New Early Fragment of Romans

At the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual conference in Chicago last week (17–20 Nov 2012), Grant Edwards and Nick Zola presented papers on a new papyrus fragment from Romans. They have dated it to the (early) third century, which makes this perhaps only the fifth manuscript of Romans prior to the fourth (though a couple of others are usually thought to also be from the third century). This manuscript is part of the Green Collection (inventory #425). It will be published in the first volume of a new series by the Dutch academic publishing house, E. J. Brill. The series, edited by Dirk Obbink and Jerry Pattengale, is called the Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series. Volume one is edited by Jeff Fish of Baylor University.

The text of the fragment is from Rom 9.18–21 and small portions of Rom 10. Edwards presented information about the paleography and provenance of the fragment, while Zola presented his findings on the textual affinities of the papyrus.

The papyrus was written on a codex rather than a roll, as is customary for even the oldest Christian documents. What these two scholars could determine is that the original size of each leaf of this papyrus would have been a little larger than that of P66—18 cm x 16 cm for this fragment compared to 16.2 cm x 14.2 cm for P66.

The dating of the manuscript was done rather prudently by comparing it to fixed-date manuscripts. Paleographically, the fragment was found to be close to POxy 1016 (a mid-third century papyrus), POxy 2703 (late second/early third), and POxy 2341 (208 CE).

Regarding the specific text, among early papyri of the corpus Paulinum, only P46 covers the same passage. But because of the lacunose state of P46, sixteen letters of text that are missing from the Beatty papyrus are found in the Green papyrus. Zola selected four textual problems for our consideration (are these all or does the fragment read for others?). In all four, it agrees with other manuscripts, chiefly Alexandrian. The certain readings all agree with the text of NA28. In the gaps, reconstructions were necessary and there Green 425 agrees with the main Alexandrian witnesses where they are united, with a portion of them when they split.

In 9.19, it has μοι ουν, in agreement with the Alexandrians, instead of ουν μοι found in the Western and Byzantine witnesses. The second ουν of v. 19 is apparently omitted in this fragment, in agreement with א A 1739 Byz, against P46 B D F G. In 9.20 Green 425 apparently omitted μενουνγε, agreeing with P46 D F G. In 10.1 the fragment agrees with the Alexandrian and Western witnesses in reading αυτων instead of the Byzantine reading, του Ισραηλ.

Edwards and Zola are to be thanked for making a fine presentation on the data of this new find. In keeping with other early papyri, its readings are no surprise: largely Alexandrian, with some Western strains also seen.

As an addendum, you can see images of this fragment (upside down!) on CNN in an interview that Steve Green did regarding its discovery which was made earlier this year:


Romans 9.1 and Asyndeton

As I was reading Romans 9 recently I noticed that the chapter begins asyndetically—that is, without a conjunction or other marker to connect it with the preceding. This is fairly rare in Greek and, apart from its use in staccato-like commands and aphorisms, almost always means one of two things: either a total disconnect from the preceding or a connection so strong that it would be superfluous to add the conjunction.

Paul uses asyndeton at the beginning of a major paragraph nine times in Romans. In 2.17, 10.1, 11.33, and 13.8 it is obvious that the same topic is in view. (On a smaller scale, see 2 Tim 3.16—which obviously connects to the previous verse; cf. also Phil 4.4b.) In Rom 12.9, 13.8, 16.3, and 16.21 the connection is not as clear, though it is probably there in most of these instances. Romans 13.1 offers the most obvious break without connection with the preceding. We thus see Paul beginning new paragraphs in Romans both for rhetorical effect (at least four instances, and perhaps eight) and to indicate a complete switch in topic (at least one instance but as many as five).

Significantly, Paul’s use of asyndeton for rhetorical purposes often requires the readers to think through his argument and make the connection for themselves. For example, in Eph 5.22—the only major paragraph since 1.3 in Ephesians to begin without a conjunction—we read “Wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord” (the reading of P46 B as well as Clement; Jerome also mentions that some MSS lack the verb here). Later MSS add the verb ‘be subject’ (D F G Byz Syriac), by picking up the participle in the preceding verse. This means that while v. 22 begins a new paragraph, it is still connected with the preceding conceptually (discussing submission), and almost lexically by the verb that must be supplied. The connection is thus quite subtle, but the connection is still there—so much so that the Nestle-Aland text begins a new paragraph with v. 21 instead of v. 22.

A similar thing is going on in Rom 9.1. Paul has just finished his hymn of assurance (8.35–39), letting genuine believers know that their salvation is secure because God always keeps his word. But a nagging question would have stuck in the craw of these readers: “How can we be certain that God will keep his word to us that nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ if he didn’t keep his word to Israel?” The asyndeton that starts off the next section thus has a powerful rhetorical, though subtle, effect. Keeping this assurance to each individual believer is crucial if one is to grasp the full import of Rom 9.

