Transformed into His Image: A Christian Papyrus -- By: D. Brent Sandy

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 02:2 (Fall 1981)
Article: Transformed into His Image: A Christian Papyrus
Author: D. Brent Sandy


Transformed into His Image:
A Christian Papyrus

D. Brent Sandy

Published here for the first time is a Christian papyrus of the fourth century. The content of the document is of special interest to biblical students for its statement about transformation. The position of the text on the page and the signs in the text are significant for papyrology. This article begins with a brief summary of the concept of transformation in the milieu of early Christianity, and against that backdrop presents the papyrus and its contents.

Basic to the entirety of this article is the persuasiveness of the excellent teaching and scholarship of my esteemed pedagogue, Professor James Boyer. Through many undergraduate and graduate courses, he created in this student an insatiable interest in the likes of Classical Greece and NT backgrounds. A Greek proverb says: ἡ ἀρχὴ ἥμισυ παντός, “The beginning is half of everything.” To the one therefore who began a good work in me the following is dedicated.

* * *

In the ancient world the concept of transformation was very common.1 Several literary pieces were entitled Metamorphoses, of which probably best known is Ovid’s epic poem composed from about A.D. 2 onwards.2 The dominant idea in much of this genre is of gods changing themselves into perceptible beings. But from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, written in the second century, we learn of the initiation rites typical of the mystery religions, where the devotee is transformed into a god-like being in a regeneration ritual.3 Tatian, a Christian writing in the second century, mentions both aspects when

he ridicules the Greek and Roman gods: “There are legends of the metamorphosis of men: with you the gods also are metamorphosed. Rhea becomes a tree; Zeus a dragon…a god, forsooth, becomes a swan, or takes the form of an eagle….”4 Present also in the Jewish literature, the transformation motif occurs especially in apocalyptic descriptions of an eschatological salvation.5

In the NT, deity and humanity again undergo a change in form.6 Paul describes the incarnation as a taking on of the form of a servant.7 Jesus was transfigured, as recorded in three Gospels,8 midway through...

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