NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL STUDIES: What Are the Nomina Sacra and Their Origin?

Nomina Sacra List
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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Nomina Sacra (singular: nomen sacrum from Latin sacred name): In early Christian scribal practices, there was the abbreviation of several frequently occurring divine names or titles within the Greek manuscripts.

In the above is an image of five Nomina Sacra, the first four being divine names, and the first four of the fifteen known. Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names): Various contractions and abbreviations that are found in our earliest manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The type that is most important to this discussion is what has become known as the sacred names, or nomina sacra (nomen scrum, singular), such as Lord. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 14:2 as a quick example.

The use of the article with divine names in Greek is rather irregular. The nomina sacra were not used in every instance by the copyist in the same way. The θ̅ω̅ of 1 Corinthians 14:2 is referring to “God” the Father. If we argue that the definite article must be present every time theos is used so it can be distinguished as God, what would you do with John 1:1 (και θεος ην ο λογος)? Would you render it “and the word was a god” as is the case with the New World Translation?

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

NOTE: No Greek grammar rule is absolute, it is usually a general rule. The definite article that is often used to point out a distinction between let’s say “the man” and “a man” or “the God” and “a god” or “the Spirit” and “a spirit” is often omitted for no reason at all. Grammar rules and scribal practices have no absolutes. This is NOT TO SAY that everything is helter-skelter, that is, disorderly, in haste, or confusion. There is evidence that many more professional scribes worked on the early papyri than was previously thought. Moreover, the nomen sacrum θ̅ω̅ served a purpose.

A scribe making a nomen sacrum could differentiate between “the Lord” and “lord”/“sir”/“master” by writing ΚΣ or κυριος, and “Spirit” (the divine Spirit) and “spirit” (the human spirit). The fact that a scribe for 1 Corinthians 14:2 uses a nomen sacrum on θ̅ω̅ is a scribe helping the reader differentiate between “God” the father and “god.” It is “God.” Moreover, notice that we have “spirit” (πνεύματι/π̅ν̅ι) with no definite article but it is written in the nomen sacrum π̅ν̅ι. Again, the scribe is helping the reader differentiate between “in or by the Spirit” and maybe “in his spirit.”

ΠΡΟΣ ΚΟΡΙΝΘΙΟΥΣ Α΄ 14:2 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)

 The (one) γὰρfor λαλῶνspeaking γλώσσῃin tongue οὐκnot ἀνθρώποιςto men λαλεῖhe is speaking ἀλλὰbut θ̅ω̅,to God, οὐδεὶςno one γὰρfor ἀκούει,is hearing, π̅ν̅ι̅in spirit δὲbut λαλεῖhe is speaking μυστήρια·mysteries; 

TRANSLATION CHOICES

  • ESV: in the Spirit
  • LEB: by the Spirit
  • CSB: in the Spirit
  • NASB: in his spirit

These sacred names are abbreviated or contracted by keeping the first letter or two and the last letter. Another important feature is the horizontal bar placed over these letters [ι̅υ̅ χ̅υ̅ υ̅υ̅] to help the reader know that they are dealing with a contraction. The early Christian writers had three different ways that they would pen a sacred name: (1) suspension, (2) contraction, and (3) longer contraction. The suspension is accomplished by writing only the first two letters of such sacred names as Jesus (ιησους) = (ι̅η̅) and suspending the remaining letters (σους). The contraction is accomplished by writing only the first and last letter of say Jesus (ιησους) = (ι̅ς̅) and removing the remaining letters (ησου).

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS I AM John 8.58

The longer contraction would simply keep the first two letters instead of just one, as well as the last letter (ιης). After penning the suspension or contraction, the scribe would place a bar over the name. This practice of place a bar over the name was likely a carried over from the common practice of scribes placing bars above contractions, especially numbers, which were represented by letters, ΙΑ = eleven.

