I can’t believe I am going to post on papyrus.

Sounds like a dull topic doesn’t it? But papyrus is the foundation of the New Testament.  It is literally the foundation of the New Testament.

Old Testament research is pretty much a matter of digging for buried buildings or inscribed tablets. New Testament archaeology is primarily a matter of written documents.

On papyrus.

Papyrus is not a permanent material. It comes from a reed grown in the shallow lakes and rivers in Egypt and Syria.  The reeds were stripped and cut lengthwise  into thin narrow slices before being beaten and pressed together into two layers set at right angles to each other.  Then the reeds are dried and a whitish surface begins to emerge.  That surface is polished with a stone and then it is ready for writing inks to be applied.  Shipments of papyrus were sent around the world from the Syrian port Byblos.*

What was written on papyrus? You might think only important sacred documents or legal documents or records of large monetary transactions.  No, Paul Little says papyrus has been recovered that includes housewife shopping lists, private notes, literary texts, records of collections of sacred Scriptures, the whole gamut of what a bunch of human beings would record on paper.

You might think that a shopping list or a private note would not be of any value but Little says that is not so. These “toss away” artifacts have gone a long way toward opening up an understanding of the language of the people of the New Testament.

We know that most of the New Testament was written in Greek but did the common man understand it? In comparing everyday language gathered from less important papyrus to the Greek of the New Testament, scholars have found that New Testament Greek was very similar to the language of the common people.

You might wonder how papyrus was stored. It was not stored in a book-like form on a shelf.  Papyrus scrolls were glued together and then wound around a stick to make them into a tight bundle.  Writing was usually written on one side of the scroll.  The average scroll was from twenty to thirty-five feet long.  They were easy to store.  We are so used to using books, we don’t believe that but I found a quote from a man named Callimachus, a professional cataloguer in the ancient library of Alexandria.  He said “a big book is a big nuisance.”

The spread of Christianity and advent of the printing press in 1440 made the book the common form to read from for many years.

Today many think we are transitioning to a new form of reading material; we are going from the book to the computer file and the technological device screen.

No one knows where we are going in our use of the Bible. However at this point in human history the New Testament is humanity’s most reliable ancient document. We have thousands of copies of the New Testament, all dated closely to the original writing. In fact, we are more sure the New Testament remains as it was originally written by its writers than we are sure of writings we attribute to Plato, or Aristotle, or Homer’s Iliad.

Yes today I have posted on papyrus [actually I have not]. I have posted a soft copy on a cloud platform called which is administered by wordpress.

Well you understand what I am saying; my topic today was papyrus.

Posting a soft copy on “the cloud” and all that other stuff; much easier to understand papyrus isn’t it?



*from Stanley Greenslade, Cambridge History of the Bible


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