I know this departs from the themes of Holy Weekend, but I just had to share James D.G. Dunn’s humorous and insightful answer to what he thinks of the relationship between the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture and the idea of “original autographs” (starting at about 1:02:00 on the video of Dunn’s second lecture from the playlist below…sorry, the link sends me to a playlist rather than directly to Dunn’s 2003 lecture):
Let me be really heretical on the “autographs”. I think, putting it very crudely, the attempt to defend doctrine of inspiration and so on in terms of original autographs was a drastic mistake….because, we don’t have the original autographs! And we’re never going to be able to recreate them. So, that means, we’re never going to have the kind of text that the whole theory of the theory of “original autograph” was attempting to defend. You’ve always got an imperfect text. And if you’ve got an imperfect text and everything depends on infallibility and inerrancy or the original autographs you’re in trouble because you don’t have the original autograph, and that really is really worrying! I prefer to believe in the Holy Spirit rather than the Holy Scripture, if you may put it so. That’s my Trinity! You know: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! Not God the Holy Church and not God the Holy Scripture….there, that’s me done for!
There are significant problems with talking about autographs – most notably that several (many?) of the OT books seem to have been edited over time making us ask “Which version was the inspired autograph?”
Nevertheless, I am always a bit puzzled by those who suggest that not having the “autographs” makes the question irrelevant. It really does matter whether you have a fallible copy of God’s word or you have a fallible copy of someone’s religious experiences. Those arguing for the inspiration of the “autographs” are affirming the former. That is, God was not simply somehow involved in the creation of Scripture but that what Scripture says God says. In support of this approach is the fact that this is the way Jesus and the Apostles treated the OT.
David, I don’t think that not having the autographs makes “the question irrelevant,” but that the emphasis placed on completely hypothetical perfect “autographs”–as if there ever were such a thing–was and is a detour into intellectual, ecclesial, and cultural terrain more problematic than necessary. Interpretive authority resides ultimately in God, the Holy Spirit, and not in anyone’s experience; this is the only approach that can keep us humble while dealing with the imperfect texts we do have. BTW, what Jesus and the Apostles said God said the OT said God said was often a newly authoritative interpretation of what the imperfect texts they had said because they spoke for God authoritatively by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We do, in that sense (if you can make sense of what I said) depend on their (imperfect?) experiences.
That said, I was delighted to hear the eminent Jimmy say so plainly what I have also said regarding the American Evangelicalism’s puzzling emphasis on imaginary inerrant autographs.
At this time of remembrance, as always, enjoy the resurrection life in Christ!
It really does matter whether you have a fallible copy of God’s word or you have a fallible copy of someone’s religious experiences. Those arguing for the inspiration of the “autographs” are affirming the former.
Surely the point, David, is that, not having any autographs, there are no copies to affirm, and “Hooray!” for Jimmy Dunn saying so. And I’d go even further than suggesting that we are most unlikely ever to discover such ancient autographs (which is true). I’d say: why suppose that they ever existed? Isn’t it anachronistic, given the conventions of ancient writing, to think that there were ever singular “original” copies of the biblical texts (apart, perhaps, from the NT letters)? If the doctrine of inerrancy depends on the argument from autographs, it truly is a Norwegian Blue.
Respectfully, I don’t think that is the point at all. Let me try to get at it with a practical question: Would it be legitimate for someone to say, “Paul makes a complete mess of the doctrine of justification in Romans 3:21-31.”?
The person who believes that the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans was inspired by God says “no” because to say that Paul got it wrong would also mean that the Holy Spirit got it wrong. On the other hand, the same individual would say that it is legitimate to work on text critical issues to try to determine how confident we can be that Romans 3:21-31 was actually part of Paul’s letter.
The person who believes that God is generally involved in the creation of Scripture but without inspiring the actual words and sentences would, in principle, be free to say “I do think that Paul wrote Romans 3:21-31, and he really messed things up here – which is strange because he is usually very insightful.”
As I mentioned above, there are some really difficult issues when it comes to talking about the autographs – but whether or not we believe God inspired the “original” in the sense that He spoke through Scripture involves different views of how Christ exercises Lordship over His Church.
Have a great Easter,
Brian, it seems like Dunn shares my views on the topic of the Original Autographs.
Is His Church egalitarian? Is His church denominational? Christian, who has the mind of Christ?
If we had the autographs would anyone here be able to really translate them since they would probably be written in an imperfect language such as ancient greek or hebrew lacking punctuation ,word and sentence breaks which were basically memory notes. I think it would be more profitable to find some very early 2nd century latin or aramaic which were more of written language meant for communication .
For accuracy sake and for those who have not read Dunn’s works on oral tradition and the Gospels, Dunn thinks the Gospel accounts are documented forms of oral tradition strains so the autographs themselves are not nearly as important to him as they are to most researchers.
Even if he had not made the ” we don’t have the originals” comment, he wouldn’t feel they were “all that”, IMO.
I’ve come to share Dunn’s views and would add this, if the faith had remained inside Israel let’s say for 200 years after Christ, I don’t think we’d have had the documented NT until then.
What would have happened is the Apostles and their trainees would have taught via oral tradition and documentation wouldn’t have been needed. As it was, growth happened so far and so fast they couldn’t speak to all believers and documentation became necessary.
He points out, those people were all about oral tradition and we tend to ignore it in our research efforts.
There is no doubt the Hebrew OT especially the Torah were taught orally generation to generation to the Priesthood. If any of the books were copied they were copied for reference and memory guide . Ancient Hebrew writings were not readable unless you already had a clue to what they said. I think the jewish brethren did a pretty good job to maintain an oral tradition till Hebrew became a readable language. I do think Matthew made a memory text in hebrew and Mark put one of Peter’s sermons in possibly a punctuated greek or latin text. Pauls letters we probably somehow punctuated in original but were shorthanded for recording. It is said the very first christian would teach their children to recite whole books because during persecutions it was ordered by the romish church that all literature was to be destroyed along with adult males losing their lives.History speaks of Jacobites,Paulicians,Abyssinian, Maronites, Armenians and the Waldenese using an Old Latin text that dated to 120 ad plus total memorization within the church.
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