The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters -- By: E. Randolph Richards

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 08:1 (NA 1998)
Article: The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters
Author: E. Randolph Richards

The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters

E. Randolph Richards

Walnut Ridge, Arkansas

The early Christian predilection for the codex may be a major key to understanding how Paul’s letters were collected. Ancient letter-writers routinely kept personal copies of their letters. These personal copies were often kept in codex notebooks. Paul probably followed this custom. The “collection” of Paul’s letters was not the result of any deliberate second-century effort to collect the letters of Paul. There was probably no early veneration of Paul or any early appreciation of Paul’s letters. Rather, Paul had a personal set of copies with him in Rome. After his death, these copies with his other personal effects were passed down to his disciples. The later (second-century) publication of Paul’s letters arose from these copies rather than the dispatched copies.

Key Words: Paul, codex, corpus, letters, collection, secretary


Current Theories

Older “Collection” Theories. In times past, the formation of the Pauline corpus was viewed largely as “stymied” among several major theories. These theories may be broken down into two groups: those advocating a collection through a gradual process, “a slow ooze,” and those contending for a sudden move toward collection, “a big bang.” Although grouped thematically, it is also a chronological presentation, since “slow ooze” theories have given way to “big bang” theories.

Slow Ooze. Early in this century, the “collection” of Paul’s letters was often argued to be a gradual process. Since churches esteemed their own letter(s) of Paul, they also began to collect copies of his letters written to other churches.1 Thus partial collections arose in

various regions (e.g., Asia Minor, Macedonia, Achaia), leading finally to a complete collection.2 Professor Gamble calls this approach “the snowball theory.”3

Big Bang. The older approach gave way to the reasoning of Edgar J. Goodspeed. His theory broached a whole new approach by arguing that a single individual took it upon himself, following the publication of Acts to collect the letters of Paul from the various churches.4 Although Goodspeed’s theory has fallen upon rough times, his approach remains in vogue. Even now, the various collection theories all seek to find the three keys: “an occasion, an agent and a motive.”

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