PAPYRUS 66 (P66): One of the Earliest Available Papyri

These nomina sacra are found only in Christian manuscripts. This is not to say other non-Christians did not use abbreviations and contractions, as they did. However, they served a purpose of saving space in their manuscripts (in other words no specific words), and the horizontal bar was used in their abbreviations as well, especially numbers. The Christian abbreviations while are an appropriate description of their form, it is inaccurate to function, as they served as sacred names, not for the purpose of saving space. Paleohrapher and papyrologist Philip W. Comfort writes,

What is amazing about the nomina sacra is that they appear in all the earliest New Testament manuscripts and Christian Old Testament manuscripts, no matter if the manuscripts were produced by professional scribes, documentary scribes, or those barely able to write in Greek. As was noted before, the handwriting of Christian biblical manuscripts falls into one of four categories: professional (those produced by full-time professional scribes), reformed documentary (those produced by scribes accustomed to making copies of documents and works of literature), documentary (those accustomed to making copies of documents only), and common (those who knew Greek as a second language or were just barely able to write Greek). There are extant manuscripts in all of these categories, and in all of them, there are nomina sacra. This indicates that the practice was well-known to all Christians, not just professional scribes. (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 253)

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Why, how, and when did this distinctive form of writing these fifteen names develop? Was it isolated to a certain area of the Roman Empire? Which of these sacred names came first? There are multiple reasons given by the textual scholars in an attempt to answer the above questions. We are going to look briefly at the 18-page paper by paleographer Dr. Larry W. Hurtado, The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal, out of the Journal of Biblical Literature, (JBL117/4, 1998, 655-673). However, first, let us note that “the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are present in all extant second-century New Testament manuscripts where one or more of these nomina sacra are extant. The following second-century manuscripts that clearly show these nomina sacra are as follows:

  • P4+P64+P67Matthew, Luke
  • P32Titus
  • P46Paul’s Epistles
  • P66John
  • P75Luke, John
  • P90John”
Nomina_Sacra_in_Codex_Vaticanus_John_1
Two nomina sacra are highlighted, ΙΥ and ΘΥ, representing Jesus and God respectively, in this passage from John 1 in Codex Vaticanus (B), 4th century

However, P4+P64+P67 dates to (150-175 C.E.), P32 dates to (150-200 C.E.), P46 dates to 150 C.E.), P66 dates to about (150 C.E.), P75 dates to about (175 C.E.), and P90 dates to (150-200 C.E.). This means that the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are standard by 150 C.E. Which would suggest that, after the death of the last apostle John died in about 100 C.E., more than just division started to set in, as the apostles had really served as a restraint against the great apostasy that was about to come. Now, this little excursion into an area that might seem totally unrelated is just to say, we cannot know what the authors penned in their autographs, nor the first generation of copyists, based on mid-late second-century manuscripts. Why? The phenomena of the standardization of the nomina sacra only need about fifty-years to take place. Of course, John wrote his Gospel and three letters between 96-98 C.E. so we can say that his writings would have been closest. The other books all date prior to 70 C.E.

THE UNKNOWN GOSPEL: Egerton Papyrus 2

Egerton Papyrus 2

There was a discovery of “sayings” that came to light in 1934 when the British Museum, London, obtained a number of papyri fragments from a dealer. Within these fragments were some of an ‘unknown life of Jesus,’ which was written in a hand that has been date to about 150 C.E. In 1935, H. I. Bell and T. C. Skeat, who were librarians at the British Museum, working as Assistant Keepers of the manuscripts, published the photostats of the three leaves that had been discovered. As it happened these were part of an old Greek codex that had originated in Egypt. These fragmentary pages are now known as “Egerton Papyrus 2.”

This is one of the oldest surviving witnesses to any gospel or any codex. The British Museum lost no time in publishing the text: acquired in the summer of 1934, it was in print in 1935. It is also called them the Unknown Gospel, as no ancient source makes reference to it, in addition to being entirely unknown before its publication. The fragmentary manuscript forms part of the Egerton Collection in the British Library. A fourth fragment of the same manuscript has since been identified in the papyrus collection of the University of Cologne.

