What Are The NT Autographs? An Examination Of The Doctrine Of Inspiration And Inerrancy In Light Of Greco-Roman Publication -- By: Timothy N. Mitchell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:2 (Jun 2016)
Article: What Are The NT Autographs? An Examination Of The Doctrine Of Inspiration And Inerrancy In Light Of Greco-Roman Publication
Author: Timothy N. Mitchell


What Are The NT Autographs? An Examination Of The Doctrine Of Inspiration And Inerrancy In Light Of Greco-Roman Publication

Timothy N. Mitchell*

* Timothy Mitchell is a Ph.D. student at the University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom.

Abstract: This article explores the definition of the NT “autographs” as articulated in various inerrancy doctrinal statements. It begins by sketching the history of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the “autographs,” followed by some modern criticisms of the doctrine. Greco-Roman composition and publication practices are surveyed by investigating three figures from the beginning of the Roman imperial age through to its height: Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen. Four extant examples of ancient papyrus “autographs” are examined, illustrating the draft and rewriting stages of composition. After analyzing Greco-Roman publication, a definition is proposed: in reference to the NT, the “autograph,” as often discussed in biblical inerrancy doctrinal statements, should be defined as the completed authorial work which was released by the author for circulation and copying, not earlier draft versions or layers of composition.

Key Words: Greco-Roman publication, Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Galen, NT autographs, inerrancy, papyri, Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

In the last three hundred years and more, thousands of Greek manuscripts of the NT have been discovered and rediscovered in monasteries, ancient church libraries, university archives, and archaeological digs.1 Because the printing press was not invented until the mid-fifteenth century by Johannes Gutenberg, each of these thousands of Greek NT copies were produced entirely by hand with the result being that no two manuscripts have exactly the same text. This has introduced hundreds of thousands of variations within the textual tradition of the NT.2 These variations first came to the attention of modern theologians when John Mill, fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, published his edition of the Greek NT in 1707 which included a critical apparatus that noted some 30,000 variations in the text.3 Daniel Whitby, rector of St. Edmund’s Salisbury, distressed at the number of these variations, “argued that the authority of the holy scriptures was in peril and that the assembling of critical evidence was tantamount to tampering with the text.”4 As

more and more ancient copies of the NT...

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