Textual Character and the Scribe of P75 (Papyrus 75)

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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 over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

P75 (c.175–225) contains most of Luke and John and has vindicated Westcott and Hort for their choice of Vaticanus as the premium manuscript for establishing the original text. After careful study of P75 against Vaticanus, scholars found that they are just short of being identical. In his introduction to the Greek text, Hort argued that Vaticanus is a “very pure line of very ancient text.”[2] Of course, Westcott and Hort were not aware of P75 that would be published in 1961, about 80 years later.

The discovery of P75 proved to be the catalyst for correcting the misconception that early copyists were predominately unskilled. As we elsewhere on our blog earlier, either literate or semi-professional copyist produced the vast majority of the early papyri, and some copied by professionals. The few poorly copied manuscripts simply became known first, giving an impression that was difficult for some to discard when the enormous amount of evidence surfaced that showed just the opposite. Of course, the discovery of P75 has also had a profound effect on New Testament textual criticism because of its striking agreement with Codex Vaticanus.

What lies below is from Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Vol I & II (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academics, 2019). Thus, we are promoting three of his books.

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Textual Character

The copyist of P75 was a professional, Christian scribe. The professionalism shows through in his tight calligraphy and controlled copying. According to Martin and Kasser, “The writing is an attractive vertical uncial—elegant and well-crafted, of the type represented by the Oxyrhynchus Papyri 2293, 2322, 2362, 2363, 2370.”4 The handwriting displayed in these Oxyrhynchus Papyri is typically called by paleographers “the common angular type of the late second to early third century.” The scribe’s Christianity shows in his abbreviations of the nomina sacra, as well as in his abbreviation of the word “cross” (σταυρος). These are telltale signs of a scribe who belonged to the Christian community. Furthermore, the large typeface indicates that the manuscript was composed to be read aloud to a Christian congregation. The scribe even added a system of sectional divisions to aid any would-be lector. Thus, we have a manuscript written by a Christian for other Christians.

It is a well-known fact that the text produced by the scribe of P75 is very accurate. It is also well-known that the text of P75 was of the sort used in formulating Codex Vaticanus; the texts of P75 and B are remarkably similar, demonstrating about 85% agreement.5 Prior to the discovery of P75 (which was published in 1961), many scholars were convinced that the second- and third-century papyri displayed a text in flux, a text characterized only by individual independence. The Chester Beatty Papyrus, P45, and the Bodmer Papyri, P66 (uncorrected) and P72 (in 2 Peter and Jude), show this kind of independence. Scholars thought that scribes at Alexandria must have used several such manuscripts to produce a good recension—as is exhibited in Codex Vaticanus. Kenyon conjectured the following:

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During the second and third centuries, a great variety of readings came into existence throughout the Christian world. In some quarters, considerable license was shown in dealing with the sacred text; in others, more respect was shown to the tradition. In Egypt this variety of texts existed, as elsewhere; but Egypt (and especially Alexandria) was a country of strong scholarship and with a knowledge of textual criticism. Here, therefore, a relatively faithful tradition was preserved. About the beginning of the fourth century, a scholar may well have set himself to compare the best accessible representatives of this tradition, and so have produced a text of which B is an early descendant.6

Much of what Kenyon said is accurate, especially about Alexandria preserving a relatively pure tradition. But Kenyon was wrong in thinking that Codex Vaticanus was the result of a scholarly recension, resulting from editorial selection across the various textual histories. Kenyon can’t be faulted for this opinion because P75 had not yet been discovered when he made these judgments. The discovery of P75 and Vaticanus’s close textual relationship to it has caused textual critics to look at things differently, for it is now quite clear that Codex Vaticanus was simply a copy (with some modifications) of a manuscript much like P75, not a fourth-century recension.

