Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Encountering the Manuscripts

I have started to read Comfort’s Encountering the Manuscripts. It is very informative and interesting for me since I am quite illiterate in this area. But the author confuses me so. He was defining “publication” in his introduction and began talking about ancient poets and philosophers. Then he mentions Jesus and calls him, “the mystical poet and prophet”. But as I read along, he talks about Christ and his resurrection as the “proof positive that Jesus is who he said he was”. (p.2)

So, what is the author? A believer or is he just a scholar? Can you tell by just reading him? And is it important what he is?

Whether it is important or not, I am reading the book quite critically anyway. It is because I am completely new to this subject. And there are a lot of things I am quite ignorant of. So when he makes certain claims, I would literally mark his words, planning to re-visit it later.

Here are a few of things (to start with, since I have only read 15 pages of the 354) he said which I am going to think about and double check on:

1. The autographs (and/or archetypes) would have shorter endings than what we see in manuscripts (p.8)
2. The book of Mark could not possibly end with the preposition gar. In his words: “Who would end a sentence, much less an entire Gospel, with that word?” (p.9)
3. Some writers seem to have let their writings be published without thorough editing. He felt that Paul would have had dictation left uncorrected and he gave the example of Eph 3:18. (p.6)

I think (1) would be quite possible though with me, it is the other way round. I write them all and then cut down the words to make it more succinct and to the point. So can he be so sure that autographs are always shorter than the manuscripts?

I am not sure about (2) – why not unless you think only Yoda does it so.

I am all perplexed with (3). Here we were working so hard doing exegesis on why the authors would use such and such a word or phrase with such and such a tense or grammar, only to realize that it was an uncorrected mistake in the first place? Hard to swallow that for now.


Autograph – the authored manuscript, penned, dictated or endorsed by the author
Archetype – the copy of a text in a scriptorium or library used to make copies
Manuscript – handwritten copies of text.


  1. What? No comments yet? ;-)

    Embracing the human side of inspiration seems very important to me. As I was reading Wright, he talked extensively about your point #2. His conclusion is that Mark actually ended earlier than the version we have now, and that the version we have now is a pretty klutzy ending, all told. I found his argument persuasive.

    More importantly, just thinking about the scripture as something with human flaws on it is hard for my fundamentalist mindset to absorb. But, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It seems to me that knowing God inspired the texts, but that things actually happened to it just makes more sense. It jives with the world I've come to know. In the same way, knowing that the earth goes around the sun jives with the world I've come to know.

    The scripture doesn't really say that 1900 years after it was published, it would be 100% error free. It says that it is God breathed. So, I find it pretty easy to move to a world in which the original text was written by God through men, and that things happened to it as they were writing it, after it was written and in transcription - as long as it is understood that it was transmitted by men who loved God and poured their heart and minds into transcribing it as perfectly as possible.

    Still waiting to see where I really settle out, though. May the Lord bless your search.

  2. Hi Pearlie,

    Don't forget, gar is a postpositive, which means it will never appear as the first word in a sentence, but second. And "they were afraid" is a single word in Greek. So it's logical and possible to end with gar, after the greek word translated "they were afraid".

    For other Pauline texts where extemporary composition is practised, see 1 Thess 2:2; 2:18; 3:1-2, 5; 4:1; 1 Cor 1:14-16; 7:10,12 and 2 Cor 5:12. Oh yes, don't forget that Paul never returns to the topic he started in Eph 3:1 after the digression from Eph 3:2ff.

  3. CP,
    Yeah, I was also thinking about Scriptures being inspired and how to reconcile that with what I am reading, but I suppose like you said, there is the human side of things - in that, the bible was not written through dictation from God.

    God bless your search as well :)

  4. Don't forget? I don't have it in the first place, so how to forget? hahahaha

    και εκστασις και ουδενι ουδεν ειπαν εφοβουντο γαρ
    So you are saying it is possible to end a sentence, in this case a gospel with a gar. So Comfort's Greek isn't so good :)

    Anyway, I remember Rev Dr Ezra Kok's sermon on this very well, when he was explaining what it meant for Mark to end the Gospel this way. I found it so wonderful I kept it with me, in mind.

    Still cannot see the Eph 3:1/3:2. What topic was he on in 3:1?