What is an autographical text?

First, I apologize that my reply came across more snarky than it needed to be (typing late at night). You are clearly intelligent and have access to resources from those with whom you disagree. But it doesn’t appear that you’ve attempted to understand their position before critiquing them. I get this from the OP’s list of 7 things, most of which are not relevant to how “autograph” is understood in the discussion. Now, I fully grant that the word “autograph” itself is unfortunate, because it congers up modern ideas of authorship, text, etc. So, it’s one thing to think of an original text Paul wrote in a prison cell; it’s quite another to think of a composite text that involved multiple hands (e.g., editors) and a process of transmission before arriving at a final form that was received by the faith community as inspired revelation.

It’s the final received form that is usually meant in scholarly discussions. So whatever process preceded this stage is tangential (this speaks to ##1-6 in OP). I’d also add that your confidence of identifying multiple editions, additions, etc. in NT books is not shared by many scholars. A lot of speculation goes into those discussions. But even if granted, I think it misses the mark of the point in question.

Now, this still leaves open the question of when exactly a book was received by the community. The OT canon is settled by the first century (focusing on Jamnia is a red herring IMO), and I see no reason to extend NT beyond the end of the first century. I realize the issue of canonicity over the ensuing centuries gets complicated, but they weren’t disagreeing about a text’s content, but whether it should be on the list (and most were not disputed at all).

The one point you raise that does need further reflection is the Septuagint (#7) (though your discussion of Hebrew autographs suffers the same problems as discussed above). I think the normal evangelical formulations of canon & inspiration are off the mark here (i.e., limiting it to the Hebrew text). When Paul claims the inspiration of “all Scripture” (2 Tim 3:16), he has in mind the OT, of course. But it’s hard to imagine that he would limit this to the Hebrew text(s) and not include the Greek text(s) known and used by him. Thus, multiple versions of the OT were accepted by the church community as inspired.

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For me, those who push an inerrant, autographical text usually accept all the traditional namesakes attached to the Gospels (Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul wrote all 13 NT epistles in his name instead of 7-10. I said in the work: “It might be my imagination but for each book of the Bible I get the impression that some Christians envision a single author set out, sat down and wrote down whatever God told him to in some sort of “one and done” approach to inspiration. This would be the “autographical” text that many would deem inerrant and infallible. The textual record and careful study of the texts themselves does not lend itself to such a simplistic view.” Of all my readings of conservative apologists, they butcher textual criticism over and over again. If you have a definition of an autograph you would like to share, feel free to do so. A large number of scholars are now questioning the legitimacy of the term “autograph.”

These composite and fluid texts I mentioned also show us what could happen to a work after an early form was created. It could transform into something a little different. Since we have virtually no citations and no manuscript evidence for almost 100 years of any NT work, we cannot be over-confident that our extant form looks remarkably similar to some pristine autograph. That is my point along with questioning what an autographical text actually is. I didn’t post the entirety of my thoughts I put up on my website because the OP would have been too long but here is some more that I wrote:

We have serious problems in even identifying what an “autographical text” means because without even looking at textual differences, we see that many Biblical works have very complicated compositional histories. As Eldon Jay Epp’s wrote in an influential article:

Now, if the goal of textual criticism is to recover the most likely “original” text, what in actuality is the object of textual critics’ research-a text of the gospels that is somewhat earlier than but very likely similar to the text of the earliest manuscripts, or a text of even earlier and now largely lost predecessor forms of these gospels? In other words, textual critics face two or more questions rather than one: first, a prior question as to which Mark (or John, or Corinthian letters, or Ephesians, etc.) is "original, "followed by the more traditional inquiry as to which variant readings of a particular work are "original. "More clearly than before, the multivalence of the term “original text” emerges and confronts textual critics with its complexity. [The Multivalence of the Term “Original Text” in New Testament Textual Criticism Author(s): Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 92, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 245-281]