The surviving fragments include four stories: (1) a controversy similar to John 5:39-47 and 10:31-39; (2) curing a leper similar to Matt 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16 and Luke 17:11-14; (3) a controversy about paying tribute to Caesar analogous to Matt 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26; and (4) an incomplete account of a miracle on the Jordan River bank, perhaps carried out to illustrate the parable about seeds growing miraculously. The latter story has no equivalent in the canonical Gospels:

Jesus walked and stood on the bank of the Jordan river; he reached out his right hand, and filled it…. And he sowed it on the… And then…water…and…before their eyes; and it brought forth fruit…many…for joy…

Egerton Papyrus 2 (150 C.E.) Verso θC

300px-Nomina_sacra_IC_XC_2
Nomina sacra IC XC, from the Greek ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Jesus Christ – the letter C on the icon being koine Greek Σ). Detail from an icon at the Troyan Monastery in Bulgaria.

Nomina sacra IC XC, from the Greek ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Jesus Christ – the letter C on the icon being koine Greek Σ). Detail from an icon at the Troyan Monastery in Bulgaria.

The Nomina Sacra

This Greek text, especially with the early dating of 150 C.E., evidences a scribal custom that had recently developed. The scribes used suspensions (ΙΗ ΧΡ. Ἰησοῦς Χριστός [Jesus Christ]) or contractions (ΘΣ, Θεός, Theos, God), to which he would place a bar over the entire name (OKC), for sacred names and words (nomina sacra). The very earliest copyists used a special form for the divine names: kurios (Lord), Iēsous (Jesus), Christos (Christ), theos (God), and pneuma (Spirit). In time, the list grew to fifteen names or words.

This practice by the Christian scribes followed the custom of the Jewish scribes and their rendering of the Tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה [JHVH] in Greek by the words kyrios (“Lord”) without the definite article and theos (“God”) with only the first and last letters written and a stroke above them. However, P4+P64+P67 dates to (150-175 C.E.), P32 dates to (150-200 C.E.), P46 dates to 150 C.E.), P66 dates to about (150 C.E.), P75 dates to about (175 C.E.), and P90 dates to (150-200 C.E.). This means that the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are standard by 150 C.E. Which would suggest that, after the death of the last apostle John died in about 100 C.E., more than just division started to set in, as the apostles had really served as a restraint against the great apostasy that was about to come. Now, this little excursion into an area that might seem totally unrelated is just to say, we cannot know what the authors penned in their autographs, nor the first generation of copyists, based on mid-late second-century manuscripts. Why? The phenomena of the standardization of the nomina sacra only need about fifty-years to take place. Of course, John wrote his Gospel and three letters between 96-98 C.E. so we can say that his writings would have been closest. The other books all date prior to 70 C.E.

Egerton Papyrus 2 Recto OKC

Again, the first four nominal sacra were (‘Jesus,’ ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ and ‘Christ’) in the earliest extant manuscripts that we have. It is possible that the personal name of the Father, Jehovah, could be designated in the Greek as OKCandθCand were the first attempts at the nomina sacra.[2] The Christian scribes soon thereafter expanded the list of abbreviations that included the following: OKC ho kyrios with a definite article applying to Jesus, not the Father? Followed by (IH) (Iesous, Jesus). Was the initial attempt with OKCthe title for the father replacing the Tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה in Greek without the definite article? Also,θC, the title for the father replacing the Tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה in Greek? In addition, we have PRA (patera, father) and Moses(Moÿses, Moses).[3] It is certainly an anomaly that we find Moses’ name abbreviated by suspension (the first two letters) here in P Egerton 2 similar to how Jesus’ name is treated. Comfort writes, “Scattered across the pages of nearly every extant Greek New Testament manuscript can be seen the following nomina sacra.” (Encountering the Manuscripts, 2005, 199). The contraction or suspended word would have a bar over it.