Paul’s argument in Rom 9–11 is governed by his statement in 9.6: “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” The next three chapters demonstrate this thesis.

Although it is true that Paul is speaking of corporate election in chapter 9, this would give no comfort to the believers in Rome about their own salvation unless he was also speaking of individual election. (One piece of evidence that Paul is speaking both of corporate and individual election is that he uses individuals for his illustrations (Jacob vs. Esau, Moses vs. Pharaoh)—individuals who also represent nations.) A Christian in Rome would not be assured of his or her salvation if they thought that Paul was only speaking of corporate election because this tells them nothing about their own fate. The fact that Paul links the corporate promises to Israel to the individual belief of each Jew shows that for both covenants faith is the essential means of becoming the full beneficiaries of the promise.

And this means that eternal security is linked to unconditional election in Paul’s view since individual election is in view in Rom 9. Another way to state this is that Rom 9–11 is both about God’s promise to Israel and his promise to believers in Christ. This is why Paul interlaces throughout these three chapters statements about Gentile faith (Rom 9.23–26, 30, 33; 10.4, 5–13, 14–17; 11.17–23, 29). Indeed, so strong is the emphasis on individual faith that to ignore this theme is to miss the impetus for these chapters and its most relevant application to Gentile believers. In short, God’s promise of eternal security to the genuine believer in Christ is based on God’s elective purposes, his mercy and grace, and his sovereign choice. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11.29) because “God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling” (Rom 9.11).

Something’s Always Lost in Translation

There’s an old Italian proverb that warns translators about jumping in to the task: “Traduttori? Traditori!” Translation: “Translators? Traitors!” The English proverb, “Something’s always lost in the translation,” is clearly illustrated in this instance. In Italian the two words are virtually identical, both in spelling and pronunciation. They thus involve a play on words. But when translated into other languages, the word-play vanishes. The meaning, on one level, is the same, but on another level it is quite different. Precisely because it is no longer a word-play, the translation doesn’t linger in the mind as much as it does in Italian. Its impact is significantly lessened in other languages.

It’s like saying in French, “don’t eat the fish; it’s poison.” The word ‘fish’ in French is poisson, while the word ‘poison’ in French is, well, poison. There’s always something lost in translation.

This is one reason why pastors need to know Greek and Hebrew. They need to not only tell their congregations what the text means; they also need to explain the details, the hidden nuggets that are lost in translation.

What about when there’s a word-play in English that is not in the original? A classic example is the King James Version’s 1 Peter 5.6–7: “(6) Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (7) Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” The ‘care’/’careth’ in v. 7 is a word-play in English that is not found in Greek. The Greek of v. 7 reads (with the Greek words for ‘care’ and ‘careth’ underlined): πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν, ὅτι αὐτῷ μέλει περὶ ὑμῶν. Not even close. I think this is fine to do with English as a mnemonic device as long as it doesn’t change the meaning of the original. In this case, the KJV got it right.

Another illustration is Rom 12.2. In the KJV we read “And be not conformed to this world: be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The words ‘conformed’ and ‘transformed’ constitute a word-play in English, but the verbs in Greek are not related to each other (συσχηματίζεσθε, μεταμορφοῦσθε).

But this raises an interesting issue. Several scholars over the years have suggested that Jesus taught in Aramaic, but his words are preserved for us in Greek. In fact, most scholars have argued this. (A growing number of scholars, however, argue that Jesus probably taught in Greek as much as, or even more than, he taught in Aramaic.) One of the ways they go about proving it is to find word-plays in Aramaic that don’t show up in Greek. Some of these no doubt are genuine insights, but a good number of them may reflect more the ingenuity of the scholar than the authenticity of the Aramaic saying.

Further, a few scholars are bold enough to say that the evangelists often got Jesus’ words wrong, and they try to demonstrate this by showing underlying word-plays that are misunderstood when translated into Greek. Evangelicals tend not to buy such arguments because they believe that the human authors wrote inspired scripture. Jesus’ authority is seen in their translations, not in the supposed underlying Aramaic original. What also tends to be ignored by the Aramaic-primacy scholars are the word-plays in the Greek of the Gospels, especially when such are not seen in the Aramaic back-translation. Of course, such Greek word-plays may reflect the translation skills of the evangelists (or Gospel-writers), just like we saw with the KJV translators. Though it is true that something’s always lost in translation, I stand with other evangelicals in affirming that the evangelists got it right, that what the Spirit of God wanted us to ‘get’ was their recording of Jesus’ teaching.

In my next post I will discuss, among other things, whether red-letter editions of the Bible accurately represent the very words of Jesus. Stay tuned.

Why We Should Vote

As I write this, America is just four days from choosing its president for the next four years. This has been touted as perhaps the most important election in ‘our’ collective lifetime. If you believe the ads that both candidates have conjured up against the other, it’s important because if you don’t vote or if you vote for the wrong man, you are somehow in league with the devil. But over-the-top claims of evil, incompetence, or both notwithstanding, we should vote because we have the privilege and responsibility to do so in a free country.

