Spectrums of Scripture: Authoritative Correspondence

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

The Early Church Fathers
The Early Church Fathers

The authoritative correspondence spectrum constitutes the third and final method of tracking how texts were received by other ancient texts. This spectrum ranges from obviously high attributions of authority to unknown levels of authority. I say “unknown” authority rather than “no” authority because texts which are utilized by others are prima facia accorded some measure of authority.[1] A lack of clear indicators, however, makes the assignment of exactly how much authority difficult to accurately represent. Consideration of authority also raises the issue of functionality, and in large part, an authority correspondence indicates how one text functions in another.[2] On this Christopher Stanley says, “Words are spoken (or written) with the aim of doing something to the hearer(s), that is, evoking some sort of response.”[3]

To discuss authority and functionality, we must first reflect on the question of authority and functionality for whom? Richard Hays has outlined five possible locations for “hermeneutic events”—the locations of the creation of new meanings where authority dwells. These include a) the author’s mind; b) in the mind of original readers; c) in the text itself; d) in the mind of a contemporary reader; or e) in the community of reading.[4] While Hays argues for an event encompassing all five realms, Allison suggests a more specific approach, indicating that authoritative focus comes out in the mind of the author and the presumed understanding of the ancient audience.[5] That is, an author’s rhetorical purposes inform their writing, and thus an author’s assumptions of what counts as authoritative are transferred to the letter’s use of sources.

At the same time, however, what the audience accepts as authoritative delimits the author’s sources and how they are applied. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho nicely highlights this reality. Although Justin affirms the authority of certain specifically Christian writings, he cannot clearly quote these writings in the Dialogue because of his purpose and audience.[6] In trying to convince Trypho that the Jewish scriptures point to Jesus as the Messiah, it would not do Justin any good to cite Paul or John. Instead, he limits himself to formal quotation of the Jewish scriptures and only allusive references to Christian works.

[1] Leonard, 241-65. Porter, “Further Comments,” 107-9. Penner, 78-9. Zahn, 16. Sommer, Prophet, 32–33. Glicksman, 170. For a contrary opinion, see Flint, 393. [2] Stanley, 125. Ken M. Penner, “Citation Formulae as Indices to Canonicity in Early Jewish and Early Christian Literature” in Jewish and Christian Scriptures: The Function of ‘Canonical’ and ‘Non-Canonical’ Religious Texts (ed. J.H. Charlesworth and L.M. McDonald, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 63. Zahn, Rethinking, 13. Strawbridge, 6. Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 27. Stephen R. Llewelyn, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1982-1983 (North Ryde, NSW: Ancient History Documentary Research Centre of Macquarie University, 1994), 257-61. [3] Christopher D. Stanley, “The Rhetoric of Quotations: An Essay on Method” in Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel : Investigations and Proposals (ed. C.A. Evans and J.A. Sanders, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 46. See also John Langshaw Austin, Zur Theorie der Sprechakte: How to Do Things with Words (trans. Eike von Savigny, Stuttgart: Reclam, 2002), 94-120.  Dimant, 381-2. Stanley (“Rhetoric,” 52) goes on to say that, “every quotation, no matter how faithfully it reproduces the wording of the original, is a complex speech-event in which ‘the quotee always subserves the global perspective of the quoter, who adapts it to his own goals and needs.’ But the voice of the original is not lost…. In this setting, it is the context-of-quotation, and not the original context, from which the audience obtains the necessary cues for interpreting the text.” [4] Hays, Echoes, 26. [5] Allison, Intertextual, 16-7. Hays, Echoes, 28. [6] Andreas Lindemann, Paulus im dltesten Christentum: Das Bild des Apostels und die Rezeption der paulinischen Theologie in derfriihchristlichen Literatur bis Marcion (Beitrage zur historischen Theologie 58, Tubingen: Mohr, 1979), 353-67. Oskar Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 74. Massaux, 5/3 47-49, 96-101.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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