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P137 was first published in 2018. However, rumors of the content and provenance of a yet unpublished Gospel papyrus had been widely spread on social media since 2012. This was the result of a claim by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, who had said in a debate with Ehrman that a recently identified fragmentary papyrus of Mark had been dated to the late first century by a leading papyrologist. Therefore, it might be the earliest surviving Christian text. While that turned out to be untrue, it is dated to the early middle second century (125-150 A.D.) by Philip W. Comfort and the earliest extant manuscript of Mark. Edward D. Andrews would also concur with this early date.
Major Critical Texts of the New Testament
Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robin & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society
PAPYRUS 137 1:7-9, 16-18 (P.Oxy. 83.5345)
PAPYRUS 137 Mark 1:7-9, 16-18
7 καὶ ἐκήρυσσεν λέγων Ἔρχεται ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου ὀπίσω μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰ]μ[ὶ ἱκανὸς κύψας λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα] τῶν [ὑ]π[οδημάτων αὐτοῦ· 8 ἐγ]ὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδ[ατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμ[ᾶ]ς ἐν π̣̅ν̣̅ι ἁγ[ίῳ. 9 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκε]ίναις [ταῖ]ς ἡμέρ[αις ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάνου.
16 Καὶ παράγων παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν Σίμωνα καὶ ᾿Ανδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν] τῇ θαλά[σσῃ, ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλεεῖς· 17 καὶ εἶπε]ν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς Δεῦτε ὀπ[ίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω] ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλε[εῖς ἀνθρώπω(ν). 18 καὶ εὐθὺ]ς ἀφέντε[ς] τὰ δίκ[τυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.
PAPYRUS 137 (Gregory-Aland numbering) is designated 𝔓137. It is a fragment of the Gospel of Mark in Greek. It is from a codex, which is written on both sides: the recto (right/front) side containing Mark 1:7-9 and the verso (back) side containing Mark 1:16-18. P137 has been dated paleographically to about 175-225 C.E.
Brief Summary from the Egypt Exploration Society
In the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, volume LXXXIII text 5345, Professor Obbink and Dr. Colomo publish a fragment from a papyrus codex (book). The two sides of the papyrus each preserve brief traces of a passage, both of which come from the gospel of Mark. After rigorous comparison with other objectively dated texts, the hand of this papyrus is now assigned to the late second to early third century AD. This is the same text that Professor Obbink showed to some visitors to Oxford in 2011/12, which some of them reported in talks and on social media as possibly dating to the late first century AD on the basis of a provisional dating when the text was catalogued many years ago. Papyrus 5345 was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt, probably in 1903 (on the basis of its inventory number), and has never been for sale, whatever claims may have been made arising from individual conversations in the past. No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.
P137 preserves parts of a single fragment of the bottom five lines (recto and verso) of a codex leaf that is fairly well preserved; which could be the first page of a single quire codex, being a single column codex; and if it were reconstructed, it likely had 25 lines per page, with the writing taking up an area of about 9.4 cm x 12 cm. The editors (Dirk Obbink and Daniela Colomo) tell us that, “In this format, the text from the beginning of the Gospel to the foot of would occupy the whole page, with room perhaps for an initial title. Thus the Gospel began at the top of a right-hand page. We cannot tell whether it formed a single short codex (the complete text would have occupied 78 pages, that is 39 leaves or nearly 20 bifolia), or part of a larger book. But the sequence would suit the first leaf of a single-quire codex.”
It is now the earliest manuscript of the Gospel of Mark. Until the discovery of P137, it was Papyrus 45 (P45), which dated to about 250 C.E. It contains Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17. The disappointment is that P45 does not contain Mark 1:7-9, 16-18. The text on the verso side is quite legible but the recto side is seriously worn away by erosion. The handwriting is of a professional bookhand. This is the handwriting of a professional scribe that is trained in making quality documents, who attempts to be both beautiful and legible. According to the editors, the text of P137 has the closest affinity to P77/P103 (c. 150-200 C.E.), which contain Matt. 23:30–39; 13:55–57; 14:3–5 and are the closest examples of the handwriting and date of P137. According to the editors, the script is …
The script is a small, upright, semi-stylized bookhand, roughly bilinear except for υ, which extends below the line, and ϕ, which extends above and slightly below (the only example of ρ is damaged); ο (→ 3) floats slightly above line-level. The normal letter-height is 0.2–0.3 cm, and a line with its line-space occupies c. 0.5 cm.; this gives a closely-packed appearance. The scribe aims at calligraphy, but sometimes inconsistently: he uses a triangular α with pointed nose, but also with looped nose (e.g. → 4 bis), a tall straight-backed ϲ but also a fully rounded form (→ 3 -τοιϲ and → 4 -νεϲθαι). Among his other letter-forms note ε tall and straight, the tongue firmly connected to the initial curve but often projecting and once connecting to the next letter; μ with a curved saddle which almost reaches the base-line and then joins its right upright half-way up; ϕ with a wide oval bow, the upper arc somewhat flattened. Overall, we note the contrast, not consistent and not pronounced, between narrow letters (ε, ϲ) and wide letters (γ, δ, μ, ν, τ, υ, ϕ). Ornamentation is a feature throughout: leftwards oblique half-serifs decorate the feet of γ, μ and ν (first upright), υ, and ϕ, as well as the top of κ and the head and foot of ι. There is also a hint of shading: vertical and oblique strokes are thicker than horizontals.
