The following post about commentaries alongside the text of scripture is by Dan Wallace. This post really resonated with me and I offer my testimony to scripture’s vitality. The bible is God’s word to warn us about dangers and to inform us of God’s love in Christ (yes, the bible is more than these items, but it is not less).
I had only been a Christian for barely a year when I started Bible college. Without a background of attending church and bible reading, I had much to learn. While training for ministry which I felt the Lord calling me to do, personal bible reading and practical outreach also figured into the preparation.
After completing bible college and seminary however, the Lord seemed to close the door to professional Christian service. I had gained much knowledge and even experience but in reality (looking back now) I was an immature Christian.
A phrase in those days was: “a Christian is either a missionary or a mission field”, so I was determined to be a lay person reaching out to others in secular fields. A good habit I maintained was daily bible reading which, I feel, did more to inform me than all my previous training. By reading large swaths of scripture systematically (a bible reading plan) many truths were realized that I had studied academically but not totally grasped. Also, by better knowing the whole, the various parts of the bible become clearer as well since God is the single author.
To know God better we need to inquire of Him and seek to understand His word. The other “advocate” that Jesus promised us will teach us by illuminating our understanding if we are truly led by Him. It is a walk of sure and steady steps as we obey what the Spirit teaches us. Of course the knowledge is not mysterious but grounded in traditional studies the Christian community has always pursued. It is the Spirit who reveals and gives wisdom that we may know Him better (Eph.1.17b). Here is Dan Wallace:
I’ve been pondering an aspect about NT manuscripts that I thought would be good to share with others. It has to do with commentaries. You see, many of our biblical manuscripts have commentaries written by church fathers included within the codex. Scholars are aware of about one dozen such manuscripts in which the NT text is written in majuscules or capital letters. Majuscules are what all of our oldest NT manuscripts are written in. Beginning in the ninth century, scribes began to write in minuscule, or cursive, letters. Minuscule manuscripts could be written much more rapidly and in a more compact space than their capital letter counterparts. By the twelfth century, virtually all the Greek NT manuscripts were minuscules. Quite a few of these later MSS included commentaries.
Over the years, I’ve examined such commentary MSS to prepare them for digitization. And here’s what I have discovered.
These MSS come in a variety of formats. Probably the most common one is for the text to be in larger script and centered on the page, with commentary wrapping around it on three sides (top, bottom, and outside of the leaf). Another format is to have the biblical text in one color of ink with the commentary in a different color. The color of ink for the biblical text is almost always a more expensive ink; one or two MSS even use gold ink for the scriptures. A third format is to have the NT written in capital letters and the commentary in minuscule. And finally, some MSS have an introductory symbol to the biblical text such as an asterisk or simple cross to set it off from the commentary.
Below are images of some examples of these varieties:
Biblical text centered and in larger script with wrap-around commentary
Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary
Capital letters for scripture, cursive for commentary
There is a common theme through all of these varieties: the biblical text is prominent, considered of greater importance than the commentary. These ancient and medieval scribes understood the significance of scripture and made sure to highlight it over comments about it. I am reminded of a quip one of my professors used to make: “It’s amazing how much light the text sheds on the commentaries!” Indeed, the refrain of focusing on the text, of constantly putting before the reader what is of the greatest importance, is a hallmark of these manuscripts!
This is not to say that these commentaries were unimportant. No, they were vital for the communities of faith. Christians then, as now, wanted to know how to understand the Bible, and the scribes did well to reproduce the reflections on scripture of the great thinkers in the history of the Church. But on balance, we would do well to remember that the scriptures were front and center and the scriptures were the main focus of these scribes. To these anonymous workers, who labored in adverse conditions, we owe a large debt of gratitude.