New Testament codices

"No early manuscript of the New Testament known to us was written on the recto of a roll."
C.H.Roberts in "The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the beginnings to Jerome" (Ed. P.R.Ackroyd & C.F.Evans, CUP, 1970, p.57)

When and why did Christians start using codices? This has long been a puzzle to New Testament scholars. But the clues are there, not only in the format of the earliest New Testament manuscripts, but also in the text of the earliest gospel.

E.G.Turner suggested that Mark's gospel was written in Rome, where the merchants and small traders made use of parchment notebooks, and that this influenced Mark to transfer to parchment notebooks his account of the sayings of Jesus. "A gospel thus circulating in this format determined..... that the proper form of the Christian scriptures was a codex, not a roll." ["Greek Papyri: An Introduction" (Clarendon, 1968) p.11]

So when Mark wrote: "new wine [is put] into fresh skins" (Mk 2:22), he meant more than that Christianity could not be contained within Judaism. The new wine of Christianity merited a new form of document. Recording his gospel on new skins (parchment?) would help to distinguish Christianity from Judaism. It would complement the change in the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday which appears to have taken place a few decades before Mark wrote his gospel (Acts 20:7).

But how can we be sure? Can a codex somehow leave traces in the writing placed upon it? Strange as it may seem, the use of a codex for a new composition (as opposed to merely copying an existing document) can indeed leave such traces.

As pointed out by K. & B. Aland ["The Text of the New Testament" (ET: 2nd,. edn., Eerdmans, 1989, p.75)], the use of a codex has the disadvantage that "the total number of sheets required had to be estimated closely before reaching the midpoint of the text being composed or copied". Copying would need only a relatively simple calculation. Composition would be altogether more difficult. Yet it could be done by conceptually dividing the material into sections, and allocating to each section an appropriate number of pages. (Or leaves - but the leaf would be a less sensitive measure. Or columns, but it is unlikely that multiple columns would have been used with the first codices.) This would have been by far the easiest method. So all we have to do is to find the sections which the authors had in mind, find out whether these appear to represent whole multiples of some common page size (as measured in Greek letters), then count the pages. If the total number of pages in the document turns out to be a whole multiple of four, then the document archetype was probably a codex. If not, then it was probably not a codex.

But why would anyone feel the need to use this planning technique which involved allocating one or more pages to each logical section, if they were not composing on a codex? In particular, Paul's letters were almost certainly not written on codices. There are two reasons.
  1. To avoid leaving a large blank space on the last page which might tempt a scribe to add a comment of his own, which could well present a viewpoint with which the original author would have disagreed.
  2. To make the best use of the papyrus, which to some writers may have been a significant expense.