I plan to read Ephesians in P46 over the next few weeks. P46 is one of the oldest and most important copies of Paul’s epistles in existence. The University of Michigan houses 60 of the 172 extant pages, and digital images of those pages are available for free download at the APIS database.
Why read P46? Two reasons. First, I want to read P46 because it’s there. After spending thousands of dollars and countless hours learning Greek in seminary, why not read P46? It’s cool, free, and really not that hard to read. Second, I’m developing some Bible classes and hope to find some examples that can be easily converted into visual aids.
Why post my notes here? Again two reasons. First, I think this stuff is interesting, and that’s ultimately the reason anyone blogs about anything. Second, even if you don’t know Greek, I hope to provide an inside look at textual criticism and demystify the process a bit. Feel free to skim down to the end where I boil things down into a few observations.
Ephesians begins on page 146. This is marked at the top center of the page with the letters ρμς. Ancient manuscripts often used letters to mark page numbers. You can read more about this numbering system from the University of Michigan.
Since this is a third-century manuscript, P46 is written in uncials, a style that uses only capital letters without spaces between words. The writing style can take some getting used to, but P46 was copied by a professional scribe and is very readable. If you need help reading the script, check out this page on reading 3rd century book hand.
Ephesians 1:1 (1st line, 1st letter). The scribe uses three different abbreviations in this verse: ΧΡΥ/ΧΡΩ for Χριστοῦ/Χριστῷ, ΙΗΥ for Ίησοῦ, and ΘΥ for θεοῦ. Each abbreviation is marked with a line above the text. P46 omits the article “τοῖς” preceding οὖσιν and “ἐν Ἐφέσω” found in UBS4. The text reads, ΠΑΥΛΟΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΧΡΥ ΙΗΥ ΔΙΑ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΣ ΘΥ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΟΥΣΙΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΣΤΟΙΣ ΕΝ ΧΡΩ ΙΗΥ. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, according to the will of God, to those who are holy and believe in Christ Jesus.”
1:2 (3rd line, 4th letter) The scribe introduces two new abbreviations: ΠΡΣ for πατρὸς and ΚΥ for κυρίου. There is a slight variation in the spelling of the second word in this verse. P46 reads “υμειν” rather than the “υμιν” found in UBS4. No change in meaning. The text reads, ΧΑΡΙΣ ΥΜΕΙΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΑΠΟ ΘΥ ΠΡΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΚΥ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1:3 (4th line, 16th letter) The scribe accidentally omitted the first ten words of this verse. UBS4 reads, “Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.” The MS the scribe was copying probably read, ΕΥΛΟΓΗΤΟΣ Ο ΘΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΡΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΥ ΗΜΩΝ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ. However, when the scribe looked back to begin verse three, he probably looked for the five abbreviations he had just copied to find his place. Unfortunately, verse three begins with the same five abbreviations in the same order, and the scribe accidentally skipped over ten words. “Homoioteleuton” is the technical name for this copying error (To better understand how this happens, imagine copying lines 7 and 8, both of which begin with the same word. A scribe could write the first word of line 7 and pick up copying on line 8). The text reads, Ο ΕΥΛΟΓΥΣΑΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΠΑΣΗ ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΗ ΕΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΕΠΟΥΡΑΝΙΟΙΣ ΕΝ ΧΡΩ. “[Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,] who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
1:4 (6th line, 17th letter) In this verse the scribe slightly changes his style. The scribe usually ends lines at word divisions (or breaks in compound words). However, ΚΑΤΕΝΩΠΙΟΝ, appearing at the end of line eight, is wrapped across the line break with its last two letters beginning line nine. This is curious because it doesn’t appear that the scribe ran out of room. The text reads, ΚΑΘΩΣ ΕΖΕΛΕΖΑΤΟ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΠΡΟ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΗΜΑΣ ΑΓΙΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΜΩΜΟΥΣ ΚΑΤΕΝΩΠΙΟΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΕΝ ΑΓΑΠΗ. “Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love”
1:5 (9th line, 15th letter) P46 omits the preposition “διὰ” preceding “Jesus Christ” as is found in UBS4. This appears to be simply an oversight. The text reads, ΠΡΟΟΡΙΣΑΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΥΙΟΘΕΣΙΑΝ ΙΗΥ ΧΡΥ ΕΙΣ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΥΝ ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ. “He predestined us for adoption as sons [through] Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”
1:6 (11th line, last seven letters) The scribe splits ΕΠΑΙΝΟΝ between lines 11 and 12 and ΕΧΑΡΙΣΤΩΣΕΝ between lines 12 and 13. These splits were obviously caused by space issues. The scribe misspells ἐχαρίτωσεν by adding a sigma before the tau. This misspelling is understandable because the verb is χαριτόω formed from the noun χάρις. It is worth noting that P46 reads “ἧς” as is found in UBS4, not “ἐν ᾗ” as is found in the TR. This reading is better due to weight of external support and the fact that copyists would more likely mistakenly produce the TR’s reading than vice versa. Either way the meaning is basically the same. P46 also agrees with UBS4 and lacks the phrase “υἱῷ αὐτοῦ” after “ἠγαπημένῳ.” This phrase was almost certainly an explanatory note that worked its way into several texts of the Western tradition. The text reads, ΕΙΣ ΕΠΑΙΝΟΝ ΔΟΖΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΧΑΡΙΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΣ ΕΧΑΡΙΣΤΩΣΕΝ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΗΓΑΠΗΜΕΝΩ. “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved.”
