"And scripture cannot be broken": The form and function of the early Christian testimonia collections

Martin Christian Albl, Marquette University


The earliest Christians turned to the language of the Hebrew scriptures in order to express the significance and support the truth of their new faith centered on Jesus Christ. Yet even a cursory glance at the New Testament reveals that scripture was not read as an undifferentiated whole: some passages (e.g., Isaiah 53; Psalm 110) are clearly more influential than others. The so-called testimonia hypothesis, developed early in this century, explained this phenomenon by arguing that the earliest Christians collected, edited, and gave special authority to certain scriptural passages which they used as "witnesses" to the Christian faith. Most recent scholars, however, assign written proof-text collections to the patristic era, and attribute common use of scriptural testimonia in New Testament times to oral tradition. Yet new developments in patristic studies (the isolation of testimonia collections in Justin and Barnabas) and Dead Sea Scrolls research (the discovery of various scriptural collections) suggest that the testimonia hypothesis should be re-evaluated. My dissertation offers this re-evaluation, together with a systematic investigation of the form and function of testimonia collections in early Christianity and contemporary Greco-Roman and Jewish literature. In chapter one, my review of the scholarly literature, I evaluate criteria for detecting the use of scriptural excerpt collections in a given work. This criteria involves comparison with extant collections and study of peculiarities in quotations that indicate use of non-scriptural sources. Chapter two examines Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish evidence for excerpt collections; chapter three studies extant testimonia collections from the patristic era. Chapters four and five turn to the New Testament, finding evidence for use of both oral and written testimonia in Paul's writings, Matthew's fulfillment quotations, the speeches in Acts, and Hebrews 1-2. I also trace wider testimonia traditions: messianic and "stone" collections, together with testimonia traditions grouped around Ps 110:1; Zech 12:10; and Isa 6:9-10. Such collections functioned both as proof-texts used to establish Christian beliefs and as illustrations of larger scriptural patterns which Christians claimed were fulfilled in Christ.

This paper has been withdrawn.