Monday, 12 April 2021

Out Soon: Divine Agency and Divine Action, Volume 4

I am pleased to see that the fourth and final book in William J. Abraham’s Divine Agency and Divine Action series is out soon – in just over a month, if the publishing schedule remains true. Judging by the contents page (see below), this is going to be an excellent book.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

New Testament Manuscripts and Classical Literature: Comparing the Numbers

There are charts available online and presumably elsewhere comparing the amount of New Testament manuscripts with certain other ancient texts (e.g. Caesar’s Gallic Wars). The purpose of these charts is to emphasise the New Testament’s trustworthiness: if we have no need to doubt the reliability of the Gallic Wars, the reasoning goes, then certainly we should have no need to question the New Testament, which is far better attested. The flip side of this, of course, is that if we doubt the authenticity of the New Testament, then we should doubt that of classical texts, too.

The problem here is that while the logic appears sound, the data used in the charts is often outdated. This means Christian educators and apologists relying on this data are in fact relying on false data to prove a point. In Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2019), James B. Prothro contributes a chapter (‘Myths about Classical Literature’, pp. 70–89) in which he tackles how to compare the New Testament texts and classical literature responsibly. I don’t want to go into Prothro’s chapter in detail here—you should read his essay and the whole book if you can—but I do want to produce my own chart comparing the numbers. And I want to do this partly so I can have a quick reference point for my own occasional teaching, but also because Prothro himself doesn’t tabulate the data. However, for his numbers, Prothro appears to draw largely from an article by Clay Jones which does contain a chart.

The following table is essentially a version of Clay Jones’s one but with minor amendments drawn from Prothro’s essay, pp. 75–78. It’s the kind of chart that will need to be updated from time to time as new manuscript discoveries are made. Please do leave a comment if you know of any numbers that need to be taken into account here.

Author

Work

Date Written

Earliest Manuscripts

Time Gap (years)

Number of Manuscripts

Homer

Iliad

800 bc

c. 400 bc

400

1,757

Herodotus

History

480–425 bc

ad 100–200 fragments

c. 600

109

Plato

tetralogies

400 bc

895

1,300

210

Caesar

Gallic Wars

100–44 bc

9th century

950

251

Livy

History of Rome

59 bc—ad 17

early 5th century

400

150

Tacitus

Annals

ad 100

1st half: 850; 2nd half: 1050

750–950

2 + 31 (dated 15th century)

Thucydides

History

460–400 bc

3rd century bc

200

96

New Testament

 

ad 50–100

ad 130

40

5,795

Saturday, 13 March 2021

John Polkinghorne (1930–2021): A Brief Tribute

By Jack1956, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2950826
The Revd Professor John Polkinghorne, kbe, frs, has died at the age of 90.

Of all the scientist-theologians to have written on divine action in the past few decades—and let’s face it, there have been, and continue to be, many—John Polkinghorne was the one whose work most resonated with me. When I was doing my doctoral research and searching for people who had issues with the concept of primary and secondary causation, I found Polkinghorne’s work on the topic quite refreshing. He didn’t mince his words: double agency, he observed, is ‘an unintelligible kind of theological doublespeak’ (Science and Christian Belief: Theological Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker (London: SPCK, 1994), pp. 81–82). It’s the kind of statement I wish I had constructed and had the courage and confidence to disseminate.

And of all the scientist-theologians to have contributed to the broader science and religion dialogue in the past few decades, John Polkinghorne was the one whom I thought was held captive least to scientific frameworks, primacy, and pressures. It seems to me he was far more willing to let Nicene orthodoxy dictate the terms of his theology than most of his peers. This is most evident in Science and Christian Belief, from which the above quotation about double agency is taken. That said, I didn’t agree with everything Polkinghorne wrote, and you can see my critical appreciation of his take on primary causation and informational causality in my chapter in God and the Scientist, edited by Fraser Watts and Christopher C. Knight (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).

Polkinghorne wrote extensively on eschatology and how the natural sciences can enrich the more traditional descriptions of the age to come. I conclude this brief tribute by quoting the final paragraph in From Physicist to Priest: An Autobiography (London: SPCK, 2007), p. 172:

No one knows when or how their own life will end, but we all know that death is ahead of us sometime. For a long while I have prayed regularly that I may be given the grace to make a good death. For the Christian, it will be the final act in this world of complete commitment into the hands of a faithful God and merciful Saviour. I greatly value the words of a Charles Wesley hymn that for me express perfectly how one should seek to think about one’s death,

Ready for all thy perfect will,

My acts of faith and love repeat,

Till death thine endless mercies seal,

And make the sacrifice complete.