ΚΣ for κυριος (Kurios) = Lord
ΙΗ or ΙΗΣ for ιησους (lēsous) = Jesus
ΧΡ or ΧΣ or ΧΡΣ for χριστος (Christos) = Christ
ΘΣ for θεος (theos) = God
ΠΝΑ for πνευμα (pneuma) = Spirit

The Epistle to the Hebrews EARLY CHRISTIANITY-1 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

George Howard argues that κς (κύριος) and θς (θεός) were the initial nomina sacra, created by non-Jewish Christian scribes who “found no traditional reasons to preserve the Tetragrammaton” in copies of the Septuagint. Larry W. Hurtado, following Colin Roberts, rejects that claim in favor of the theory that the first was ιη (Ἰησσῦς), as suggested in the Epistle of Barnabas, followed by the analogous χρ (Χριστός), and later by κς and θς, at about the time when the contracted forms ις and χς were adopted for the first two. It is possible that the personal name of the Father, Jehovah, could be designated in the Greek as κς (κύριος) and θς (θεός) and were the first attempts at the nomina sacra. Comfort writes,

The nomina sacra are also present in Greek Old Testament manuscripts and other Christian writings produced by Christians. This includes several second-century manuscripts noted below:

P. Chester Beatty VI, Numbers, Deuteronomy
P. Baden 4.56 (P. Heidelberg inv. 8), Exodus and Deuteronomy
P. Antinoopolis 7, Psalms
PSI 921, Psalms
P. Oxyrhynchus 1074, Exodus
P. Chester Beatty Papyrus VIII, Jeremiah
P. Chester Beatty Papyrus IX, Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther

Other Christian writings also use nomina sacra:

P. Geneva 253, Christian homily
P. Egerton 2, Unknown Gospel
P. Oxyrhynchus 405, fragment of Irenaeus
P. Oxyrhynchus 406, Christian homily

THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1 Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

One of the main reasons we know that the Old Testament manuscripts are Christian manuscripts and not Jewish is the presence of nomina sacra in the text. Significantly, not one copy of the Greek Old Testament found at Qumran has these nomina sacra because this was a Jewish, not a Christian community. Jews never wrote nomina sacra the way Christians did; the Jews did things differently for one divine name and one divine name only: Yahweh. Jewish scribes would frequently write this in its Hebrew contracted form (even in paleo-Hebrew letters) and then continue on with the Greek text. Christians used κυριος (kurios = Lord) in place of Yahweh (YHWH) and wrote it in nomen sacrum form. Many Greek Old Testament manuscripts produced by Christians display this nomen sacrum. This can be seen in all six second-century Greek Old Testament manuscripts noted above. – Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 202.

Egerton Papyrus 2 (150 C.E.) Verso Moses Father

Take a look at the image below at “1 verso” and note PRA in line 12, Moses in line 13 and θC in line 16. Next look at “1 recto” and note OKC in line 9 and (IH) in line 12. However, we do not have Kyrios without the definite article, which would apply to the Father in the fragments. Really, we can say that it is likely that 150 C.E. was entering the time of standardization of the nomina sacra that would grow in sacred names and words.

Egerton Papyrus 2_02Sir Frederic Kenyon, was a British palaeographer and biblical and classical scholar, comments on these fragments. “They contain four episodes in the life of our Lord, told quite simply, and therefore unlike the exaggerated and fanciful style of later apocryphal gospels, and in language showing strong affinities, sometimes with the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and sometimes with the Fourth Gospel (John). The exact wording is often left doubtful by the mutilation of the papyrus, but the main drift of three out of the four episodes is clear.”[4] The superior verse below provided by Edward D. Andrews into Bell and Skeat’s translation is his notes indicating those portions paralleled in the Biblical accounts.)

Egerton Gospel Translation

The Unknown Gospel Egerton Papyrus 2 + Cologne Papyrus 255 Fragment 1: Verso (?)

. . . ? And Jesus said] unto the lawyers, [? Punish] every wrongdoer and transgessor, and not me; . . . . . And turning to the rulers of the people he spake this saying, Search the scriptures, in which ye think that ye have life; these are they which bear witness of me. [John 5:39.] Think not that I came to accuse you to my Father; there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, on whom ye have set your hope. [John 5:45] And when they said, We know well that God spake unto Moses, but as for thee, we know not whence thou art, [John 9:29] Jesus answered and said unto them, Now is your unbelief accused …

Fragment 1: Recto (?)

