An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 2 - Section 49



§ 49. The actual Increase

1. Writings like the Apocalypse and the Gospels, which were intended from the first for a considerable public, were circulated immediately after their composition in numerous copies; which, even supposing that the author had bestowed a certain amount of supervision upon them, could not all have been exactly alike. Still less could this be expected of those copies which were made in distant parts from scattered examples of the ʽfirst edition.ʼ Very early, too, copies (ἀπόγραψα, ἀντίγραφα) were made of letters of the Apostles in other communities than those for which they had originally been solely intended. As early as the year 100 we hear that the Roman Christians were reading 1. Corinthians, and the author of 1. Peter certainly possessed several of Paulʼs Epistles. The fact that the original documents were soon lost is partly explained by the fragile nature of papyrus, but it also shows that the very early Church had not the slightest inclination towards the worship of relics, and proves beyond dispute that she did not look upon these documents as in any special degree sacred, i.e. Canonical. They disappeared just as other fragments of early Christian literature vanished after a few decades. But the number of copies of these first MSS. increased in almost the same proportion as the number of Christians, particularly after these books began to enjoy Canonical dignity, and by the year 200, or thereabouts, we may suppose that all the larger communities of the Roman Empire possessed at least one copy of the New Testament Books. This propagation and multiplication of the texts was much increased after the fourth. century, partly because, owing to the favour of the Emperors, countless new communities arose, extending even into the remotest villages, and partly because the monasteries not only needed a number of copies for themselves, but made a labour of love of the preparation of new MSS., believing it to be a work pleasing to God. Nevertheless, we must beware of accepting exaggerated estimates of the number of New Testament manuscripts existing and circulating at the same time; before the Reformation the idea that it was the daily duty of every Christian to read his Bible did not exist, and Birtʼs assertion that ʽthe Bible must have been obtainable at a low price, since it was the indispensable possession of every member of a community, even of the very poorest,ʼ is an enormous exaggeration. It was the exception for individual laymen to possess the Books of the Bible, and even the clergy only possessed them as their private property in very few cases. Naturally, however, each community. would have been anxious to obtain complete copies, at any rate of the New Testament, for the use of its church, but nowhere and at no time was this desire fulfilled in the case of every little village church. A complete ʽbibliotheca sacraʼ was only to be found in those places where scholarly activity and ecclesiastical interest met, and in the language of the Church ʽbibliothecaʼ came to be understood as the whole body of the ʽScriptures,ʼ together with the traditional apparatus of commentaries and introductions. Nevertheless, no book in all the worldʼs literature can approach the New Testament in the number of copies, both of the original text and of all manner of translations, which have been made of it.

9. But even after the New Testament was completed, all its parts were by no means propagated in equal quantities. The four Gospels on the one hand, and on the other the fourteen Pauline Epistles, are those which hang together most firmly, nor is it at all usual for the Catholic Epistles— wherever their number is known and fixed—to appear singly; but the Acts and more especially the Apocalypse often form complete volumes by themselves, or, if not, they are bound up with the Pauline or the Catholic Epistles. The Apocalypse has even been met with in a volume of Patristic Tracts. But separate versions of the complete New Testament, like those we possess in countless printed editions, are not to be found in manuscript; the parchment codices which embrace all the books of the New Testament without exception (like the Sinaiticus) contain the whole Bible, with the New Testament and occasionally a few other books for church reading forming the last volume (as in the Alexandrinus). Elaborately written copies of the sacred writings sometimes extend to as many as twelve volumes. This fact is confirmed by overwhelming evidence from ecclesiastical literature; the far more frequent use of plural than of singular designations! shows that, as far as outward form was concerned, the idea of unity did not exist; and we read, for instance, in the protocol of a disputation between Augustine and the Manichean Felix, that the former takes the Codex of the Gospel in his hand (here we find unity once more, for τὸ εὐαγγέλιον is the usual name for the four Gospel writings: not till later does pedantry prefer τετραευαγγέλιον), reads something from it, gives it back again, and calls for the book of the Acts in order to read a passage from it in like manner.

Ancient manuscripts of the Gospels are fairly plentifully preserved (we possess nearly one hundred codices in the Uncial hand), but the case is less favourable with the Pauline and Catholic Epistles and the Acts, while the Apocalypse is extremely poorly represented. In the later Middle Ages the books for reading aloud, or lectionaries, were almost more widely distributed than the New Testament Scriptures themselves; they were made to suit the convenience of the priests, and only contained the passages (pericopae) intended for public reading, and arranged according to the order of the ecclesiastical year. Their history begins with the sixth century, and there was naturally very considerable variation among them, since the length of the pericopae might be, and indeed was, very different in different cases. It was quite exceptional to unite the Evangelic readings in a single volume with the Apostolic (i.e. those taken from the Acts and the Epistles), but where this was done it was called an ἀποστολοευαγγέλιον. The collections from the Gospels are often merely called εὐαγγέλιον, or else εὐαγγελιάριον or εὐαγγελιστάριον (but a sharp distinction cannot be drawn between these terms); those from Apostolic writings, simply ἀπόστολος or πραξαπόστολος; but these are rarer and generally of later origin than the Gospel collections. Of course extracts from the New Testament found admission into other liturgical MSS.; but this does not interest us here, because it did not influence the multiplication of the New Testament and is altogether without importance for the history of the text, since no fresh material can be expected among such common market ware.



1) As τὰ βιβλία, sacrae sanctae scripturae, libri canonict etc.