Old Books

In which a New Testament letter is found to be quoting from a gospel writer, showing that early manuscripts were widely circulated in the years following the death of Christ.

I get somewhat tired of hearing that the New Testament was a loose collection of writings that evolved in the centuries following the birth of Christianity. To form this view you have to accept what I consider to be an incredibly cynical view of the early Church and the gospel writers.

Here is just one passage which hints at a simpler reality.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. (1 Tim 5v17-18, KJV)

The quote is from Luke 10v7 (Greek "reward" is translated "hire" in Luke).

  • Paul is using the quote in his letter to Timothy as an appeal to a higher authority.
  • This implies that Timothy either knew, or could refer to, the Luke record to verify the argument that Paul was making.
  • There is no hint of "if your copy says that". The record had to be beyond dispute or there would be no point citing it.
  • The quoted text is placed alongside a verse from Deuteronomy (25v4), attributing the same stature to the Luke record as the writings of Moses.

To me this implies that there was an undisputed copy of Luke in reasonably wide circulation at the time Paul was writing.

This is particularly relevant as Scripture itself tells us that Luke wasn't the first to write about the life of Christ:

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us... (Luke 1v1, KJV)

It's no surpise that there were written records around at this time either as this verse from Paul's second letter to Timothy shows:

The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. (2 Tim 4v13, KJV)

I doubt Paul was concerned for Timothy to remember his box-set of "Noddy in Toyland".

Finally here's another reference to Paul's writings, this time from a different author:

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3v15-16, KJV)

Once more there are a number of things implied by this passage that are hard to overlook:

  • Peter knew that at least some writings of Paul existed at the time he wrote his letter.
  • He was also aware of their content as he knew that Paul had made similar points.
  • He agreed with, and commended Paul's writings.
  • The things Paul had written are set out in the same breath as "other scriptures" (a statement which can be easily, although I believe disingenuously, minimized).

It's good to keep an eye out for these kinds of connections in general Bible reading, and although I've kept to the New Testament in this post there's also plenty of similar content in the Old.

If you're aware of other examples, I'd love to hear of them via Twitter or the Facebook page.

Nathan

Bible enthusiast, husband, Dad, and tech-head with too many projects and not enough time.