I must confess: I didn’t vote in the last election. I was going under the knife on election day for neck surgery and was quite incapacitated the previous few days that I was home from a ten-week trip photographing New Testament manuscripts in the United Kingdom. This time around I have no excuse, and have already done my civic duty (just before another surgery, as it turned out).

I am disturbed by an alarming number of millennials, gen-xers, and others younger than myself who have shown great apathy about their right to vote. I’d like to address just some of the excuses they have offered, and conclude with some final comments.

  1. “I’m not excited about either candidate.” I’ve never been excited about any candidate for president whom I’ve been allowed to vote for in the past forty years. But that hasn’t stopped me from voting. And for many of those years, early voting had too many restrictions which excluded me. This made election day my one and only option, even though it often was inconvenient. If you have studied the issues (and you should have), you will most likely have formed an opinion about which candidate fits in with your principles better. Even if it’s a slight difference, it’s usually enough to pick one or the other.
  2. “Voting in this election is choosing the lesser of two evils, but it’s still choosing evil.” You’ll never find a candidate who agrees with you on everything. You’ll never find a spouse who agrees with you on everything. (And if you do, run—he or she is no good for you!) If you’re waiting for utopia to take place, you’re in for a long wait. And it is not choosing evil when you vote for a candidate who has blind spots. It is choosing evil when you decide not to vote because you have removed yourself from the people who are selecting the next leader of the country. By choosing not to vote, you are choosing to do nothing. That may seem safe. After all, when you aim at nothing you always hit your target. As Edmund Burk famously declared, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If the wrong person is elected and you didn’t vote, you’re contributing to the problem.
  3. “I’m in a state where candidate A (or candidate B) is a shoe-in; my vote won’t count anyway.” That’s fallacious reasoning. This is going to be a very close election—very close. And even in solid blue states or solid red states, the spread is almost never more than 10% between the candidates. With enough people having the attitude that you have who belong to the same party, the results in your state could flip on election day. Let’s say that there are 1.75 million people that the pollsters anticipate will vote Democrat in your state, and two million who they say will vote Republican in your state. That’s a hefty spread—12.5%. But what if 10% of the anticipated Republican voters decide not to bother since it’s a done deal, and just 5% more Democrats than anticipated turn up? Your state and all its electoral-college votes go to the Democrat. And if you’re one of those Republicans who chose not to vote, you only have yourself to blame.

    In the past fifty-two years, the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted in a presidential election ranges from 49% to 63%. The numbers steadily declined from 1960 (63%) to 1988 (50%), but have looked more like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (going up and down) in the last several election cycles. The 1960s all had percentages in the 60s; no decade, nor any election since, has matched that. This means that effectively your one vote is worth almost two. (Is it a coincidence that beginning in 1971, the legal voting age dropped from 21 to 18, with a corresponding lower percentage ever since?) And what if 90% of one party were to vote and only 60% of the other party were to vote? The 90% side would win every election, every state.

    Furthermore, even if you have no opinion about which presidential candidate is better, you should know that there are many candidates on the ballot. Senators, congressmen and congresswomen, judges, and many other kinds of candidates are on the ballot, not to mention amendments and laws touching our lives in very personal ways. In Frisco, Texas, where I live, there were a couple of amendments just for the city that were on the ballot. Does your vote not count for these candidates or these amendments?

  4. “My spouse and I would have voted for different candidates, so we decided both to stay home to cancel out each other’s vote.” Again, there are more issues and candidates to vote on than just the office of president. Is your marriage in such disarray that you cannot agree on even one item on the list? Further, if you don’t vote, you in a real sense give up your right to complain about who gets elected. And it’s an American pastime to complain about our government!

As Christians, we are supposed to pray for those in positions of authority. And to the extent that we can effect change through peaceful means, we are given that right as well. If governmental authorities are ministers of God, as Paul says in Romans 13, then the rights that they give us in a free society to vote is one that we should not neglect. We actually have the right to vote for who will be the governmental ministers of God! Christians have become more civic minded in recent years, recognizing that though we are not of the world, we are in it. And part of this fact implies that we should not neglect the privilege, even the responsibility, to vote. We are to be salt and light in our society. Gone are the days when Christians thought en masse that their sole duty to society was to escape from it and/or condemn it. Although we recognize that salvation cannot come through the government, we also recognize that we are in a society that has collectively a distorted Imago Dei, but an Imago Dei nonetheless. We should affirm the things that our society does right, and address the things it does wrong. But to restrict ourselves to our own holy huddle, to not get involved in righting wrongs in our society, is sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the message of salvation, but the implications of the gospel are often worked out in our relationship to society. Working for a better society is both pre-evangelism and post-evangelism. I urge you to consider it a sacred duty of yours to vote. Good men and women have died to grant us that privilege. We do not honor them when we stay home on election day.