A continued and softer process of inspiration over a “one and done” autographical approach might be preferable given the nature of many Biblical works. J. N. Birdsall wrote:

if we must cope, pending more satisfactory resolution, with a text containing many variations, some unresolved, in what position are we in our use of scripture in theology, and in the life of the church? I suggest that a way forward is to treat our knowledge of scripture as knowledge of scripture within the church, and not only as a foundation document separate from the church. The variations will then be treated as themselves part of the scripture, showing us not only the original, but the church’s understanding of it. [Yextual Criticism and New Testament Studies: An Inaugural Lecture (Birmingham, 1984)]

The church and various Christians were using texts with divergent readings as sacred Scripture and it is difficult to imagine inspiration outside the context of community. Paul Achtemeier writes:

"if Scripture is to be understood as inspired, then that inspiration will have to be understood equally in terms of the community that produced those Scriptures. Inspiration, in short, occurs within the community of faith and must be located at least as much withing that community as with an individual author. . . .

“The anonymity of Scripture may thus be intimately tied to the fact that Scripture’s origin lies far more within the community than to an individual, and may indeed bear witness that inspiration is to be understood in a broader sense than simply as an inspired individual producing inspired books.” [Inspiration and Authority]

You mean “conservative evangelical scholars” many of who are not mainline critical scholars or are just barely on the spectrum of what is acceptable. Nothing of what I wrote is some nefarious liberal scheme to undermine Christian belief. All of these are mainline views, many of which are accepted by the vast majority of all critical scholars–including Christians.

The OT canon was most certainly not fully settled. There are some books many agree on but whole groups of Jews only accepted the first five books of Moses. It might be easy to placate our doubts by assuming what we want to believe but in no instance was the OT canon fully settled at that time. Nor was it exactly what you find in Protestant Bibles. The text of the OT itself is also highly problematic.

Parts of the NT text were not even written until the early second century (e.g. 2 Peter) and books and gospels were argued about for centuries. The NT canon was not settled for centuries and we still dispute the exact extent of the canon. Personally, I would read 1 Clement just as authoritatively as I would any scripture in the canon and more so than some works of Paul which I believe he did not write but made it in because the church made mistakes. The Shepherd of Hermas is another book I would include in a canonization process I think was reliable but not perfect, much like scripture.

They are off the mark because they will say to you, “Excellent, so God inspired mistranslations of his original Hebrew.” I am sure this belief precludes the doctrine of inerrancy by default so it would be opposed by evangelicals. Unless they claim that wherever the NT uses the Septuagint with a different translation, that was the Hebrew original. The mental gymnastics truly have no limits so I wouldn’t doubt someone, somewhere has claimed this.


Thank you for this, I did some research and added a section on Job.

The Book of Job is Two Stories in One

The bookends (Ch 1-2, 42:7-17) are very different from the the rest of Job (3:1-42:6). The former consist of prose narrative as a folktale while the central portion is Hebrew Poetry. Robert Alter lays out the basics below:

The frame-story (Chapters 1 and 2, concluded in Chapter 42) is in all likelihood a folktale that had been in circulation for centuries, probably through oral transmission. In the original form of the story, with no debate involved, the three companions would not have appeared: instead, Job would have been tested through the wager between God and the Adversary, undergone his sufferings, and in the end would have had his fortunes splendidly restored. A passing mention in Ezekiel 14:14 and 19 of Job, together with Noah and Daniel (not the Daniel of the biblical book) as one of three righteous men saved from disaster, reflects the presence of a Job figure— perhaps featuring in the same plot as that of the frame-story—in earlier folk tradition. The author of the Book of Job, however, has either reworked an old text or formulated his own text on the basis of oral tradition, using archaizing language. There is an obvious effort in the frame-story to evoke the patriarchal age, though in a foreign land with non-Israelites, but the neat symmetries of formulaic numbers and the use of prose refrains resemble nothing in the Patriarchal Narrative in Genesis." [The Wisdom Books]

