The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Sep 12, 2019

Debunking academic urban legends (some quick comments on a recent NTS article)

Believe it or not, there are actually "academic urban legends" out there which we professors repeat because we heard it told by our professors, etc. Sometimes they actually turn out to be true, or at least probable (Karl Barth probably said something similar to how his theology can be summed as "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so"; see Roger Olson's interesting discussion here).

On the other hand, sometimes they turn out to be either false or unverifiable. One such example is how supposedly Erasmus, who most definitely did not have the Johannine Comma in his first edition TR (this part is true; it is common knowledge, and I personally verified it with my scanned digital copy of Erasmus' first edition), promised that if anybody could produce just one Greek manuscript with the Johannine Comma in it, he would include it in his next edition, and viola, such a manuscript conveniently appeared! It is not true, however, that Erasmus made such a promise, as demonstrated by Henk Jan de Jonge ("Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum," ETL vol. 56.4 [1980]: 381-9). The reasons Erasmus added the Johannine comma in later editions are a bit more complicated, but that's a story for another time.

Another "urban legend" is that Origen did not have a strong opinion on who wrote Hebrews. He is often quoted as saying, "Who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows." As Matthew J. Thomas has recently demonstrated in a New Testament Studies article (you can read it here), that quote, within its immediate context and the broader context of Origen's writings, does not indicate that Origen had doubts about Paul's authorship. To the contrary, ". . . while Origen suspects Hebrew's composition to involve more than Paul alone, his surprisingly consistent testimony is that the epistle is indeed Paul's" (quoting from the abstract).

Now, to be fair, my Doktorvater, Greek scholar David Alan Black, has been making exactly this point for quite a while. (You can read his book on the Pauline authorship of Hebrews here), and Dr. Black's reading combines accessibility with solid scholarship. Still, the NTS article is well-worth reading as well.

As for myself, despite my having been influenced by Dr. Black to a minority position on other issues (let's hear it for Matthean priority!), I will have to cling to my preferred view of Apollos as author, granting that a major weakness of my view is that nobody thought of this until Martin Luther! Still, I acknowledge that many of the arguments we tend to use against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews are a bit subjective. The theology could either be Pauline or influenced by Paul, and the argument from "style" is inconclusive--compare Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" to his "Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-sixth Ohio Regiment" for an idea of how widely personal style can very! Also, the fact that the early church almost universally attested to Pauline authorship when they considered the epistle (sermon, actually!) canonical is nothing to sneeze at. For me, however, it all comes down to the fact that I just can't get around Hebrews 2:3 and the idea that Paul could have considered himself a generation removed from "those that heard [Jesus]." (There is the possibility that "those that heard" is referring to the Old Testament prophets beginning with Abraham, but I would think that v. 4 would make the reference more likely to be the Apostles in the early church).