Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Mormonism began with a book—the Book of Mormon (published in March 1830). During the next decade, many books were written and published by members and nonmembers to explain, understand, or attack the new faith.
One of Mormonism’s early converts was Parley Parker Pratt (1807–57). He read the Book of Mormon and after a few days sought baptism. This began a long journey with the Saints that ended tragically in Arkansas when Pratt was murdered. Between the time of his baptism and his death, he traveled widely as a missionary in the United States, Canada, and the British Isles. Pratt not only preached the gospel but also took pen and paper to hand and wrote important missionary tracts and booklets. One of his books, A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, Containing a Declaration of the Faith and Doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Commonly Called Mormons (New York: W. Sandford, 1837), is believed by many historians to be the most important Mormon book, outside the scriptures, in the nineteenth century.
Although A Voice of Warning was not the very first book to explain what the Saints believed, it was the first to compare and contrast Mormon beliefs with conventional Christianity. Some thirty editions in English were released during the next fifty years. Additionally, during this period, the book was also published in numerous language translations, including Danish, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish. For many investigators and early converts, A Voice of Warning was the first book they read.
In 2004 the New York book company Barnes & Noble established a new paperback series, the Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading. Their webpage states that the series had been established “to provide access to books of literary, academic, and historic value—works of both well-known writers and those who have been long forgotten. Selected and introduced by scholars and specialist with an intimate knowledge of the works they discuss, these volumes present unabridged texts in a readable modern typeface, welcoming a new generation to important and influential books of the past.” Now numbering more than 250 titles, the series includes Trial and Death of Socrates, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, St. Augustine’s City of God, and de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
In late 2008, Barnes & Noble released a new edition of Pratt’s A Voice of Warning. My BYU colleague Kent P. Jackson prepared a thoughtful introductory essay for this new volume based on 1854 edition of the book (Pratt’s last before he was murdered). Reading the 137 pages in this well-designed volume reminds us of the passion and excitement that existed during the early day of the Restoration. Pratt can write well. He is clear and straightforward. The prose sings, and his arguments thunder loud and clear. The book is worth a read, especially for anyone interested in the listening into a conversation from this critical period of Church history. Congratulations to Kent Jackson and to Barnes & Noble!
POSTED BY: holzapfel
In a recent blog, I outlined the story of the earliest New Testament manuscripts. Because no original text (autograph) has survived the ravages of time, scholars are attempting to reconstruct the texts through examining more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts (not copies of the original autographs and not even copies of copies of the originals). I also highlighted the fact that some material found in the King James Version (1611) came from manuscripts dating from a very late period (the best available at the time). Since 1611, much earlier copies of the New Testament manuscripts have been discovered, shedding important light on the transmission of the text, including insights on the corruption of the text (deletions and additions).
Regarding a famous passage in Luke 22, Bart D. Ehrman, author of The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), argues that scribes added the detail that the Savior’s “sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Ehrman states, “This image of Jesus ‘sweating blood’ . . . can be found in only one passage of the New Testament, Luke 22:43-44, and this passage is not present in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke.” He continues, “It appears, in fact, to have been added to Luke’s account by scribes who wanted to emphasize Jesus’ full humanity and great human suffering. For these scribes, Jesus was not merely a divine being who could rise above the trials and tribulations of this life: he was human in every way and suffered the kind of agony any of us might suffer if we knew that we were soon to be subjected to a humiliating and excruciating death by crucifixion. While this appears to have been the scribes’ view of the suffering Jesus, it is not Luke’s” (491). Ehrman and other scholars speculate that this verse was introduced into the New Testament around the fifth century AD.
Latter-day Saints, like many other conservative New Testament readers, continue to accept Luke’s poignant account of the suffering in Gethsemane and have been unwilling to delete this material from their readings of Jesus’ last twenty-four hours. Additionally, Restoration scriptures confirm Luke’s account, providing them additional reasons to hold on to this story (see Mosiah 3:7; Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).
