Papyri, Women, And Word Meaning In The New Testament -- By: Ann Nyland

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 17:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: Papyri, Women, And Word Meaning In The New Testament
Author: Ann Nyland


Papyri, Women, And Word Meaning In The New Testament

Ann Nyland

Ann Nyland is a former lecturer in classical Greek language at the University of New England, Australia and has devoted several years to translating the New Testament in light of the recent discoveries in papyri and inscriptions. She has published in the area of lexicography; her most recent article “Against Grudem: aner and Masculinist Misprisions of New Testament Meaning” is forthcoming in Vol. 3 of the journal Sea Changes: Journal of Women Scholars of Religion and Theology.

In the late 1880s, large amounts of papyri were discovered in separate finds. These affected New Testament scholarship to such a degree that scholars labeled the finds “sensational” and “dramatic.” The papyri were written at the time of the New Testament, and touched upon all aspects of life, comprising everyday private letters from ordinary people, contracts of marriage and divorce, tax papers, official decrees, birth and death notices, and business documents. Prior to this discovery, the meanings of numerous New Testament words had remained unknown, and the translators had simply made educated guesses.

In 1895, the celebrated German scholar Deissmann published a large body of papyri, and between 1914 and 1929 Moulton and Milligan published documentary vocabulary (“documentary” meaning papyri and inscriptions) in eight volumes in their Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Although this was an enormous advance, Moulton and Milligan still did not have entries for about 17 percent of New Testament words. Of the words they did include, there were 800 words for which no documentary attestation was given. Due to ongoing discoveries, the work was out of date before the last volume had been published.

In July 1910, James Hope Moulton made a statement that could be marked as some of history’s “famous last words”: “I do not think that papyrology will take us much further. New papyrus collections will only add details now.”1

But this was not to be. Scholars had thought the previous finds of papyri sensational and dramatic, yet the subsequent discovery and editing of papyrus fragments revolutionized New Testament scholarship. Several thousand Greek inscriptions and papyri were published for the first time, or reissued, in 1976. In that year alone, fifteen volumes of new papyri were published. The light of meaning now shines on many words previously unattested. Finds are ongoing: several thousand new inscriptions come to light each year. In the last two decades, four thousand inscriptions have been found in Ephesus alone. Sadly, while these discoveries excited New Testament scholars and lexicographers and have prompted nu...

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