Re: Punctuation in Codex Bezae (on the web)

From: Jim West (
Date: Mon Apr 13 1998 - 11:04:18 EDT

At 10:27 AM 4/13/98 -0400, you wrote:

>I agree with George that the early manuscripts are unlikely to have been
>written for direct public reading.

This is a truly remarkable sentence. Surely George did not mean to suggest
that the materials written by early Christians which would later become the
NT were written for private purposes. They were clearly written, all of
them, to be read aloud to the congregations. There is simply no reason to
suggest that they were private letters at all.

Further, whether they were written for private consumption or public
proclamation has no bearing on the simple fact that, in either case, they
were unpunctuated!

 I am sure that, in those days of
>widespread illiteracy when professional story-tellers and orators abounded,
>they were written to be memorised and for reference by the literate as in e.g.
>Acts 17. The orator would himself supply the punctuation as he saw fit, or as
>he had received it from another.

This posits several things that are uncertain:
1- that the gospel tellers were like their pagan counterparts. Is this

2- would the common folk who made up the bulk of christians have the mental
capacity to memorize whole books, or the time to do so? Could they sit and
listen for hours on end day after day, as would be necessary for such memory

>It seems to me that punctuation became necessary as literacy increased and as
>more people became Christians and wanted to read the Scriptures for

This did not happen until the renaissance and reformation. The idea that
pious christians sat around the house reading the bible to the children is
historically ludicrous. First, they couldn't have purchased a bible until
after the invention of the printing press. Second, they for the most part
couldn't read. Literacy was VERY low virtually until the modern period.

>Also, the firming-up of the canon required the removal of doubt
>about meaning, and much of the doubt resides in the punctuation rather than in
>the grammar.

But the great mss all date from the period AFTER the easter letter of

>I find it helpful to look at the unpunctuated textus receptus when trying to
>understand a difficult passage, because the punctuation in modern versions of
>the Greek text may hide a possible interpretation which might otherwise be
>more obvious.

True- because punctuation, like translation, is interpretation pure and simple.

>Happy Easter and Passover to all,
>Mike Beazley
>Bushey, Hertfordshire, UK


Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology

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