Syntax.-This last example may fittingly introduce us to the field of Syntax,
and to Moulton and Howard's invaluable Grammar, where at every turn the evidence of the newly
discovered vernacular documents is called in to decide corresponding usages in the New Testament writings.
One or two examples will show how rich and suggestive that evidence is.
Take, for instance, the prepositions, and an impartial survey can hardly fail to lead
us to the conclusion that the laxer usage which is everywhere observable in later Greek hardly justifies
many of the over-niceties of interpretation in which New Testament expositors have been apt to indulge.
The free interchange of είς and έν is a case in point. This may be
carried back to the fact that both words were originally forms of the same root; but what we are
especially concerned with is that they are largely interchanged in ordinary usage, as when in a letter
of AD 22 the writer tells us that when he came to Alexandria (έπί τώ
γεγονέναι έν 'Αλεξανδρία),
he learnt so and so from certain fishermen at Alexandria (είς
'Αλεξάνδρί[αν]). When, then, in commenting
on Jn 1:18 όών είς τον κόλπον
τοϋ πατρός, Bishop Wescott speaks of the phrase as
implying "the combination (as it were) of rest and motion, of a continuous relation, with a realization
of it," is he not pressing the phraseology farther than contemporary evidence warrants, however
doctrinally true the deduction may be? Nor can those who advocate the rendering "immersing them into
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" for the baptismal formula in Mt 28:19
do so on the ground that the more familiar rendering is philologically inaccurate. Without entering
on the question as to the exact shade of meaning underlying βαπτίζοντες,
it is clear that είς τό őνομα may be
understood as practically equivalent to έν τάόνόματι,
the new light thus joining hands with, and lending support to, the almost unanimous tradition of
the Western Church.
A corresponding caution must be observed in connexion with the construction of
ϊνα. Classical Greek has taught us to expect that ϊνα construed
with the subjunctive denotes purpose, but in Hellenistic Greek this has been extended to include a
consecutive usage, and sometimes, as in modern Greek, a simple statement of fact. When, therefore,
in Jn 17:3 the Fourth Evangelist writes-αϋτη δέ έστιν
ή αίώνιος ζωή ϊνα
γινώσκωσι σέ τόν
μόνον άληθινόν θεόν
καί őν άπέστειλας
'Ιησοΰν Xριστόν it is of course
possible that by the latter clause he means us to understand our Lord as pointing to the knowledge
of God as the aim and end of eternal life. But it is equally permissible, and more in accord with
contemporary usage, to interpret the words as defining the contents of the life eternal: this life
is a life consisting in, and maintained by, the knowledge of god, and of Him whom God had sent.
It would be early to go on multiplying examples in this direction, but enough has been
said to show that the syntax of the New Testament is not modeled on strictly classical lines, and that
this must be kept steadily in view in the work of interpretation.
Vocabulary.-It is, however, in the matter of Vocabulary that the new gains make
themselves most fully felt, and prove most clearly that we are dealing with a book written in the
common speech of its day.
This is seen, for example, in the large reduction in the number of so-called "Biblical"
words, that is, words which have hitherto been regarded as the special property of the Biblical writers, no
evidence of their use having hitherto been procurable from profane sources.
Thayer, at the end of his edition of Grimm's Lexicon, gives a long list of these "Biblical"
words, the very length of which tends to confirm that feeling of the isolated or peculiar character of the New
Testament writings, to which reference has already been made. The list is unnecessarily long even from Thayer's
point of view, as it includes not a few words for which he himself supplies references from non-Christian sources,
which, though sometimes later in point of time than the New Testament itself, nevertheless show unmistakably that
the words belong to the ordinary stock then in use. And now the new evidence comes in to extend these references
in so many directions that Deissmann is able to reduce the number of words peculiar to the New Testament to something
like fifty, or about one percent of the whole vocabulary.
