2nd Century Corruption of Scripture


Dr. John Gee of BYU has written an essay entitled “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity” that appeared in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005, Provo Ut.


This is a summary of that article based upon notes that I made while reading it. There are many useful bits of information to be found.



Accusations of Corruption


·  Peter accused some of misinterpreting Paul’s words (2 Peter 3:15-16)

·  The most sacred teachings were reserved by Jesus for only his closest followers (Matthew 13:11–16; 19:11; Mark 4:2, 33; Luke 18:34; 22:67; John 3:12; 6:60–61; 8:43; 10:27; 16:12, 18, 25; Acts 10:41)

·  Only 3/53 of Jesus’ parables include explanations of their meaning, all 3 given behind closed doors

·  Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD) admitted that he could not reveal certain doctrines to “babes” in the gospel, lest they be “suffocated”.(Ignatiues, To the Trallians 5, ANF 1:68 )

·  Justin Martyr accused the Jews of removing scripture(Dialogus cum Tryphone 73)

·  Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) said that Mark only wrote the basic teachings of Jesus in his Gospel, leaving out the more sacred ones(Letter to Theodore, 1.15-2.10)

·  Clement said that Mark wrote a “more spiritual gospel” for the more advanced Christians(Ibid.)

·  Clement accused Carpocrates of corrupting the scriptures(Ibid.)

·  Irenaeus accused the Valentinians of corrupting scriptures (Contra Heresies 1.8.1)

·  Irenaeus says that some biblical manuscripts in his day described the number of the beast in Revelation as being 616, not 666(Contra Heresies 5.30.1)

·  Irenaeus admits that other Christian sects also accused the his sect of corrupting the scriptures(Contra Heresies 3.2.1)

·  Tertullian notes that some Christian sects of his day corrupt the scriptures

·  Tertullian accuses Marcion of using “the knife, not the pen” in his corruption of scripture and changed the meanings of words

·  Tertullian accused some of forging letters in Paul’s name

·  Tertullian admits that other sects accuse his own sect of corrupting the scriptures



     Methods of Corruption



·   Scribal omissions, called haplography, occur frequently(174)

·   Addition(174)

·   It is often impossible to discern whether one group has omitted information or if the other group added information(174)

·   Substitution of words was a common phenomena, but the second century authors do not seem to isolate this as a problem(175)

·   Presuppositional reinterpretation occurs when the basic assumptions with which the text is read are changed(176)

·   Allegorical interpretation; Philo is well known for this(177)

·   Grammatical interpretation exploits ambiguities in Greek (and later Latin) to fashion understandings of the text that significantly differ from previous understandings(178).

·   Lexical reinterpretation is the changing of meanings of words (179)

·   “The Christians, like the Jews before them, used the Greek language in an idiosyncratic way that seemed strange to non-Christians around them.”(179, see also Tvedtnes parody here)

·   The Apocalypse of Adam described 14 different views of Jesus’ baptism held by Christians of the day(181)



Manuscript Evidence



·  Early Greek NT manuscripts called uncial manuscripts (written with a clear, literary hand)

·  Approx. 341 uncial manuscripts exist

·  Of the 341, 10% date to before Constantine, only 1 dates to the second century

·  The 1 second century manuscript is the size of a postage stamp and contains only ten complete words

·  99.7% of Greek uncial New Testament manuscripts come after the time period when accusations of textual corruption were rampant

·  “So only ten complete words of the New Testament are attested in manuscript form during the time of corruption, and not a single one is attested before that time”

·  “If we assemble all the manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and note only those chapters where even a part of a verse is attested, we find that entire books are missing, including 1-2 Timothy, 1-2 Peter, 2-3 John, and Jude.”

·  There is no manuscript evidence predating the 3rd century for 16 chapters of Matthew

·  Occasional passages show that the verse was already corrupted even before the earliest known manuscript (ex. Mat. 19:9)

·  The earliest manuscripts come from Egypt, a place which is considered not in the mainstream of ancient Western Christianity



The Scriptures of the Early Second Century


·        The Christians at the end of the 2nd century had different scriptures than those at the beginning of the century, both at the level of the books in the canon and the text itself

·        Christian quotations of scriptures at the end of the 2nd century are a closer match to the scriptures we have today than quotations by writers at the beginning of the 2nd century

·        Tertullian(end of 2nd) cites every book in NT except Philemon

·        Irenaeus(also end of 2nd) cites every book in NT except Philemon, 3 John, and Jude

·        Clement of Rome (beginning of 2nd) quotes from Wisdom of Solomon and Judith, and many other passages not known in any book

·        2nd Clement quotes verses unknown in today’s NT

·        Epistle of Barnabas quotes (early 2nd) cites many OT and NT books routinely quoting them differently than today’s books

·        Epistle of Barnabas quotes from 4th Ezra, Sirach, 1 Enoch, and the Didache

·        Barnabas also quotes verses not known in any book today

·        “Even when quoting from scriptures that we presently have, the quotations do not match the surviving manuscripts.”




·        A large shift occurred in the concept and content of scripture in the 2nd century





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5 comments on “2nd Century Corruption of Scripture

  1. Hans says:

    Thanks for sharing your notes. Are these the notes from the entire essay or is there still some parts to read? Are the other essays just as interesting?

    It sounds like a modern version of Talmage’s Great Apostasy, except that we have the benefit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi and other important finds unavailable to him.

  2. James says:

    These are the notes that I took from the entire essay. There are definitely more essays worth reading. I recommend Paulson’s essay. The whole book can be found on the FARMS website.
    There is actually a part of the book in which traditional LDS approaches to the apostasy are critiqued. I seem to recall that Talmage’s book is mentioned, but it is found wanting in that Talmage (and all other early LDS writers) relied too heavily on anti-Catholic scholarship published by Protestants.

  3. Very interesting notes. I’ll have to pick up this book. It’s amazing how many people believe that the Bible is completely inerrant and is perfectly the same as when the original authors wrote it. Clearly there is a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

  4. James says:

    Hi Bryce. I saw the firestorm you started over at M*. I was pretty upset when I saw Wall-E also!

  5. […] – bookmarked by 4 members originally found by yili on 2008-10-20 2nd Century Corruption of Scripture https://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2008/07/11/2nd-century-corruption-of-scripture/ – bookmarked by […]

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