Brice Jones Reviews The Early Text of the New Testament

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

March 25, 2013

Over at his website, Brice Jones just reviewed The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012), edited by myself and Chuck Hill.  In general, he offers a positive summary, “Overall, this book is an important addition to our field and thus is to be recommended to anyone interested in the text of the New Testament.”

However, Brice was critical of my own essay, “Early Christian Attitudes to the Reproduction of Texts,” arguing that it had a “theological agenda.”   Not sure what he meant by theological agenda, since he never gets specific about where I do this in the article.  He does, however, express disagreement over my analysis of some of the historical evidence.  I certainly welcome disagreement and discussion over the historical evidence, but I am not sure such disagreement necessitates that either party has a theological agenda.

As for Brice’s critique, he says the following:

Co-editor Michael Kruger’s essay attempts to combat the view that the early text was unstable and corrupt by showing that “this is not necessarily how early Christians viewed these texts or how they approached their transmission” (p. 65). Kruger provides several examples from early Christian writings as evidence, such as the Didache, Revelation, Irenaeus, Dionysius, etc.; however, not all of the examples he provides are as “express” as he claims. For example, in Gal 3:15, Paul’s reference to the annulment of a covenant does not refer in any way to the text of the New Testament, yet Kruger lists it in his “select examples” (p. 73) that are said to reflect the attitude toward the reproduction of the New Testament. He also cites (p. 75) as another example a passage from the Epistle of Barnabas (19.11), which states “You shall guard what you have received, nor add or take away.” Kruger then argues that that which is received “likely” signifies written traditions about Jesus; Kruger alludes to Barn. 4:14 as an example of written Gospel tradition in Barnabas (cf. the discussion of Barnabas in Foster’s essay at 294-296). However, it is not at all clear that the phrase “what you have received” is referring to a New Testament text. It could just as well (and more likely does) refer to some kind of catechetical teaching, extant or otherwise, written or oral. We simply do not know to what the phrase is referring.

I appreciate Brice’s comments here, but I really do think he has misunderstood my argument.  Let me try to offer some clarifications.  It is important to note that the section where I deal with Galatians and Barnabas is a section about the OT principle “neither adding or taking away” (Deut 4:2).  I this section I am simply asking whether we see this principle continue into early Christianity.   Galatians and Barnabas don’t have to be explicitly referring to the NT text to show that this principle was still valued by early Christians.  In fact, at the top of p.73 I acknowledge that this evidence may only apply to the NT text “implicitly.”

For example, in Galatians 3 Paul is clearly talking about OT covenant making and then appeals to a general principle about covenantal texts: “no one annuls or adds to it once it has been ratified” (3:15)  This is an obvious allusion to the Deut 4:2 principle.  Is Paul referring to the NT text here?  Of course not.  But that is not my argument.  I am arguing that Gal 3:15 does tell us about the way one of the earliest Christians (Paul) viewed scriptural texts, namely that they were not to be altered.  And therefore it is relevant for our discussion.  It tells us about early Christian attitudes toward Scripture.  Thus, if some Christians began to regard some NT writings as Scripture (which was the point of the first section of my essay), then it is reasonable to conclude that the Deut 4:2 principle would still be in play.

In regard to Barn. 19.11, “You shall guard what you have received, nor add or take away,” Brice says that I think this passage is “likely” referring to the NT text.  I said nothing of the sort.  On the contrary, I expressly stated, “It is unclear whether Barnabas is referring to the preservation of oral or written tradition” (75). I am not sure how I could have said it more plainly.  Then I go on to say, “but, as argued above, the author likely cites from written Jesus tradition, ‘It is written, “many are called but few are chosen”’ (75).  It is clear that when I use the term “likely” it is not referring to whether Barn 19.11 is referring to the NT text (as Brice maintains). Instead, the term “likely” is referring whether Barn 4.14 cited a NT writing as Scripture (as I argued in the prior section).  In sum, Brice has misread my use of the term “likely.”

Brice also alludes to Paul Foster’s treatment of Barnabas on p.294-296.  But, I am not sure why he alludes to Foster’s treatment because Foster actually supports my view.  Foster acknowledges that Barn. 4.14 seems to be citing Matt 22:14 as Scripture and then says that all other explanations to avoid this conclusion “are unconvincing” (295).

If Barnabas knew the Gospel of Matthew and thought it was Scripture then Barn 19.11 suddenly becomes more relevant to our discussion when it says, ““You shall guard what you have received, nor add or take away.”  Does this prove that Barnabas was referring to the NT text.  Of course not.  But neither does it make it irrelevant.

In all of this, I don’t expect every scholar will agree with my arguments or my reading of the evidence.  It is understandable that people will view the evidence differently and will weigh it differently.  But I would hope that such disagreements can be just that, disagreements, without having to invoke claims that any particular individual has an agenda one way or the other.


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