Bart Ehrman has said that the prose portion uses Yahweh for God while the poetry section uses El, Eloah and El Shaddai. He further suggests the two different stories not only depict Job differently (he is anything but patient in the central portion) but also feature different responses to suffering. Ehrman writes:

Second, the views of suffering, as we will see in greater detail, are also very much different from one another, depending on whether you are reading the short story or the poetic dialogue. The short story is unambiguous about why Job is suffering: God is putting him to the test to see if he will remain faithful even when things go badly for him (through the machinations of the Satan figure). But that is not the view found in the poetic section, where Satan is not mentioned, a test is not referred to, and the need to remain faithful in the midst of pain and misery is not in view. In the poetry we learn that there is in fact no way we can understand why there is suffering, and that it is an affront to God even to pursue the question. Suffering is a big mystery. And God can do anything he wants. He is not to be challenged.[Blog Post:The Two Books of Job 2013]


Alter’s translation and commentary of Job are great. We recently bought his entire translation of the Hebrew Bible.

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We probably share some similar concerns, but I think your focus on apologists rather than scholars shows where we might see things differently (and likely talking past each other in some ways). For example, I know plenty of evangelical scholars that wouldn’t recognize this:

No, I don’t. Note: My comment wasn’t about the existence of editions/additions, but the confidence in identifying them. Critical scholars disagree with each other all the time about these things.

fully settled? Of course not! There’s never been unanimous agreement, then or now.

This is speculation. There’s no firm criteria to determine such things.

There are mistranslations. But there are also sophisticated hermeneutics taking place when the Greek varies from the Hebrew. One should not assume which is which, but take things on a case-by-case basis.

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Correct, which is why I called out your vague statement: “The OT canon is settled by the first century (focusing on Jamnia is a red herring IMO), and I see no reason to extend NT beyond the end of the first century.” That sounds like an overzealous apologetical simplification. The correct statement is probably something closer to:

“Many Jews in the first century agreed on a large percentage of the same books comprising the Old Testament as found in my Protestant canon. However, there was substantial disagreement on some of the books, and many other works were also read and utilized authoritatively that are not in my canon.”

So dating 2 Peter to the early second century as most critical scholarship does is speculation but you can claim “I see no reason to extend NT beyond the end of the first century”??? So how do you even know the entire NT was written in the first century, let alone the canon was settled by then?

There are reasons to date 2 Peter that late and scholars have plenty of criteria for dating works in antiquity. They don’t just make things up contrary to what apologists (the people that actually make things up) say. In the case of anonymous composition or in a time when pseudonymous writings were popular, it it difficult to reach definitive dates.

No one has assumed anything. Only that these “sophisticated hermeneutics,” if that is how we are white washing them, happened based on mistranslations in the Septuagint. I am not doubting the exegetical prowess of many NT citations of scripture ir their creativity. Only pointing out the problem for inspiration of the autographs and how affirming mistranslations precludes the doctrine of inerrancy by default and would presumably be opposed by most evangelicals.

Inerrancy is a concept that has a wide range of meanings so I wouldn’t call it a doctrine. And unless you have polled all evangelicals to determine where they fit on the inerrancy spectrum you really can’t say “most” without data to back you up.

People like to water down concepts and terms and stay within traditions despite no longer believing them. Same with so called “Calvinists.” I’m not into word games. I define a word not by it’s extremes but by it’s central advocates and Americans are the largest population of evangelicals in the world.

The problem is if you identify as an evangelical and hit certain thoughts you are more likely to sell more books and have your ideas heard. Once you are branded a liberal your market-base drops significantly and you are hand-wave dismissed. I view some of these so-called evangelicals skeptically as modern day pseudepigrapha.

That I haven’t polled every evangelical in the world is just a deflection and would render every label meaningless if the standard was “knowing what every single person believed.”

Evangelicals in my mind are but a stones throw from fundamentalist Christians. You need a modifier. There are progressive evangelicals for sure but not many on my side of the pond.