Our new sources do not merely reduce the number of words hitherto regarded as peculiar to the New
Testament writings; they also confirm the meanings traditionally assigned to others, sometimes on somewhat
A familiar instance is the Pauline word λογεία.
According to Grimm-Thayer, the word is "not found in profane authors," but for its meaning
in 1 Cor 16:1-2, the only places were it occurs in the New Testament, the translation "a
collection" is suggested. Such a translation is in harmony with the context, and is now
conclusively established by the fact that from the second century BC the word is found in the papyri
in this sense. It is sufficient to refer to a curious letter from Tebtunis, in which a tax-gatherer
after naively describing his unprincipled efforts to defeat a rival in the collection of a certain tax,
adds, "I bid you urge on Nicon regarding the collection (περίτήςλογε<ί>ας)."
Or, to take a wholly different example, when in a letter of AD 41, a man counsels
a friend in money-difficulties to plead with one of his creditors, μή ϊνα
ήμάς, "do not unsettle us," that is "do not drive us out from hearth and
home," he little thought that he would supply future students of the New Testament with an apt
parallel for the metaphorical us of the same verb in Gal 5:12, where St. Paul expresses the hope
that οί άναστατοΰντες,"
those who are unsettling" his Galatian converts, "would even mutilate themselves."
So too the naught boy's admission from Oxyrhynchus that his mother complains "that he is upsetting
me" (őτι άναστατοϊ με)
throws light upon the description of the brethren at Thessalonica by their Jewish opponents, "These
that have turned the world upside down (őί τήν οίκουμένην
άναστατώσαντες) have come
hither also" (Ac17:6).
Similar aid is given in the choice of meaning where more than one rendering is possible.
In Mt 6:27, for example, both the Authorized and Revised Versions agree in rendering ήλικία
by "stature," "And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto his stature?"
but the margin of the Revised Version has "age"; and if we are to follow the almost unanimous
testimony of the papyri, this latter sense should be adopted throughout the New Testament occurrences of
the word, except in Lk 19:3, where the context makes it impossible. Thus in the important verse, Lk 2:52
καί Iησοΰς προέκοπτεν
τή σοφιά καί ήλικία,
the meaning is not that Jesus "advanced in wisdom and stature," that is "in height and comeliness"
(as Grimm-Thayer), but "in wisdom and age," a description to which an excellent parallel is now
afforded by an inscription of 2 BC, in which a certain Aristagoras is praised as-ήλικία
προκόπτων καί προαγόμενος
είς τό θεοσεβεϊν.
Again, in not a few instances, our new documents supply us with the true meaning of
words only imperfectly understood before.
In commenting on 1 Pet 1:7 ϊν τό
τοΰ άπολλυμένον διά
πυρός δέ δοκιμαζομένου
καί δόξαν καί τιμήν
έν άποκαλύψει Iησοΰ
Xριστοΰ Dr. Hort (Comm. Ad l) saw that the meaning required
was "the approved part or element of the faith," that is, the pure faith that remained when
the dross had been purged away by fiery trial; but unable to find any warrant for this sense of
δοκίμιον, he was driven to suspect that the true reading
was δόκιμον, for which he had the support of a few cursives.
There was no need, however, for any such conjecture. Ever since Deissmann first drew attention to the
importance of the evidence of the papyri in this connexion, examples have been rapidly accumulating
to show that δόκίμιος, as well as
δόκιμος, means "proved," "genuine," in
such a phrase as χρυσός δοκίμιος,
"tested gold," and we need no longer have any hesitation in so translating the word both in
the Petrine passage and in Jas 1:3.
Or, to take another example, where the appearance of a hitherto unestablished usage has
again done away with the need of textual emendation. In Ac 16:12
έστίν πρώτη τής
πόλις, the reading μερίδος
was objected to by Dr. Hort, on the ground that μερίς never denotes
simply a region or province, and he proposed accordingly to read Πιερίδος
in its stead, "a chief city of Pierian Macedonia." But while it is true that
μερίς in the sense of a geographical division does not occur in
classical writers, it is regularly so used in documents of the Apostolic age, so that the rendering
"district" in the Revised Version, however arrived at, need no longer raise any qualms.
