The Papyri and the Critical Evaluation of the New Testament -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 117:465 (Jan 1960)
Article: The Papyri and the Critical Evaluation of the New Testament
Author: Merrill F. Unger


The Papyri and the Critical Evaluation of the New Testament

Merrill F. Unger

Modern discovery of papyri, ostraca, and other epigraphic remains from the Graeco-Roman period have completely revolutionized New Testament philological study. Abundant new light, especially from the finds of nonliterary papyri, has compelled abandonment of the old isolative method by which the sacred record was evaluated largely apart from its relation to the contemporary international Greek language. This mistaken historically unsound procedure had been possible before the bulk of the new texts was discovered, or before they were studied historically and comparatively. With the new archaeological criteria available by the first decade of the twentieth century, the erroneous practice of divorcing New Testament Greek from the historical and cultural milieu was no longer possible. The unsound isolative method had to give way to the sound historical method. The New Testament was now studied in the light of the new records, rather than dogmatically separated from its historical and philological environment. The results were revolutionary.

The philological results of the new material for evaluation. The new texts made three important contributions to the philological appraisal of the language of the New Testament. First, they proved the morphological identity of its idiom with that of the koine of the same period. The hundreds of morphological “oddities” in the New Testament which strike the reader of the classics were found to occur also in contemporary and nonreligious records of the everyday Greek of the period.

Among the first to set forth the real character of the koine was the distinguished philologian A. Thumb.1 Pioneering in applying the new knowledge directly to the New Testament Greek was James Hope Moulton,2 followed by Adolf Deissmann.3 All subsequent scholarly research in New Testament

language and literature in the twentieth century to our present has had to deal with the ever-increasing fund of papyri and other epigraphical evidence. Such recent works as the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature translated and edited by Arndt and Gingrich and published in 1958 by the University of Chicago as well as Gerhard Kittel’s Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament, continued since 1948 by Gerhard Friedrich, have rendered obsolete such earlier lexicons as Moulton and Milligan, Thayer, and even Liddell and Scott.

Beside showing the morphological identity of the N...

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