Speaking of changes to the autographs, @Vinnie have you seen this interesting story out of NT criticism?


That’s an amazing sermon, Christy - thanks for sharing that! It does really make one think about the significance (for better and at times worse) that editors and redactors have that necessarily give us these English texts (for which we thank God). It does cause us to think, though, if we’re going to focus on jots and tittles of the text and build mountains of doctrine from them - how much are we leaning on an ancient editor’s choice maybe rather than the spirit of the text? [and in this case - an editor’s choice may have caused us to miss something significant from John, which gives a significance to Mary that we’ve all been missing.]


Just read it on a Facebook post that someone :slight_smile: wrote. Very interesting. It brings up the problem inerrantists have, and also the dangers of those who do word studies and try to find meaning in looking at individual works.


Or those who insist the text is all we need, who cares about the historical context of anything. We like to forget that the transmission of the texts took place in a historical context as well.

Fascinating read. I downloaded Schrader’s article but that will have to wait for tomorrow as its very late and its over 30 pages. Also tried finding some disagreements for thoroughness.

This author offered some compliments and critiques of some of her findings but she responds in the comments. Overall the comment section is excellent.

Another critical review by James Snapp::

Facebook Discussion with Snapp here (most is low quality discussion):

I am not convinced that NT group has the highest levels of scholarship though and many conservative exegetes will naturally fight such a view tooth and nail regardless of whether or not it has merit. I initially got the impression the nuance of her arguments (which I still have to fully read) was not being addressed. I posted a question about her work oh Ehrman’s blog to see what he thinks of the article.

I am also not sure p66 dates to 200 though. Nongbri has argued for a 4th century date. Dating works based on paleography has been pretty bad in a lot of cases in NT studies. But this is a very interesting view. This would be l

Here is a “Can I say this in church?” podcasted interview of Elizabeth Schrader by Seth Price back in March of '21. Just click the ‘Back to the audio’ link near the top if you don’t want to read the transcript there.


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I think she deserves some credit for getting articles published in peer reviewed journals that don’t just publish anything. In addition to that Harvard Theological Review article, she had an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature in Dec 2021. The Meaning of “Magdalene”: A Review of Literary Evidence on JSTOR (She presents on it here: Women Erased: Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of John with Elizabeth Schrader - YouTube)

She also has an open-access article in TC: http://jbtc.org/v26/TC-2021-Schrader-Simonson.pdf

This is research that has been ongoing since 2012.


Absolutely. The HTR is prestigious. I think I read Eldon J Epp was part of her review process and he is an excellent scholar. He wrote “Junia: The First Woman Apostle“ and basically settled that issue.

I haven’t been able to get the 2021 article but I will eventually. I can’t wait to see how the Aland stuff goes. I mean if the 29th Nestle-Aland supported this reading there will be some seriously upset conservatives. I wonder if anyone like Daniel B Wallace has reviewed her work.

I already think Paul was more egalitarian than those writing in his name afterwards. John had a very choppy compositional history to begin with with the possibility of multiple redactions on our current canonical version, so none of this would surprise me if true.

This is but another reason the whole apologetic about women as witnesses at the tomb story cannot hold water anymore considering it was just a brute fact that females played a huge role in early Christianity.


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Can we get rid of the “Mary Magdalene was a prostitute” and the “Jesus and Mary Magdalene” were co-habiting partners or married" stories yet?

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Neither of those stories has any claim to historical reality.

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Hi Vinnie,
One thing about biblical scholarship that you really need to get your head around (I believe) is a thing called “Chinese Whispers”

Whilst the Bible is generally considered the Word of God, although authored by God, it was written by man…a lot of different writers actually.

Now it may seem to be a silly thing to say, however, when we generalize by saying that the “gist of it” is accurate, I think that is an oversimplification but it really is exactly what we are reading.