1:7 (13th line, last three letters) The reading matches the UBS4 exactly. The TR renders τὸ πλοῦτος as masculine rather than neuter, a very minor error. P46 reads, ΕΝ Ω ΕΧΟΜΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΠΟΛΥΤΡΩΣΙΝ ΔΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΙΜΑΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΤΗΝ ΑΦΕΣΙΝ ΤΩΝ ΠΑΡΑΠΤΩΜΑΤΩΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟ ΠΛΟΥΤΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΧΑΡΙΤΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
1:8 (16th line, last five letters) No anomalies; no variants. The text reads, ΗΣ ΕΠΕΡΙΣΣΕΥΣΕΝ ΕΙΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΝ ΠΑΣΗ ΣΟΦΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΦΡΟΝΗΣΕΙ. “which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and intelligence”
1:9 (18th line, 9th letter) This is the last verse on this page that can be read clearly. As in Eph 1:2, P46 spells the first person pronoun “υμειν” rather than “υμιν.” P46 also omits αὐτοῦ after θελήματος (UBS4 includes the pronoun). This is probably another case of homoioteleuton since the ending of θελήματος has a close resemblance to αὐτοῦ. The text reads, ΓΝΩΡΙΣΑΣ ΗΜΕΙΝ ΤΟ ΜΥΣΤΗΤΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΛΗΜΑΤΟΣ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΝ ΠΡΟΕΘΕΤΟ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ. “making know to us the mystery of [his] will, according to his purpose which he planned in him”
1:10 (20th line, 17th letter) The text becomes difficult to read here at the bottom of the page. The missing text is supplied in brackets based upon the spacing of the letters and the reading of other MSS. The text reads, ΕΙΣ ΟΙΚΟΝΟΜΙΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΠΛΗΡΩΜΑΤΟΣ ΤΩΝ ΚΑΙΡΩΝ ΑΝΑΚΕΦ[ΑΛΑΙΩ]ΣΑΣΘΑΙ ΤΑ ΠΑΝΤΑ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΧΡΩ ΤΑ ΕΠΙ [ΤΟΙΣ ΟΥ]ΡΑΝΟΙΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΕΠ[Ι ΤΗΣ ΥΗΣ] ΕΝ [ΑΥΤΩ]. “to be enacted in the fullness of time, the summing up of all things in Christ, [things] in heaven and things on [the earth] in [him].
1:11 (last line) this page contains only two words from this verse. The text reads, [ΕΝ Ω] ΚΑΙ ΕΚΛΗΡΩΘ[ΗΜΕΝ]…. [In whom] we have also obtained an inheritance….
The absence of “in Ephesus” in verse one could be evidence that Ephesians was a letter sent to many churches, with the church at Ephesus being the primary recipient. Perhaps this letter was also called the epistle to the Laodiceans in Colossians 4:16.
In verses 2, 6, and 9, the text contains misspellings. These sorts of errors account for the vast majority of textual variants. When you hear someone say that their are thousands of errors in the ancient biblical manuscripts, remember that most are minor mistakes such as misspellings or are easily explainable like the scribal errors in verses 3, 5, and 9.
By my count, this page contains at least six errors. Before you start calling for this scribe’s resignation, remember three things. First, this text is a copy of a copy. Our scribe might be innocently recording the mistakes of another. Second, lowercase letters and spaces between words had not yet been invented. Make a handwritten copy of this text yourself and see how many mistakes you make. I bet it will be more than six. Third, this copy was made before Christianity was legalized in A.D. 313. The scribe was probably working under a little bit of pressure as he wrote. Have you worried about being fed to a lion today?
Proponents of the Majority Text forget these factors. They argue that we should ignore manuscripts like P46 because later manuscripts are in a larger abundance and were more accurately copied. However, this position wrongly values quantity over quality. If I printed out my scanned copy of P46 a couple thousand times, I will have created a similar larger abundance of more accurate copies. The issue is the quality of the text, not the quantity.
The value of P46 resides in its age. Unlike the much later Majority Text manuscripts, P46 was copied relatively soon after Paul’s original letters were written. Thus there were fewer opportunities for scribes to make mistakes while they made copies of copies of copies. True, scribes in the 10th century and later copied more accurately due to increased safety in monasteries and better tools including lowercase letters and spaces between words. However, these factors only ensured that the copies available to 10th century scribes would be passed on with relatively few errors. The 10th century scribes had to copy from something that was a copy of a copy of a copy. Having a scanned copy of a third-century manuscript allows one to skip seven centuries of scribal errors. In today’s digital age, you can make as many perfect copies of texts like P46 as you want. Of course, they won’t do you any good unless you read them.