… ? they gave counsel to] the multitude to [? carry the] stones together and stone him. [John 8:59; 10:31] And the rulers sought to lay their hands on him that they might take him and [? hand him over] to the multitude; and they could not take him, because the hour of his betrayal was not yet come. [John 7:30] But he himself, even the Lord, going out through the midst of them, departed from them. [Luke 4:30] And behold, there cometh unto him a leper and saith, Master Jesus, journeying with lepers and eating with them in the inn I myself also became a leper. If therefore thou wilt, I am made clean. The Lord then said unto him, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway the leprosy departed from him. [And the Lord said unto him], Go [and shew thyself] unto the [priests . . .

Fragment 2: Recto (?)

. . . coming unto him began to tempt him with a question, saying, Master Jesus, we know that thou art come from God, [John 3:2; Matt. 22:16] for the things which thou doest testify above all the prophets. [John 10:25] Tell us therefore: Is it lawful [? to render] unto kings that which pertaineth unto their rule? [Shall we render unto them], or not? [Matt. 22:17] But Jesus, knowing their thought, [Matt. 9:4] being moved with indignation, said unto them, Why call ye me with your mouth Master, when ye hear not what I say? [Luke 6:46] Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, [teaching as their doctrines the] precepts [of men] [Matt. 15:7-9] . . .

Fragment 2: Verso (?)

. . . shut up . . . in . . . place . . . its weight unweighed? And when they were perplexed at his strange question, Jesus, as he walked, stood still on the edge of the river Jordan, and stretching forth his right hand he . . . and sprinkled it upon the . . . And then . . . water that had been sprinkled . . . before them and sent forth fruit . . . Translation reprinted from: H.I. Bell and T.C. Skeat, Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri (London: Oxford University Press, 1935).

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Dating the Egerton Gospel Manuscript

Papyrus Köln 255, University of Cologne
Papyrus Köln 255, University of Cologne

The date of the manuscript is established on paleography alone. When the Egerton fragments were first published its date was estimated at around 150 CE;[5] implying that of early Christian papyri it would be rivaled in age only by P52, the John Rylands Library fragment of the Gospel of John. Later, when an additional papyrus fragment of the Egerton Gospel text was identified in the University of Cologne collection (Papyrus Köln 255) and published in 1987, it was found to fit on the bottom of one of the British Library papyrus pages. In this additional fragment, a single use of a hooked apostrophe in between two consonants was observed, a practice that became standard in Greek punctuation at the beginning of the 3rd century; and this sufficed for some to revise the date of the Egerton manuscript. This study placed the manuscript to around the time of Bodmer Papyri P66, noting that Eric Turner had confirmed the paleographic dating of P66 as around 200 A.D., citing use of the hooked apostrophe in that papyrus in support of this date. However, this author and others would date P66 to c. 150 A.D.[6]

Johann Jakob Wettstein [1693-1754 A.D.]: Was a Swiss Theologian, Best Known as a New Testament Textual Scholar

Michael Gronewald argues that P52 should be dated no earlier than 200 C.E. based on his analysis of P.Köln VI 255, using the hooked apostrophe in recto line 3 to support his redating of P52. To reinforce this argument Gronewald turned to a comment by Eric Gardner Turner an English papyrologist in Greek Manuscripts, suggesting with certainty (certainty when it suits them) that the apostrophe between mute consonants (e.g., lamb) was a feature of the third-century (200-300) C.E. However, Turner actually said, “In the first decade of iii AD this practice [using an apostrophe between two consonants] suddenly becomes extremely common and then persists.” Notice here what Turner does not say, he was not saying that this practice was not taking place in the second century at all but rather it became “extremely common and then persists” in the third century. Then Turner goes on to give examples of using a hooked apostrophe between two consonants from the second century: BGU III 715.5 (101 A.D.) and P.Petaus 86.11 (184/85 A.D.) and SB XIV 11342.11 (193 A.D.). Even P66 that has been dated to 150-200 A.D. has a hooked apostrophe between two consonants, αγ’γελους. Turner states, this practice of a hooked apostrophe between two consonants “is not normally written in documents till iii AD” – Turner, Greek Manuscripts, 108. (bold and underline mine)