Does “the gist of it” mean that the Bible is not to be taken seriously or as philosophical fact? Absolutely not…police rely heavily on determining “the gist of it” every day when they are investigating during their work. It does not mean that the events and beliefs are wrong…just that many individuals develop different stories of the facts of the cases being investigated (people see things differently).

The ending in John is but one example of where clearly the scribe has been influenced to add in more than what may have been actually orated or indeed written by John himself originally. Does that mean that its not appropriate to include this ending? My understanding is that most scholars consider that both endings in John and the prologue are still inspired and therefore should be included. Even when we look at one of the earliest known complete manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus), we can see where even the scribes of this text left gaps in the columns for alternative chapter writings in books such as Mark and/or John…so clearly they(the scribes) knew of these even back when Sinaiticus was written.

When I read your post, I think that in fact much of your argument is more relevant to the debate over textual variants between Textus Receptus and the Critical Text. If you recall your history, you will note that it has been generally claimed that Textus Receptus is more of a preserved oral tradition that the Critical Text from which Sinaiticus came…therefore it is claimed by the naysayers of Textus Receptus that it could not be an accurate record. Alternatively, the proponents of TR claim that since it seems that over the centuries it has know been shown that the oral tradition and handing down of the TR writings from non educated scribes is indeed very accurate, therefore the reverse is true of its accuracy in preserving the original.

I guess what I am saying here…and its because of the nature of this forum and its underlying philosophy…it is not an argument to claim textual variations are a foundation for denying the literal reading of Moses and John the Revelators writings in order to support evolutionary theory. (sorry but it isn’t). Just a caveat here…I am not suggesting the book of Revelation is prophetic, however, it must be read side by side with the book of Daniel.

you make a statement quoted below that is an interesting one.

Before a text becomes popular enough and authoritative, full-fledged scripture it will be the most fluid and susceptible to editing. We must always remember that while we believe the Bible was written for us in its final canonized form, none of it was written to us and this process took time. A continued and softer process of inspiration over a “one and done” autographical approach might be preferable given the nature of many Biblical works.

My answer to this is rather simple…
How does one determine whether or not any particular Chinese Whisper is true? How does an investigator rebuild the actual events from them?

logical claims and consistency in those claims. It does not require 100% accuracy (just as Chinese Whispers do not contain 100% accuracy), just that the overall gist of the writings are logical and consistent.
When we look at the biblical writings, we certainly find it strongly maintains consistency and indeed significant historical accuracy across its pages. There are also many external writings that are from non canononical sources and indeed in recent times, huge quantities of archeological evidence that support its claims.

I believe the above also applies to bible doctrine. I am a member of a church which is notoriously strong on bible doctrine…indeed some organisations consider our denomination a cult because of our conservative approach to bible doctrine. We have strong beliefs on:

  • All scripture is the Inspired Word of God (any well published translation)
  • Creation and the 7th Day Sabbath,
  • abstinence from drinking alcohol,
  • Diet and Health,
  • Tithe,
  • Post Rapture Millenium, and of course
  • The Heavenly Sanctuary.
    (If those things make a Christian denomination a cult…???)

It is my view that when one deciphers the writings, one must consider that allegories for the creation story and the flood do not maintain consistency with the authors of those books of the bible that tell us those events and later refer to them. I think it hugely defincient to also make the claim that any New Testament writer who refers to the creation and flood accounts is uneducated and/or didn’t know what he was talking about. One of the orators of the Creation story is the very foundation of all Christianity who was the incarnate God Himself. Are we honestly going to claim that someone writing about Jesus teachings at such great length as did the Apostle Paul, the man who oversaw the stoning of Stephen and persecution of the early Christians, a man who was highly educated under the guidance of the Sadduccee legal profession, are we to claim this man didn’t know what he was talking about? Saul was a religious Zealot very well versed in historical writings and the law of Moses. I would argue by modern standards, Saul was an expert in the writings of Moses and would certainly have taken the accounts of those writings as literal fact and no allegory.

sorry…i would like to write more…i don’t have the time…work beckons.

Break the news to atheists.

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