The Scythians—Who Were They? And Why Did Paul Include Them in Colossians 3:11? -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 21:4 (Autumn 2007)
Article: The Scythians—Who Were They? And Why Did Paul Include Them in Colossians 3:11?
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


The Scythians—Who Were They?
And Why Did Paul Include Them in Colossians 3:11?

Edwin Yamauchi

EDWIN M. YAMAUCHI (Ph.D., Brandeis University) is past President of the Evangelical Theological Society and Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A nationally recognized authority on early church history, biblical archeology, Gnosticism, and ancient magic, he has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited seventeen books, written chapters for thirty-four books, and published hundreds of articles in reference works and journals.

Scythians in the Bible

Colossians 3:11

Many readers of this journal will have memorized Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”1 They may not be as familiar with the parallel passage in Colossians 3:11, which omits any reference to gender: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”2

Who indeed were the Scythians? And why does Paul refer to them? In this article, I will give a survey of their history and culture and examine different ways in which scholars have understood the function of the word in Colossians 3:11.

Periphrastic versions render the terms barbaros, skuthēs as: “barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all]”;3 “alien, savage”;4 “uncivilized and uncouth”;5 “barbaric and uncouth”;6 “foreigner, savage”;7 and “foreigner or savage.”8 Whereas older foreign translations were content to transliterate the word, more recent translations attempt to use explanatory terms.9

This general view of the Scythians is based on a wealth of classical references,10 and is generally reflected in all the commentaries, e.g., “The Scythians are cited as an especially strange kind of barbarian”;11 “The ‘Scythian’ represents the lowest kind of barbarian who was probably also a slave; the term was applied to tri...

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