The revised dating for the Egerton Papyrus 2 continues to carry wide support among most of the new textual scholars. However, Stanley Porter has reviewed the dating of the Egerton Papyrus 2 alongside that of P52; noting that the scholarly consensus dating the former to the turn of the third century and the latter to the first half of the second century was contra-indicated by close paleographic similarities of the two manuscripts.[7] The 1987 redating of the Egerton Papyrus had rested on a comment made by Eric Turner in 1971 (albeit that Turner himself had continued until his death in 1983 to accept a mid-second century date for the Egerton Papyrus), “in the first decade of III AD this practice (of using an apostrophe between two consonants, such as double mutes or double liquids) suddenly becomes extremely common, and then persists.”[8] Porter notes that Turner had then nevertheless advanced several earlier dated examples of the practice from the later second century, and one (BGU III 715.5) dated to 101 CE. Porter proposes that, notwithstanding the discovery of the hooked apostrophe in P. Köln 255, the original editors’ proposal of a mid-second century date for the Egerton Papyrus accords better with the paleographic evidence of dated comparator documentary and literary hands for both P52 and this papyrus “the middle of the second century, perhaps tending towards the early part of it.”[6]

On this Philip Comfort offers us a reasonable view, when he writes,

Turner indicates that another feature began in the early third century, namely, the use of a separating apostrophe between double consonants. Some paleographers of late seem to have adopted this observation as “fact” and thereby date manuscripts having this feature as post AD 200. Some paleographers would even redate manuscripts displaying this feature. For example, Schmidt redates P52 to ca. 200 based on the fact that its hand parallels that of the Egerton Gospel, which is now thought by some to date closer to ca. 200 based on this feature appearing in a newly published portion of the Egerton Gospel. However, I would argue that the previously assigned date of such manuscripts was given by many scholars according to their observations of several paleographic features. Thus, the presence of this particular feature (the hook or apostrophe between double consonants) determines an earlier date for its emergence, not the other way around. Thus, the Egerton Gospel, dated by many to ca. 150, should still stand, and so should the date for P52 (as early second century). Another way to come at this is to look at P66, dated by several scholars to ca. 150 (see discussion below). Turner, however, would date P66 later (early third) largely because of the presence of the hook between double consonants. What I would say is that the predominant dating of P66 (i.e., the dating assigned by most scholars) predetermines the date for this particular feature. Furthermore, there are other manuscripts dated prior to AD 200 that exhibit the apostrophe or hook between double consonants:

    1. BGU iii 715.5 (AD 101)
      αγ’χωριμφις
      2. P. Petaus 86 (= P. Michigan 6871) (AD 185)
      αγ’γων
      3. SPP xxii 3.22 (second century)
      απυγ’χεως
      4. P. Berol. 9570 + P. Rylands 60 (dated by the editors of the editio princeps to ca. 200, dated by Cavallo to ca. 50)
      φαλαγ’γας[9]

Concluding Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments

HOW DO WE DETERMINE THE ORIGINAL READING THROUGH The Principles and Practice of New Testament Textual Studies?

In short, concerning the says of Jesus that were not part of the canonical Gospels, they can be viewed with mere curiosity because they were not preserved for us through inspiration by NT authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John when the canonical Scriptures were being written. They contain no value that would be binding on Christians.

Nevertheless, there is a great value in Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments just as it true with P52. They serve as an aid in undermining the Bible critics. These critics have long argued that John’s Gospel was not written until 150 C.E. This would mean that it could not have been written by the apostle John who died fifty years earlier in 100 C.E. Since Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments have so many parallel expressions found in John’s Gospel, it strongly indicates that whoever wrote Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments, he was using John’s writing as a source. Then, we have P52, a fragment of John’s Gospel, which has been dated to 100-150 C.E. Thus, the Gospel of John must have been written earlier than 150 C.E. in order for it to have been circulating down in Egypt where the Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments were written about 150 C.E. Therefore, Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments bolstered by the discovery in 1935 of the fragment P52 of John’s Gospel (Papyrus Rylands Gk 457), which also dates likely 110-125 C.E. to give it time to be found in Egypt, confirm the date of the writing of John’s Gospel to be about 96 C.E.