It is, however, by imparting a fresh life and reality to many of our most ordinary New
Testament terms that the new authorities render their most signal service. We know how our very familiarity
with Scriptural language is apt to blind us to its full significance. But when we find words and phrases,
which we have hitherto associated only with a religious meaning, in common, everyday use, and employed in
circumstances where their meaning can raise no question, we make a fresh start with them, and get a
clearer insight into their deeper application.
Take, for instance, the common designation of Christians as "brethren" or
"brothers" (άδελφοί). The practice no doubt was
taken over from Judaism (Ac 2:29,37) and from the example of our Lord himself (cf. Mt 12:48, 23:8);
but we can at least see how the adoption of such a term was rendered easier by its application to
the members of a funeral society, whose duty it was to take part in the embalming of dead bodies,
or again to the "fellows" of a religious corporation in the Serapeum of Memphis.
So with the title "presbyter" (πρεσβύτερος).
Without entering on the question of the presbyter's place and authority in the early Christian
Church, it is obvious that the use of the word in civil life to denote a local or village officer
must have prepared the way in Gentile circles for its acceptance in its new connotation. Thus in
the year BC 117 a tax-farmer petitions the village-scribe and "the elders of the cultivators,"
that he may be assured of official "protection." Or, again, in AD 114 a woman lodges a
complaint of assault and robbery against another woman whose husband as "elder" was responsible
for the peace and order of the village. Or once more, in a document of AD 159-60, mention is made
of the priests of the Socnopaeus temple as being divided into five tribes under the rule of
"elder-priests"-clearly a title not of age but of dignity. It is in this same document,
we may note in passing, that the charge is laid against a fellow-priest of "letting his hair
grow too long and of wearing woollen garments"-the former item recalling the fact that in the
Early Church short hair was considered the mark of a Christian teacher, as compared with the unshorn
locks of the heathen philosopher.
Keeping still to words with an ecclesiastical ring about them, the term "liturgy"
has an interesting history. In classical times it was used of public services rendered gratuitously
to the State, but later it came to be applied to all kinds of work or service, including those of a
religious character, such as the "liturgy" of the Twin Sisters Thaues and Thaus, who held
some position as attendants in the temple of Serapis at Memphis, with a corresponding right to certain
allowances of oil and bread, which were apparently frequently in arrears. Similarly the corresponding
verb is used in a contract of the year AD 8-9 with an artiste who undertakes to give her
"services" on certain specified occasions, including the festivals of Isis and Hera, at a
salary of forty drachmae a year, along with a further wage or present of thirteen drachmae two obols.
Other more general uses of the word occur in connexion with the maintenance of the banks
of the Nile, or with the release of persons from some public service "because it is not at present
their turn to serve." Very interesting too is a doctor's claim for exemption, on the ground that
he was a doctor by profession, and had "treated medically" the very persons who were now
attempting to lay this new "liturgy" upon him.
I admit, of course, that none of these instances adds materially to our knowledge of
the word's connotation, but they give it fresh point, and enable us to understand how well-adapted
it was to describe the "liturgy" or "ministry" of Christian fellowship (cf. 2 Cor
9:12, Phil 2:17, 30), and all the more so, because the word has now come to be almost wholly limited
to a particular form of public worship.
Its occurrence in the current phraseology of the time adds again a fresh reality to
the Greek word (άρραβών) which is usually translated
"earnest" in our English Versions. We have all been taught that by the "earnest"
of the Spirit in such passages as 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14, we are to understand a part given in
advance of what will be bestowed fully afterwards. But how increasingly clear this becomes when a
woman who is selling a cow receives a thousand drachmae as an "earnest"
(άρραβώνα) on the total purchase money, or when certain
dancing girls at a village entertainment receive so many drachmae "by way of earnest"
(ύπέρ άραβώνος) on their promised salary!
