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    March 4, 1930

    New Light on New Testament Words


    W. W. Prescott

    How bits of pottery, papyri writings, and inscriptions recently discovered have thrown additional light on some of the key words of the Scriptures.

    [Signs of the Times, March 4, 1930, The Story of Our Bible, Part 11, pp. 11, 12, 14]

    In attempting to deal with the benefits that have accrued to New Testament criticism by the discovery of the inscriptions, the papyri, and the ostraca mentioned in my last article, I am confronted with a wealth of material and with a limited space in which to discuss it. Of course, I cannot cover the whole ground. I shall try, however, to make a few general statements bearing upon some phases of this most interesting question, and then to cite as many definite illustrations as my limitations will permit of passages from the New Testament upon which helpful light has been thrown. Those who desire to pursue the subject further can do so with the aid of any of the books from which citations are made.SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.1

    Just in passing I will refer to the important part that Scripture quotations in the writings of the early church fathers have played in establishing the early date and the reliability of some of the most valuable New Testament manuscripts. An extended examination has been made of the patristic writings, comparing their quotations from the New Testament documents with the leading manuscripts, and thus determining the weight of evidence in favor of each of them. One feature of the result thus attained has been stated by a well-known English writer:SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.2


    “It is by an indefinite repetition of the same process that the conclusion has been reached which lies at the foundation of textual criticism:-viz., that a certain group of ancient authorities, though in fewer numbers, is to be preferred to the later authorities, though in greater numbers. This is the principle for which Tregelles was contending all his life, against an influential and not incompetent opposition; and the cause for which he contended may now be considered won. The Archimedean point, so to speak, was supplied by patristic quotations. These came in to prove that the text represented by a certain small group of MSS.-not all themselves necessarily early in date-was really the text current in the best copies at the end of the second century, that it was really that which was nearest to the times of the apostles, that the other varieties of text were superinduced upon it, and not it superinduced upon them.”-W. Sanday, in The Expositor, 1880, pp.167, 168.SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.3

    Another Bible student bears the following testimony relating to this matter:SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.4

    “The Sinaitic and the Vatican, and the allied cluster of manuscripts which they represent, are proved to contain the very oldest readings by comparing them with the numerous quotations from Scripture found in the writings of the church fathers of the second and third centuries.”-“The Divine Authority of the Bible,” G. Frederick Wright, p. 99.SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.5

    The textual critics are agreed that the clause in 1 John 5:7 relating to the three that bear record in heaven has no foundation in the Greek MSS., and it has therefore been omitted in both the English and the American Revised Version. This decision is confirmed by the fact that this passage is not quoted by any of the early fathers when arguing on the subject of the Trinity. Thus do the fathers bear positive and negative testimony concerning the manuscripts.SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.6

    Those who have given special study to the kinds of handwriting current among different peoples and at different periods have been able to determine the age of the writings of the earlier centuries of the Christian era. The study of the papyri has contributed important help in this direction, as is indicated by the following quotation from Dr. Cobern:SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.7

    “While few dated papyri come from the first century before Christ, great numbers come from the two centuries preceding and from the first, second and third centuries after Christ, so that for the first time undated documents can now be generally assigned with considerable certainty to their proper century. The formation of the letters and the character of the abbreviations and other changes in handwriting and orthography make it as easy to decide between a first century and a third century Greek manuscript as between a sixteenth century and a nineteenth century English manuscript. Thus paleography adds its weight to the former strong internal argument. The grammar and popular phraseology show equal changes, so that a new argument inexpressibly strong has suddenly arisen, compelling skeptical scholars almost irresistibly to date the New Testament documents in the first century.”—“The New Archaeological Discoveries,” Camden M. Cobern, Ninth Edition, pp. 98, 99.SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.8

    When the early disciples went forth to preach Christ as the divine Saviour, they were confronted by a paganism that had deified its head, the Roman emperor, and had appropriated and applied to him the very terms that rightfully belong to the Son of God. Christianity could not be treated by the Roman authorities as one of its recognized religions, since its supporters could not concede this deification of the emperor, but on the contrary affirmed that “to us there is one God, the Father, ...and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 8:6. The apostle Paul declared, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.” 2 Corinthians 4:5. The significance of such preaching is emphasized by the discovery of the papyri, as is indicated by this extract:SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.9

