a composition In Defense of Origen. He also made the Eusebian Canons, a cross-reference system for the Four Gospels, which is included in many manuscripts of the four Gospels.
Aphrahat, a Syriac author, wrote a series of compositions called the Demonstrations in the 330’s and 340s. Aphrahat’s main Gospels-text was the Diatessaron.
Athanasius of Alexandria was the most vocal opponent of Arius at the Council of Nicea. He ardently defended orthodox Trinitarian theology, especially the point that there was never a time when the Word did not exist. Athanasius composed many influential theologican works, including Orations Against the Arians, Against the Heathen, and his 39th Festal Letter, in 367, in which he listed the books of authoritative Scripture.
Ephrem of Syria was trained by Jacob of Nisibis, one of the signatories to the Council of Nicea. Ephrem wrote many hymns and commentaries, including a commentary on the Diatessaron. He died in 363.
the western end of the
about the same time, Fortunatianus, in
Lucifer of Cagliari, on the
Now we approach the Imperial Age, when things get a little crowded. You could say that this era begins when Theodosius I becomes Emperor in 379, or two years later at the Council of Constantinople – or that it began with the converging careers of several remarkable leaders in the church.
Basil of Caesarea, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their
fellow-worker Gregory of Nazianzus are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil’s “Caesarea” is not Eusebius’s Caesarea
on the coast of
These three men consistently
maintained Nicene theology. Basil of
Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus were fellow students at
When Basil was not opposing Arianism, he made efforts to help the poor and the sick. He wrote many letters and books on practical ministry as well as doctrine.
Gregory of Nazianzus was influential
Gregory of Nyssa outlived the other two Cappadocian Fathers. He was not disposed to aggression in doctrinal disputes, but he could frame the orthodox position effectively. Gregory of Nyssa is suspected of favoring Origen’s concept of apokatastasis, that is, the idea that eventually, everybody will be restored to harmony with God.
In the late 300s, Epiphanius, bishop of
Diodore of Tarsus, who met Basil while they were both exiled in
Meanwhile meanwhile, Cyril of Jerusalem had to deal with accusations of unlawfully selling church property. His accuser was a nearby rival bishop, Acacius of Caesarea, who was an Arian. Despite being exiled three times, Cyril of Jerusalem composed a substantial series of Catechetical Lectures, which has survived. He died in 386.
Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile, in
the city of
meanwhile, meanwhile meanwhile, a scholar named Didymus composed many doctrinal works in
By the time Didymus the Blind died
in 398, John, the student of Diodore, had become an extremely popular preacher
One of Chrysostom’s friends, Theodore of Mopsuestia, outlived
Chrysostom by 20 years. Whereas
Chrysostom departed from
At about the same time Ambrose became bishop of
One of the targets of Jerome’s criticisms was
a monk named Pelagius. Pelagius was probably originally from
Besides Jerome, another individual who energetically opposed the teachings of
Pelagius was Augustine of Hippo, who
had been converted by Ambrose. Hippo was
a city in what is now the northeastern coast of
By the time Augustine was done
answering them, he impacted church doctrine more significantly than any other
writer of his time. Among Augustine’s
many surviving works, Confessions, City of
Shortly after the death of Pelagius, Nestorius,
who had been trained at
Nestorius’ most energetic opponent was Cyril of Alexandria, and while almost none of Nestorius’ works have survived, Cyril of Alexandria is admired for his many theological works. However, he was probably one of the most ruthless archbishops ever.
Shenoute was already an experienced
leader in the church in
Researcher W. E. Crum observed in 1904 that “Students of the New Testament will find in Shenoute’s endless quotations a highly valuable witness, as yet wholly unexplored, to the text of the most important of the Egyptian versions.”
Theodoret of Cyrrhus was
not a fan of Cyril of Alexandria. Like
John Chrysostom, early in his career he was a lector at
Theodoret of Cyrrhus died in the 460s. Although he was eventually declared a heretic, many of his compositions and letters have survived. Theodoret’s career in the east overlapped the career of Leo the Great in the west. Leo was invited by Cyril of Alexandria to intervene in his dispute against Nestorius. His writings had a heavy influence at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
In the next century, while Emperor Justinian ruled in the East, a scholar named
Cassiodorus founded the Vivarium in
Finally, the Venerable Bede, in the late 600s and early 700s, had the sort of broad knowledge of history, theology, and science that Cassiodorus had hoped to inspire. Bede left behind several important works.
. . .
Nine questions should be asked about an author’s testimony regarding a specific passage of the New Testament.
● First, has the reference been accurately reconstructed using all helpful materials?
● Second, has it been verified that a particular text attributed to a specific author really is the work of that author? For a variety of reasons, many works have been attributed to some writers who cannot be their actual source.
● Third, is the reference preserved in the language in which it was originally written by the author? Many patristic references are versional, and the same limitations that apply to versions, ought to be applied to versional patristic writings. This applies not only to works that were composed in languages other than Greek, but also to works that are preserved in languages other than Greek.
● Fourth, does the writer make a quotation, or an allusion, to a discernible New Testament passage?
● Fifth, does the writer explicitly comment on a contested reading, or does he simply use it without comment?
● Sixth, has the writer borrowed or adapted material from another writer? If this has occurred, then in the borrowed material, we might encounter the text of the source-material’s author.
● Seventh, does the text used by the writer change in accord with changes in the location of the writer? A mobile writer might use whatever New Testament manuscripts happened to be on hand.
● Eighth, is a particular quotation from the New Testament made in a composition engaging an opposing view, or in a composition written to a friendly reader or readers unlikely to challenge a loose paraphrase?
● Ninth, does a writer repeatedly use and comment upon the same form of the same New Testament passage?
When all this is taken into consideration, patristic evidence constitutes a major source of data about what forms of the text were used where, and when, and by whom, in the early church. Many of the echoes, the extant copies of patristic compositions, are late, but the voices are early.
To an extent, this evidence counter-balances the inordinate weight that has been put on manuscripts that tend to represent one particular locale that was blessed with low humidity. It facilitates a more panoramic view of the text in the early church.
In closing, I encourage viewers to watch four cartoon videos, at the Extra Credits channel, called