Peter warned Christian shepherds against making gain of their positions.—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
COPYISTS OF THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians he orders that the letter be read in the congregation of the Laodiceans in exchange for the one to Laodicea. (Col. 4:16) No doubt all the congregations desired to read all the congregational letters of the apostles and their fellow members of the Christian governing body, and so copies were made for later consultation and to give them wider circulation. The ancient collections of Paul’s letters (copies of the originals) stand as evidence that there was considerable copying and publication of them.
The Bible translator Jerome of the fourth century and Origen of the third century C.E. say that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. It was directed primarily to Jews. But there were many Hellenized Jews among the Dispersion; so it may be that it was Matthew himself who later translated his Gospel into Greek. Mark wrote his Gospel mainly with Gentile readers in view, as indicated by his explanations of Jewish customs and teachings, by his translations of certain expressions that would not be understood by Roman readers, and by other explanations. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels were intended for wide circulation and, of necessity, many copies would be made and distributed.—See the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” pp. 175-186.
Christian copyists were not often professional, but, having respect and high regard for the value of the inspired Christian writings, they copied them carefully. Typical of the work of these early Christian copyists is the oldest extant fragment of any of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Papyrus Rylands Greek No. 457. Written on both sides, it consists of but some one hundred letters (characters) of Greek and has been dated as early as the second century C.E. While it has an informal air about it and makes no pretensions to be fine writing, it has been classified as “a careful piece of work.” Interestingly this fragment is from a codex about eight inches square, and which most likely contained all of John’s Gospel, or some sixty-six leaves, about 132 pages in all.
Bearing more extensive witness, but at later dates, are the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri. These consist of portions of eleven Greek codices, produced between the second and fourth centuries C.E. They contain parts of nine Hebrew and fifteen Christian Bible books. These are quite representative in that a variety of writing styles is found in them. One codex is said to be “the work of a good professional scribe.” Of another it is said: “The writing is very correct, and though without calligraphic pretensions, is the work of a competent scribe.” And of still another’ “The hand is rough but generally correct.”—Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Vol. I.
More important than these characteristics, however, is their subject matter. In the main they corroborate those fourth-century vellum manuscripts known as the “Neutrals,” which are rated most highly by textual scholars Westcott and Hort, such as the Vatican No. 1209 and the Sinaiticus. Further, they contain none of the striking interpolations that are found in certain vellum manuscripts and that have been termed, perhaps mistakenly, “Western.”
There are extant many thousands of manuscripts dating from especially the fourth century C.E. forward. That the copyists used extreme care is seen by scholars who have carefully studied and compared these manuscripts. Some of these scholars have made recensions or collations based on these comparisons. Such recensions form the basic texts for our modern translations. Scholars Westcott and Hort, compilers of what is widely considered the most accurate recension of the Christian Greek Scriptures, stated that 99.9 percent of the differences found in the manuscripts consist of “comparatively trivial variations.” Sir Frederic Kenyon stated concerning the Chester Beatty papyri: “The first and most important conclusion derived from the examination of them is the satisfactory one that they confirm the essential soundness of the existing texts. No striking or fundamental variation is shown either in the Old or the New Testament. There are no important omissions or additions of passages, and no variations which affect vital facts or doctrines. The variations of text affect minor matters, such as the order of words or the precise words used.”
There are several reasons why little remains of the earliest copyists’ work today. Many of their copies of the Scriptures were destroyed during the time that Rome persecuted the Christians. Wear through use took its toll. Also, the hot, humid climate in some locations caused rapid deterioration. Additionally, as the professional scribes of the fourth century C.E. replaced papyrus manuscripts by vellum copies, there seemed to be no need of preserving the old papyrus copies.
Scrolls and parchments are mentioned by Paul at 2 Timothy 4:13. The ink used by copyists in writing was a mixture of soot and gum made in a cake form and mixed in water for use. The pen consisted of a reed, a “calamus.” The tip, when softened with water, resembled a brush. Writing was done on leather and papyrus in scrolls or rolls; later in codex form on sheets which, if bound, often had a wooden cover. The advantage of the codex over the roll book was that writing was more compact and cheaper to produce, easier to handle and much more convenient for locating references.
This English word is drawn from the Latin verb scribere, meaning “to write.” The Greek word gra·pheʹ, “a writing,” from graʹpho, “to write,” as used in the Christian Greek Scriptures refers only to the sacred writings in God’s Word the Bible. There were other documents used by the writers of both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures, such as official public genealogical records, histories, and so forth, but these were not considered as inspired and/or on an equal level with the writings recognized as canonical. Even the apostles may have written other letters to certain congregations (for example, Paul’s statement at 1 Corinthians 5:9: “In my letter I wrote you,” implies that he wrote a previous letter to the Corinthians, one that is not now existent). Such writings evidently were not preserved by God’s holy spirit for the Christian congregation, because they were essential only to those to whom they were addressed.
Another Greek word, gramʹma, basically denoting a letter or character of the alphabet, is also drawn from the verb graʹpho. Used in the sense of ‘document,’ it is sometimes rendered “scripture” in some translations, “writing” in others. At John 5:47 and 2 Timothy 3:15 the word is used with reference to inspired “writings” of the Hebrew Scriptures.
APPEALED TO BY CHRIST AND APOSTLES
Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Scriptures often used the word gra·pheʹ in appealing to the writings of Moses and the prophets as their authority for their teaching or for their work, on the grounds that these writings were inspired by God. Frequently these Hebrew writings as a whole were designated “Scriptures.” (Matt. 21:42; 22:29; Mark 14:49; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 18:24, 28) Sometimes the singular form “Scripture” was used where a certain text was cited, referring to it as part of the entire body of writings in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8) Again reference was made to a single text as a “scripture,” with the sense of its being an authoritative statement. (Mark 12:10; Luke 4:21; John 19:24, 36, 37) At 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20 Paul and Peter appear to refer to both the inspired Hebrew and Greek writings as “Scripture.” Peter classifies Paul’s writings as part of the “Scriptures” at 2 Peter 3:15, 16.