Recently, a bright, articulate New Testament scholar has raised questions about Ehrman’s claim. Thomas A. Wayment, my BYU colleague, published a groundbreaking study in one of the world’s premier journals on the New Testament regarding a third-century papyrus fragment (P69). He argues, “The fragment was subject to subsequent scribal correction in at least two instances” (“A New Transcription of P. Oxy. 2383 (P69),” Novum Testamentum 50 , 351). He discovered through multispectral imaging (a technology developed by NASA and first applied to ancient manuscripts by BYU) that a third-century scribe copying from another manuscript began writing the account of Jesus’ suffering as in Luke 22 but then corrected himself. This implies that the account of Jesus’ suffering was well known as early as the third century. As a result of Wayment’s careful work, we now must reevaluate the proposal that a later fifth-century scribe added these verses for theological reasons.
This article is significant. First, it signals a new day in Latter-day Saint scholarship. With well-trained Mormon New Testament scholars like Wayment, we can now completely engage in wider scholarly dialogue about the New Testament. Second, this article highlights the importance of multispectral imaging technology in New Testament studies. Finally, it raises a serious question about dogmatic assertions by some scholars about how the original text of the New Testament read. Of course, ongoing discoveries and studies of Greek New Testament manuscripts and fragments may yield more insights into the story of Jesus in Gethsemane.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The New Testament is an amazing collection of many types of documents, including letters, ancient biographies, sermons, and historical narratives. New Testament studies have helped us reconstruct the world of Jesus and his disciples by providing historical, cultural, and linguistic insights. Additionally, textual studies have helped us appreciate the complex and interesting story of the New Testament’s transmission from antiquity to the present.
Today no original New Testament manuscripts, or autographs, appear to have survived. In other words, we cannot visit a museum or library to see the original book of Matthew or the original letter Paul wrote to the Romans. In fact, the earliest New Testament manuscripts that have survived the ravages of time are not even copies of the originals or even copies of copies.
The oldest known New Testament text is a rather small papyrus manuscript fragment (see image) with John 18:37-38 on one side (recto) and John 18:31-33 on the other (verso). Its small size belies its major importance. Produced around AD 125, it suggests an earlier dating of the Gospel of John than traditionally assigned (many scholars assume that John’s Gospel was written in the AD 90s). Additionally, the manuscript was discovered in Egypt, suggesting a rather quick dispersion of the Gospel.
The earliest complete copies of an individual New Testament book date from around AD 200. During the following decades and centuries, scribes continued to make copies of the New Testament—some 5,700 manuscripts in Greek from the early second century to the sixteenth century still exist.
It is not surprising that these manuscripts contain numerous differences because they were copied by hand over the years. In fact, there are some 30,000 variant readings. Most of these variant readings are not theologically significant and likely were a result of human errors—unintentional changes made to the text during the processing of copying them. However, there are rather significant changes that were most likely intentional. These changes were made for a variety of reasons, including (1) to promote theological views, (2) to correct errors a scribe believed was in the text, (3) to harmonize the text to match what was recorded in another passage, and (4) to clarify certain passages that might be confusing or misunderstood.
The King James Version (KJV) of 1 John 5:7 preserves a significant change: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. The KJV translators used the best manuscripts available to them at the time. Since 1611, new discoveries have produce older manuscripts that scholars believe gets us much closer to the original text. This particular verse, which supports a Trinitarian interpretation of the Godhead, is not found in the earliest manuscripts of 1 John, suggesting that a scribe added it for theological purposes.
How we understand the New Testament depends on which variant reading we accept as being closest to the original. In this case, some scholars argue that the New Testament does not explicitly teach the doctrine of the Trinity because this single and most important reference is not found in any Greek manuscript—manuscripts that cover more than one thousand years of New Testament transmission. Because it does not appear before the fourteenth century, some recent modern translations and versions of the Bible do not include this verse.
Today we live in an amazing time when work on the New Testament produces great insights and allows us to get closer to the texts as originally prepared in the first century.