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

P52 and the Nomina Sacra

Larry W. Hurtado

Whether P52 did or did not have some nomina sacra form of Ιησους is a relatively small matter that can be addressed only on the basis of the sort of highly detailed observations that I have urged here. The larger concern that I underscore here is the importance of following an adequate method in dealing with such questions. My fundamental point is that sound method requires a rather thorough acquaintance with the scribal features of early Christian manuscripts in general, and particular attention to all the scribal features of any manuscript about which we seek to judge probabilities. – P52 (P. RYLANDS GK. 457) AND THE NOMINA SACRA_METHOD AND PROBABILITY

Hurtado introduces the Nomina Sacra, offering his reader background information as mentioned earlier above. He then points to a couple of examples of the nomina sacra, dating back to about 150-200 C.E. “It is, however, particularly significant for the investigation of the origins of Christianity that nomina sacra … are found even in the very early scraps of Christian manuscripts, which take us back perhaps to the late or middle second century.” (L. Hurtado, The Origin of the Nominal Sacra 1998, 657) He offers us a footnote that points us to two manuscripts, one possibly dating between 150 to 200 C.E. (Egerton Papyrus 2), the other dating to about 150 to 175 C.E. (P4/P64/P67, three scraps, all from the same MS). We are then told,

They are found in Christian biblical manuscripts, noncanonical religious texts (e.g., the Egerton Gospel fragment), and in “orthodox” and unorthodox Christian writings (e.g., the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Peter, Acts of John).9 All this indicates a remarkable instance of standardization that contrasts with the wide diversity we have come to associate with the earliest centuries of Christianity. (p. 658)

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It should be noted that to see the nomina sacra in both orthodox and unorthodox Christian writings, as well as biblical and non-biblical Christian writings across the Roman Empire, demonstrates a standardization, by 150-175 C.E., which we do not find in any other aspect. This is not like today’s internet, where a word or phrase goes viral, meaning hundreds of millions are using it instantly, and the next year, it is added to our dictionaries. As was state above, you would need a minimum of 50-years to have such standardization to take place. However, while Hurtado loves to use the word “earliest” in describing the introduction of the nomina sacra, the evidence takes us no earlier than 125 to 175 C.E. for an introduction date, to standardization. The primary concern of Hurtado’s paper is,

Given that the nomina sacra are apparently both distinctively Christian and amazingly early, what relation do they have to the religious and cultural background of the early church, and what influences might have prompted and shaped them? (p. 660)

A chapter in his book, based on this article, offers the final analysis,

I propose that the suspended form of Jesus’ name (IH) was likely the originating device from which the whole scribal practice of the nomina sacra then developed. . . . It is an advantage of this proposal that it accounts well for features often not otherwise explained. In particular, we have a cogent explanation for the puzzling supralinear stroke that became characteristic in Christian nomina sacra. According to the view advocated here, this mark began its special Christian usage with the writing of Jesus’ name as IH, and originally functioned in its more familiar capacity as a signal to readers that this two-letter compendium could also be read as a number, eighteen. Then, however, as Christian piety quickly sought to extend a similar scribal treatment to other key designations of God and Jesus.  … This supralinear stroke came to function as a distinctly Christian device that functioned simply to highlight nomina sacra forms, signaling readers that these various compendia were abbreviations of these words. . . . I propose that in its initial usage the IH compendium was read as “Jesus” written in a manner designed also to allude to his significance as a divine vehicle of “life” for believers.