Much help can be derived from the legal documents, which are so common amongst the
papyri. Thus is his pioneer Bible Studies (p. 104ff.), Deissmann has shown that the Greek adjective
(βέβαιος) usually translated "sure" or
"steadfast" in our English Versions, along with its cognate verb (βεβαιόω)
and substantive (βεβαίωσις), is the regular
technical term in the papyri to denote legally guaranteed security. This sense occurs, of course,
in classical Greek, but its constant reappearance in the papyri gives fresh point to the New Testament
usage. Two examples will make this clear. In an application for a lease belonging to the year AD 78,
and therefore practically contemporary with the New Testament writings, provision is mad for the
publication of the lease for the legal period of ten days "in order that if no one makes a
higher bid (έπίθεμα), the lease may remain guaranteed
(βεβαία) to us for the period of five years without change,"
and, similarly, in a somewhat later document (AD 266), connected with the resignation of a deed,
it is laid down, "I will further guarantee the property always against all claims with every
τε καί παρέξομαί σοι
βέβαια διά παντός άπό
πάντων πάση βεβαιώσει).
Read, then, the verb with this technical sense in view, and what added assurance it gives to the promise of
1 Cor 1:7: "Thus you lack no spiritual endowment during these days of waiting till our Lord Jesus
Christ is revealed; and to the very end he will guarantee (βεβαιώσει)
that you are vindicated on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Moffatt), just as another legal term
(ύπόστασις), which was used to denote the collection
of papers bearing upon the possession of a piece of property, or as we would now say, the title-deeds,
imparts a new certainty to the familiar definition-"Faith is the title-deed
(ύπόστασις) of things hoped for" (Heb 11:1).
In what are probably the earliest of his letters that have come down to us, the two
Epistles to the Thessalonians, St. Paul finds it necessary to rebuke his converts for walking "in
a disorderly manner" (2 Thess 3:11). The word (άτάκτως),
with its cognates, is confined to these Epistles in the New Testament, and what exactly is meant by
it is by no means clear at first sight. Is St. Paul referring to actual sin or moral disorder, or to
something less heinous? The papyri have supplied the answer in a striking manner. Among them is a
contract of AD 66 in which a father arranges to apprentice his son with a weaver for one year. All
the conditions of the contract as regards food and clothing are carefully laid down. Then follows
the passage which specially interests us. If there are any days during this period on which the boy
"fails to attend" or "plays truant" (őσας δ̉̉΄
έάν έν τούτω άτακτήση
ήμέρας), the father has to produce him for an equivalent number of
days after the period is over. And the verb which is used to denote playing truant is the same verb
which St. Paul uses in connexion with the Thessalonians. This then was their fault. They were idling,
playing truant. The Parousia of the Lord seemed to them to be so close at hand that it was
unnecessary for them to interest themselves in anything else. Why go their daily work in the morning,
when before night Christ might have come, they thought, forgetting that the best way to prepare for
that coming was to show themselves active and diligent in the discharge of their daily work and duty.
The reference to the Parousia may suggest a last example. Parousia, as
applied to the Return of the Lord, is simply the anglicizing of a Greek word
(παρουσία) which literally means "presence."
But in late Greek the word had come to be applied in a quasi-technical sense to the "visit"
of a king or great man. Thus in a papyrus of 3 BC we read of a district that was mulcted to provide
a "crown" for one of the Ptolemaic kings on the occasion of his "visit"; and in
a letter of about the same date a certain Apenneus writes that he has made preparations for the
"visit" of a magistrate Chrysippus by laying in a number of birds for his consumption,
including geese and pigeons.
It would seem, therefore, that as distinguished from other words associated with
Christ's Coming, such as His "manifestation" of the Divine power and His "revelation"
of the Divine plan, the "parousia" leads us rather to think of His "royal visit"
to His people, whether we think of the First Coming at the Incarnation, or the Final Coming as Judge.