the weblog of Alan Knox

Earliest NT manuscripts were written so that more people could read and understand

Posted by on Jul 17, 2012 in discipleship | 4 comments

Earliest NT manuscripts were written so that more people could read and understand

Larry Hurtado has shared a very good post called “Early Christian Manuscripts and Their Readers.” I love following Hurtado’s work, especially his findings concerning the early worship of Jesus Christ as divine.

In this post, he summarizes his article from a book called The Early Text of the New Testament, edited by Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger (Oxford University Press). His articles follows the findings of William A. Johnson who concluded that “the rather severe and demanding features of high-quality ancient Greek literary manuscripts reflect the elite social-settings in which these manuscripts were intended to be read.”

But, when you examine the oldest NT manuscript, those “rather severe and demanding features” are not present. Instead, Hurtado finds the following:

If Johnson is correct that the format of the pagan literary rolls was intended to reflect and affirm the exclusivity of the elite social circles in which they were to be read, then Christian manuscripts (especially those that appear to have been prepared for public reading) typically seem to reflect a very different social setting, perhaps deliberately so. I propose that they reflect a concern to make the texts accessible to a wider range of reader competence, with fewer demands made on readers to engage and deliver them.

So, if Hurtado is correct, then the earliest copiers wrote the NT manuscripts in a way that allowed the most people from the widest social stratas to be able to read them and understand them. In other words, they were prepared for the common person.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-18-2012

    So the idea that Scriptures were coded documents that only the specially initiate could understand couldn’t have come from the writing itself!

  2. 7-18-2012

    These manuscripts perhaps were written BY common people as well not by the scholars. Several were fishermen and all appear to come from pretty simple backgrounds. The message was simple. Only in modern times have we given complexity to the Gospel. Perhaps our seminaries have given us that “gift”. Paul preached Jesus and Him crucified. If we stuck to that perhaps there would be fewer arguments like some the semantic debates we see on facebook nowadays.

  3. 7-18-2012


    I don’t think so.


    I agree.


  4. 12-31-2012

    Can we assume the same commonness for our English versions?
    When I read my Bible, it usually makes sense. Is it really so easy, or am I missing something?