The point is clear: all throughout the Christian church in its early centuries New Testament texts displayed the nomina sacra. Special notice was given to “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “God,” and “Spirit.” Whether we accept Hurtado’s hypothesis as to the how and why of the rise of the nomina sacra, or we go with other suggestions, we cannot make the connection back to the originals 27 New Testament manuscripts, or the first generation of copyists. Some would suggest Lord (κυριος, kurios), written as ΚΣ was first in the line of the nomina sacra (as Philip Comfort would suggest), or Jesus (ιησους, Iēsous), written as ΙΗ (as Larry Hurtado suggests). I would tend to agree with Comfort, and for the same reason, he offers as well.

It would seem to this writer, the best suggestion is the desire of the second century C.E. Christianity and Pharisaic Judaism to separate themselves from each other. For example, you have the Judaism abandoning the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, even though; just a few decades earlier they were espousing it to be inspired. Why? The Christians had adopted the Septuagint as their evangelism tool because the de facto language of the Roman Empire was Koine Greek.

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Jews did things differently for one divine name and one divine name only: Yahweh. Jewish scribes would frequently write this in its Hebrew contracted form (even in paleo-Hebrew letters) and then continue on with the Greek text. Christians used κυριος (kurios = Lord) in place of Yahweh (YHWH) and wrote it in nomen sacrum form.[1]

Here we can see second-century Christianity in their move to distance themselves from Judaism, by not adopting the same practice, even though it is likely that many of the Christian copyists were Jewish. In other words, “a scribe or scribes (whether Jewish Christian or Gentile Christian) created a nomen sacrum form for kurios (Lord), reflecting knowledge of and purposeful distinction from the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH.” At the beginning of the second century C.E., there were a number of things beginning to take place. (1) Judaism wanted to separate itself from Christianity. (2) Christianity wanted to distance itself from Judaism. (3) The Jews were starting to replace the Tetragrammaton (יהוה, JHVH) with ’Adhonai´ (Lord), as they felt the divine name was too sacred to pronounce. (4) Christians began the transition of Lord (κυριος, kurios), written as ΚΣ being first in the line of the nomina sacra that was to come.

Once more, the first four nominal sacra were (‘Jesus,’ ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ and ‘Christ’) in the earliest extant manuscripts that we have. It is possible that the personal name of the Father, Jehovah, could be designated in the Greek as OKCandθCand were the first attempts at the nomina sacra.[2] The Christian scribes soon thereafter expanded the list of abbreviations that included the following: OKC ho kyrios with a definite article applying to Jesus, not the Father? Followed by (IH) (Iesous, Jesus). Was the initial attempt with OKCthe title for the father replacing the Tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה in Greek without the definite article? Also,θC, the title for the father replacing the Tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה in Greek?

[1] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 202.

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Bibliography

C.M., Tucket. “Nomina Sacra in Codex E.” Journal of Theological Studies, 2006: 487-499.

Colwell, Ernest C. Scribal Habits in Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

Comfort, Philip. Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005.

Comfort, Philip W. New Testament Text, and Translation Commentary. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.

Comfort, Philip Wesley. The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1992.

Comfort, Philip, and David Barret. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Edward, James R. “A Nomen Sacrum in the Sardis Synagogue.” Jornal of Biblical Literature, 2009: 813-821.

Howard, George. “The Tetragrammaton and the New Testament.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1977: 63-83.

Hurtado, Larry. “P52 and the Nomina Sacra.” Tyndale Bulletin, 2003: 1-14.

Hurtado, Larry. “The Origin of the Nominal Sacra.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1998: 655-673.

Hurtado, Larry W. The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Transmission. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, 1968, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce. The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, & Content. Nashville: Abingdon Books, 1965, 1983, 2003.

Roberts, Colin H. Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. London: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Roberts, Colin H., and Theodore C. Skeat. The Birth of the Codex. London: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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22 thoughts on “NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL STUDIES: What Are the Nomina Sacra and Their Origin?

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  1. thanks

    On 14 Mar 2018 11:38, “Christian Publishing House Blog” wrote:

    Christian Publishing House posted: ” Edward D. Andrews In the above is an image of five Nomina Sacra, the first four being divine names and the first four of the fifteen known. Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names): Various contractions and abbreviations that are found in our earliest manuscripts of”

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