    “The title ‘Lord’ as given to Jesus seems from the papyri to have a deeper meaning than was supposed. The emperors, when deified (first century and later), were addressed as ‘God,’ ‘Son of God,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Saviour of the world,’ etc., and this gives new point to the use of these titles for Jesus. We now see that the term Kurios Iasous (‘Lord Jesus’) was an ascription of deity to Him, and as such might have been accounted an act of antagonism to the emperor’s claim. The exact phrase by which deity was ascribed to Jesus-‘Great God and Saviour’ (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1)-appears literally in an inscription of 2 b. c., giving the emperor this title. In the Septuagint ho Kurios [the Lord] is constantly used as a title of God. This does not indeed prove the deity of Christ, but it adds dignity and strength to the modern argument. It shows that the church of the first century unequivocally accepted in full measure the deity of Jesus Christ....SITI March 4, 1930, page 11.10


    “St. Paul’s confession of our ‘Lord’ Jesus Christ, like the complemental thought that the worshipers were ‘slaves’ of the Lord, was understood in its full meaning by everybody in the Hellenistic East. This becomes still clearer if we compare, for instance, St. Paul’s expression, ‘the table of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 10:21), with the analogous Egyptian expression concerning their chief deity, ‘the table of the Lord Serapis,’ recently discovered in a papyrus. So when a number of papyri and ostraca recently discovered speak of Nero as ‘the Lord,’ this is exactly synonymous with the inscription calling him ‘the God.’ This is the reason St. Paul insists that Jesus Christ is ‘our only Master and Lord’ (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6) [Cf. Jude 4]. No one can confess Jesus Christ as ‘Lord’ (Kurios), but by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3); yet every tongue shall ‘confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:9, 11). This claim of deity wrapped up in the word explains why Polycarp went to martyrdom rather than to say ‘Lord Cæsar.’”-Id., pages 127,128.SITI March 4, 1930, page 12.1

    Thus do the recent discoveries, which give intimate glimpses of Roman life in the early days of Christianity, place in a vivid historical setting the documents that expounded the essential nature of the new and, to the pagans, antagonistic religion.SITI March 4, 1930, page 12.2


    According to the statement of our Lord Himself, His definite purpose in coming to this world was “to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28. This, then, is a fundamental feature of Christianity. But how would this teaching fit into the thought and the experience of those days? The papyri furnish the answer to this question as will appear in another quotation:SITI March 4, 1930, page 12.3

    “When anybody heard the Greek wore lutron, ‘ransom,’ in the first century, it was natural to him to think of the purchase money for manumitting slaves. Three documents from Oxyrhynchus relating to manumissions in the year 86, 100, and 91 or 107 a. d. make use of the word.... St. Paul in expanding and adapting to the Greek world the Master’s old saying about ransom, was admirably meeting the requirements and the intellectual capacity of the lower classes. For the poor saints of Corinth, among whom there were certainly some slaves, he could not have found a more popular illustration of the past and present work of the Lord. A Christian slave of Corinth going up the path to the Acrocorinthus about Eastertide, when St. Paul’s letter arrived, would see towards the northwest the snowy peak of Parnassus rising clearer and clearer before him, and every one knew that within the circuit of that commanding summit lay the shrines at which Apollo or Serapis or Asclepius the healer bought slaves with a price, for freedom. Then in the evening assembly was read the letter lately received from Ephesus [in which the Corinthian believers were told that they had been “bought with a price”],and the Straightway the new healer was present in spirit with His worshipers, giving them freedom from another slavery, redeeming with a price the bondmen of sin and the law-and that price no pious fiction, first received by him out of the hard-earned denarii of the slave, but paid by himself with the redemption money of his daily new self-sacrifice, (Continued on page 14) (Continued from page 12) rousing up for freedom those who languished in slavery.”-“Light From the Ancient East,” Adolph Deissmann, pages 331-333.SITI March 4, 1930, page 12.4

    When our Lord sent forth His disciples after His resurrection, He instructed them to baptize believers “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19. The correct interpretation of this formula is indicated by “the Inscription of Mylasa in Caria” belonging to the beginning of the Imperial period, in which is found in Greek the formula to be translated “into the name of the god” used after the Greek word meaning purchaser. There is an interesting comment bearing upon this inscription:SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.1


