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New essay on NT Papyrus “P45”

November 30, 2016

Today’s post brought the published version of my essay, “P45 as an Early Christian Artefact:  What it Reflects about Early Christianity,” which has just appeared in the Norwegian journal, Teologisk Tidsskrift 4(2016), 291-307.  I presented the essay originally as part of a symposium held in August this year, celebrating the 65th birthday of Professor Reidar Hvalvik, a senior NT scholar in the Norwegian School of Theology (which I posted on earlier here).

I discuss P45 (commonly dated to the mid-third century) as our earliest clear manuscript witness to the “fourfold Gospel” that subsequently became part of the familiar NT.  But P45 also provides our earliest substantial portion of the text of Acts of the Apostles.  It is interesting that Acts is included with the four Gospels in one codex, an unusual combination.  In ancient manuscripts, Acts is more often linked with the “General Epistles.”

P45 also reflects the early Christian preference for the codex, a preference exercised particularly (it seems) with respect to writings treated as scripture.  Accommodating the large body of text represented in the four Gospels and Acts in one codex (originally 56 papyrus sheets folded to form 112 leaves) required some forethought.  Christians appear to have been in the vanguard of experimentation with the codex as a bookform for such large bodies of text.  P45 has a larger number of lines per page than most other early NT manuscripts, and a large number of letters per line.  But it also has generous interline spacing, clearly written letters, and occasional use of punctuation to mark sense-units.  So, the book was prepared to facilitate usage by readers.

As typical of early Christian manuscripts, P45 exhibits the early Christian scribal practice known nowadays as the “nomina sacra,” the writing of certain words in a unique abbreviated form with a horizontal stroke placed above the form.  As well, P45 also has another early Christian copyist device referred to as the “staurogram,” involving an abbreviated form of the Greek words for “cross/crucify,” the letters tau and rho combined to form what looks like a pictographic representation of the crucified Jesus.

Of course, P45 is most often consulted and cited as a witness to the early text of the writings it contains.  There are no indications of major deletions or insertions, or any pattern of variants that suggests any theological programme.  Instead, we have a fairly good level of textual stability reflected in P45, with a good deal of “microlevel fluidity” (e.g., small variants in word-order, verb tense, etc.) but “macrolevel stability.”

This issue of the journal also contains a survey of Hvalvik’s varied contributions to scholarship in NT, other early Christian writings, the visual arts, and Jewish studies.  As well, there are the other symposium contributions, some in English and others in Norwegian.


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  1. Donald Jacobs permalink

    I guess the irony of you delivering a P45 lecture at the dude’s 65th birthday was lost on the Norwegian crowd, but I appreciated it. Did he retire?

  2. Dr. H.,
    This short description of this one article shows the deep and width of your expertise. In this day of specialization, it is an honor to be able to pickup my IPad and peer into that knowledge. Obviously, your articles and books are in my study. I look forward to reading the articles in this journal, at least those in English.


  3. Griffin permalink

    The inclusion of Acts with the gospels, shows how our Christian editors were active in trying to put things together. In some ways, a post-gospel Acts “of the Apostles” would be a logical appendix, to gospels said to be written by the apostles, earlier.

    A fascinating view into canon formation.

    • The earlier stage, it appears, was the formation of a collection of Paul’s epistles, alluded to already in 2 Peter 3:15-16 (early 2nd century??). A “fourfold gospel” collection appears also, likely by mid-2nd century. Among the Chester Beatty biblical papyri, P46 is our earliest extant copy of a Pauline epistle collection in one codex.

      • Griffin permalink

        I wonder if the separation of different authors or subjects, into different collections, codicies, in part reflects either 1) the physical limitations of books. Or 2) some kind of editorial, or 3) historical, or 4) even canonical, decision.

        I’m thinking that all four elements figure in. It’s easy to see many possible reasons why say, Paul might be published separately from the rest.

      • No, you don’t understand the matter. Codices were initially used for more informal texts, and for texts of limited size. The gathering of multiple texts in one codex required some thought about how to do so. It isn’t till the 4th century that we have codices adequate to contain the whole of the NT or Bible.

  4. Is P45 available for anyone to view and study? If so, where may one view a copy of this document? I’m especially interested in the use of the nomina sacra in early Christian writings. Thank you.

    • A photo-facsimile edition of P45, edited by Frederic G. Kenyon, appeared in 1933, as one of the vols in the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri. A recent set of new digital photos was made by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, available on their site:

      Also, if you’re interested in learning about the “nomina sacra,” click on the item in the word-cloud on the right-hand side of my blog site, and you’ll get my previous postings on the topic.

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