Simpson on the Papyri

Other Greek writings of the New Testament era, including papyri and inscriptions
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Patrick Maxwell
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Simpson on the Papyri

Post by Patrick Maxwell » November 15th, 2013, 9:34 am

In a Tyndale New Testament Lecture given in 1946 (Words Worth Weighing...), E.K. Simpson said:

"In recent years we have been flooded with testifications to the vernacularity of the New Testament; so much indeed that methinks the balance needs to be somewhat redressed. Unquestionably we owe a debt to the Egyptian papyri and inscriptional lore that cannot be ignored. They have shed light on many incidental points in the sacred text and supplied parallels to many anomalous grammatical forms... As long as Scriptural writers hug the coast of mundane affairs, the Egyptian pharos yields a measure of illumination to their track; but when they launch out into the deeps of the divine counsels, we no longer profit by its twinkling cross-lights."

The image is memorable, but can somebody comment on the statement in bold letters above? Is it a broad generalisation that needs to be carefully qualified?

Thanks,
Patrick
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Wes Wood
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Re: Simpson on the Papyri

Post by Wes Wood » November 15th, 2013, 9:55 am

I don't exactly know what he is saying. If he means that the Egyptian papyri are good for grammar but not for doctrine, he would be stating for believers what need not be said. If he is arguing that the bible is written in part koine greek and part "Holy Spirit" greek then, in my opinion, he is utterly wrong.
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Ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φιλῶ, πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ θεῷ ἢ ὑμῖν.-Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους 29δ

cwconrad
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Re: Simpson on the Papyri

Post by cwconrad » November 15th, 2013, 10:43 am

Wes Wood wrote:I don't exactly know what he is saying. If he means that the Egyptian papyri are good for grammar but not for doctrine, he would be stating for believers what need not be said. If he is arguing that the bible is written in part koine greek and part "Holy Spirit" greek then, in my opinion, he is utterly wrong.
I'm not saying anything different from what Wes says, but to put it more succinctly (and not theologically), theological formulations in the GNT were composed in the same kind of Greek as was secular Greek.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Wes Wood
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Re: Simpson on the Papyri

Post by Wes Wood » November 15th, 2013, 12:06 pm

I apologize for my previous post. It wasn't intended to be anything more than my attempt to understand the author's meaning.
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Ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φιλῶ, πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ θεῷ ἢ ὑμῖν.-Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους 29δ

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Simpson on the Papyri

Post by Stephen Hughes » November 15th, 2013, 12:30 pm

Patrick Maxwell wrote:
Tyndale New Testament Lecture given in 1946 (Words Worth Weighing...), E.K. Simpson wrote:As long as Scriptural writers hug the coast of mundane affairs, the Egyptian pharos yields a measure of illumination to their track; but when they launch out into the deeps of the divine counsels, we no longer profit by its twinkling cross-lights.
I understand where Simpson is going with this - While the text that we are reading is dealing with everyday matters the papyrological evidence can act as a reference point to our understanding, but beyond that, when we are dealing with specialised concepts of theology then the words will have different meanings for the pagan Egyptians than in a Jewish and/or Christian understanding - but I don't entirely agree with him. [In his imagery, the Pharos of Alexandria ὁ Φάρος τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας was the ancient lighthouse built during the Ptolemaic period - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the cross-lights is the lighthouse light being used by ships as a navigational beacon.]

Let me give a simple example to illustrate the benefit of the papyrus to understanding of a mundane word:
P.Cair.Zen.155 (256 B.C.) line 3. wrote:εὐθέως πότισον τὴν γην ἀπὸ χερός
"irrigate the land by hand straightaway".

In the classical usage, πότιζω means give someone a drink cf Matthew 25:35 ἐδίψησα, καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με "I was thirsty and you gave me a drink". But in 1 Corinthians 3:6 it is used agriculturally; Ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα (planted), Ἀπολλὼς ἐπότισεν (watered), ἀλλ’ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν (caused the abundance of fruit / grain). And likewise in verses 7& 8. The papyrus evidence shows us that that was an expected usage at that time - a mundane thing - which Simpson would accept as a good useage to which the evidence of the papyrus could be put.

Now concerning the divine counsels...
There are also a large number of Biblical, Apocryphal and Pseudapigraphal papyrus including works previously unknown or only known to us in small quotes or by name alone. Those include the Greek Gospel of Thomas (cf. the Coptic Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas), liturgical, hagiographical and homiletic works. There are also a great many early witnesses to the NT manuscript tradition that have turned up and they are invaluable for textual criticism.

The non-literary papyri offer us Greek texts that are recognisably similar to the NTG that we are learning, and most people who approach the New Testament corpus in a scholarly way would consider that the "theological" evidence that has turned up in the Egyptian deserts to be important too.

In other words, while I can see that Simpson's statement was piously well-intentioned, in view of the enormous benefit that "theological" texts (magical, pagan and Christian) have brought to NT scholarship, his statement is at the same time nonsense.
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(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

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