    “In reference to the ktematones, which is to be found in Inscriptions only, Waddington observes that the word means the purchaser of an article, but the purchaser in question, in this connection, is only the nominal purchaser, who represents the real purchaser, i.e., the Deity. The passage appears to the author to be the more important in that it presupposes exactly the same conception of the word name as we find in the solemn forms of expression used in religion. Just as, in the Inscription, to buy into the name of God means to buy so that the article bought belongs to God, so also the idea underlying, e. g., the expressions to baptize into the name of the Lord, or to believe into the name of the Son of God, is that baptism or faith constitutes the belonging to God or to the Son of God.”—“Bible Studies,” Adolph Deissmann, page 147.SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.2

    When at the beginning of His ministry Jesus read the Scripture to His friends and neighbors in the synagogue in His home town, Nazareth, He chose the passage found in Isaiah 61:1, in which occurs the statement, “He hath sent Me to proclaim release to the captives.” Luke 4:18. He then affirmed that He was fulfilling that prophecy. (Verse 21.) When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He declared concerning the contents of the cup, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), where the Greek word for “remission” is the same as is translated “release” in Luke 4:18. After His death and resurrection, He said to His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations” (Luke 24:46, 47), where the same Greek word is translated “remission.” After His ascension, when He had entered upon His priestly ministry, Peter declared to the council of religious leaders, “Him did God exalt at His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.” Acts 5:31, margin. Plainly the mission of Jesus was to secure the remission of sins, the release from sins. The idea involved in the word thus translated “remission” or “release” was a familiar one in apostolic times, as appears from the Egyptian papyri. Then it was used to signify the release of the waters of the Nile upon the parched soil by opening the sluices, an act that meant a continuance of life to the people of Egypt. So Jesus by His work in our behalf opened the sluices and released the streams of the grace of God, which in turn brought release to the slaves of sin, and a continuance of life and blessing. It is interesting to note in this connection that the word translated “release” or “remission” (sometimes “forgiveness”) in the New Testament is the determining word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in the phrase “year of jubilee,” found in Leviticus 25:13. The release from sin is indeed a time of jubilee.SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.3

    There has been much difference of opinion concerning the proper translation of the Greek word rendered “a propitiation” in Romans 3:25, since it is not the same word as is rendered “propitiation” in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10. That the usual rendering, or “a propitiatory gift,” is warranted is shown by the discovery of inscriptions of early times, even before the days of Paul. The same word is found “on a votive gift which ‘people’ of Cos erected to the gods as a propitiatory gift for the welfare of the ‘son of God,’ Augustus. That is exactly the same use of the word as we find later in Dion Chrysostom, and the similarity of the respective formulæ is evident. The word is used in the same way in the Inscription of Cos No. 3474, which the author cannot date exactly, but which certainly falls within the imperial period.”—Deissmann. Our blessed Lord is the true propitiatory gift that the Father has set forth to faith.SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.4


    The cases I have cited will serve to illustrate how the spade of the archæologist has aided in determining the true text of the New Testament and the meaning of the language used in it. The subject is most interesting, and will richly repay further study.SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.5

    I hope that what I have presented in this series of articles will serve to increase the confidence of all my readers in the Bible that we have in our hands today as the message of God to our souls, divine in its origin, transmitted through the centuries under the supervision of divine Providence, and revealing to us a divine Saviour. In closing, I will pass on the following striking tribute to the Book, which will apply to any standard translation:SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.6

    “The Bible has given to conscience a new vocabulary. It has set the spiritual life to music in immortal speech. It has been a seminal power of inspiration for our whole Western civilization. It has given the soldier doing battle for righteousness his trumpet and his sword. It has filled peace with moral and spiritual beauty and with a kind of military strength. It has given to quiet men and women a song which has sung in their hearts during hours of labor. It has given to every human relation a new beauty, and to every moral and spiritual aspiration a new authenticity. It has confronted the ages as an inspiration and a judge. It has given men the hopes for which they have lived and the standards by which they have judged. It stands royally in the midst of the pageant of the past. It has provided in its moral and spiritual quality the very cement which holds together the parts of history, and has given to life a meaning and a goal.”-Extract from a document sent out by the American Bible Society.SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.7


    I would like to supplement this statement with one sentence: The Bible teaches us how we may be delivered from the guilt and power of sin through faith in the atoning cross, and how we may receive the gift of eternal life through our faith in the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. Now “unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins, ...to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”SITI March 4, 1930, page 14.8

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