Zuntz held an opinion similar to Kenyon’s about there being an Alexandrian recension. After studying P46, Zuntz imagined that the Alexandrian scribes selected the best manuscripts and then gradually produced a text that reflected what they considered to be the original text. In other words, they functioned as the most ancient of the New Testament textual critics. Zuntz believed that, from at least the middle of the second century to the fourth century, the Alexandrian scribes worked to purify the text from textual corruption. Speaking of their efforts, Zuntz wrote:

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The Alexander correctors strove, in ever repeated efforts, to keep the text current in their sphere free from the many faults that had infected it in the previous period and which tended to crop up again even after they had been obelized [i.e., marked as spurious]. These labours must time and again have been checked by persecutions and the confiscation of Christian books, and counteracted by the continuing currency of manuscripts of the older type. Nonetheless they resulted in the emergence of a type of text (as distinct from a definite edition) which served as a norm for the correctors in provincial Egyptian scriptoria. The final result was the survival of a text far superior to that of the second century, even though the revisers, being fallible human beings, rejected some of its own correct readings and introduced some faults of their own.7

The point behind Zuntz’s conjecture of a gradual Alexandrian recension was to prove that the Alexandrian text was the result of a process beginning in the second century and culiminating in the fourth century with Codex Vaticanus. In this regard, Zuntz was incorrect. This, again, has been proven by the close textual affinity between P75 and B. The “Alexandrian” text already existed in the late second century; it was not the culmination of a recension. In this regard, Haenchen wrote:

In P75, which may have been written around a.d. 200, the “neutral” readings are already practically all present, without any need for a long process of purification to bring them together miro quodam modo out of a multitude of manuscripts.… P75 allows us rather to see the neutral text as already as good as finished, before that slow development could have started at all; it allows us the conclusion that such manuscripts as lay behind Vaticanus—even if not all New Testament books—already existed for centuries.8

From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts

Kurt Aland’s thinking was also changed by P75. He used to speak of the second and third-century manuscripts as exhibiting a text in flux or even a “mixed” text, but not after the discovery of P75. He wrote, “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”9 Even moreso, Gordon Fee argued there was no Alexandrian recension before the time of P75 (late second century) and Codex Vaticanus (early fourth) and that both these manuscripts “seem to represent a ‘relatively pure’ form of preservation of a ‘relatively pure’ line of descent from the original text.”10

In the final analysis, it must be declared that P75 is an extremely accurate copy. Concerning the scribe who made P75, Colwell said, “his impulse to improve style is for the most part defeated by the obligation to make an exact copy.”11 And concerning the scribe’s work, Colwell commented:

In P75 the text that is produced can be explained in all its variants as the result of a single force, namely the disciplined scribe who writes with the intention of being careful and accurate. There is no evidence of revision of his work by anyone else, or in fact of any real revision, or check.… The control had been drilled into the scribe before he started writing.12

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Of course, P75 is not flawless. The scribe had to make several corrections (116 in Luke and John), but there was no attempt “to revise the text by a second exemplar, and indeed no systematic correction at all.”13 The scribe of P75 shows a clear tendency to make grammatical and stylistic improvements in keeping with the Alexandrian scriptorial tradition, and the scribe had a tendency to shorten his text, particularly by dropping pronouns. However, his omissions of text hardly ever extend beyond a word or two, probably because he copied letter by letter and syllable by syllable.

As was previously noted, Calvin Porter clearly established the fact that P75 displays the kind of text that was used in making codex Vaticanus. However, it is unlikely that the scribe of B used P75 as his exemplar, because the scribe of B copied from a manuscript whose line length was 12–14 letters per line. We know this because when the scribe of Codex Vaticanus made large omissions, they were typically 12–14 letters long.14 The average line length for P75 is about 29–32 letters per line. Therefore, the scribe of B must have used a manuscript like P75, but not P75 itself.[1]

See also: PAPYRUS 75 (P75): THE MANUSCRIPT THAT CHANGED THE THINKING OF TEXTUAL SCHOLARS

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4 Victor Martin and Rodolphe Kasser, Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV: Evangiles de Luc et Jean, vol. 1, Papyrus Bodmer XIV: Evangile de Luc chap. 3–24 (Cologny-Geneva: Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, 1961), 13.

5 C. Porter, “Papyrus Bodmer XV (P75) and the Text of Codex Vaticanus.” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962): 363–376.

6 F. Kenyon, “Hesychius and the Text of the New Testament,” in Memorial Lagrange (1940), 250.

7 G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (1953), 71–272.

8 E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (1971), 59.

9 Kurt Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research” in The Bible in Modern Scholarship (1965), 336.

10 Gordon Fee, “P75, P66, and Origen: The Myth of Early Textual Recension in Alexandria” in New Dimensions in New Testament Study (1974), 19–43.

11 Ernest C. Colwell, “Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75,” in Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, New Testament Tools and Studies 9 (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 121.

12 Ibid., 117.

13 James Ronald Royse, “Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri” (Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, 1981), 538–39.

14 Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 233–34.

[1] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 502–507.

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