π̣̅ν̣̅ι (pni): We have a nomen sacrum (sacred name) on the recto side of P137, which is an abbreviation, a shortened form of (πνεύματι (pneumati); spirit). Various contractions are found in the early New Testament Greek manuscripts. There is a special group of fifteen that are called the nominal sacra (sacred names). Some are abbreviated by simply keeping the first and last letter or the first two letters and the last letter or letters of the word. Another important feature is the horizontal bar placed over these letters [ι̅υ̅ χ̅υ̅ υ̅υ̅] to help the reader know that they are dealing with a contraction. The early Christian writers had three different ways that they would write a sacred name: (1) suspension, (2) contraction, and (3) longer contraction. The suspension is accomplished by writing only the first two letters of such sacred names as Jesus (ιησους) = (ι̅η̅) and suspending the remaining letters (σους). The contraction is accomplished by writing only the first and last letter of say Jesus (ιησους) = (ι̅ς̅) and removing the remaining letters (ησου).
The longer contraction would simply keep the first two letters instead of just one, as well as the last letter (χ̅ρ̅ν̅ ι̅η̅ν̅ ι̅η̅υ̅ χ̅ρ̅υ̅). After penning the suspension or contraction, the scribe would place a bar over the name. This practice of place a bar over the name was likely a carried over from the common practice of scribes placing bars above contractions, especially numbers, which were represented by letters, ΙΑ = eleven.
These nomina sacra are found only in Christian manuscripts. This is not to say that non-Christians did not use abbreviations and contractions. However, the abbreviations and contractions that the non-Christians used served the purpose of saving space in their manuscripts (in other words no specific words), and the horizontal bar was used in their abbreviations as well, especially numbers.
Let us note that “the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are present in all extant second-century New Testament manuscripts where one or more of these nomina sacra are extant. The following second-century manuscripts that clearly show these nomina sacra are as follows:
- P4+P64+P67—Matthew, Luke
- P46—Paul’s Epistles
- P75—Luke, John
P4+P64+P67 dates to (150-175 C.E.), P32 dates to (150-200 C.E.), P46 dates to 150 C.E.), P66 dates to about (150 C.E.), P75 dates to about (175 C.E.), P90 dates to (150-200 C.E.), and P137 dates to about (175 C.E.). This means that the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are standard by 150 C.E., which would suggest that, after the death of the last apostle John died in about 100 C.E. the implementation of the nomina sacra began shortly thereafter.
The dative preposition ἐν (‘in’) is not found in P137 before ‘water’ (ὕδατι). In addition, the dative preposition ἐν (‘in’) is not found in P137 before ‘Holy Spirit’ as is the case in the Nestle-Aland 26-28th edition (αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.) but not in Westcott and Hort (αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς πνεύματι ἁγίῳ; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit). The Nestle-Aland 26-28th edition reading ἐν is supported by Codex Sinaiticus. The Westcott and Hort and the Nestle-Aland up to the 25th edition are supported by Codex Vaticanus, All four of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John begin with these words of John the Baptist. At Luke 3:16, we find the dative preposition ἐν is found before ‘Holy Spirit’ but not before ‘water.’ At Matthew 3:11 and John 1:33, we find the dative preposition ἐν is found before both ‘water’ and ‘Holy Spirit.’ P137 has no impact on any other variant readings found in the Nestle-Aland 28th edition of Mark. In verse 17 at the third line of the verso, the name of “Jesus” is missing, which likely resulted from haplography, a scribal error.
While P137 was published in 2018, the content and provenance had been obsessively talked about since 2012 on social media because Dr. Daniel B. Wallace in 2012 had made a statement in a debate with Dr. Bart D. Ehrman that a recently identified fragment of Mark was dated to the first century by a world-renowned paleographer, which would have made it the earliest original language text of the New Testament.
 Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 200.