This is Part 4 of a 6 Part series on the text critical paper that I presented at the 2013 SBL Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD. Here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I focused on the textual tendencies of the Ancient Greek manuscript called P46 which is the oldest extant manuscript that we have of Paul’s letters. For more information upon this manuscript see The University of Michigan’s Library andThe Chester Beatty Library.
In conclusion, from the evidence put forward above, one can clearly observe that P46 is inconsistent and fickle at many levels. While it is somewhat stable in providing the original text of 2 Corinthians according to the NU, it is quite unstable (1) in agreeing with other extant MSS of 2 Corinthians and (2) in leaning towards one specific textual family. If P46 was said to have any tendencies toward certain MSS in 2 Corinthians, they would surely be the Latin type MSS of the OL, Vg., and Ambrosiaster which all have high percentages of agreement with P46 throughout both the singular readings and 2 Corinthians as a whole. Overall, I conclude that P46 in 2 Corinthians (1) maintains an older reading of Paul in the singular readings that was contained mostly within the Latin Church which was later added to by scribes, (2) tends to preserve the original reading 50% of the time or higher according to the NU, (3) tends to alter grammar and inflection, omit words, and substitute words, (4) tends to disagree with most of the other NT MSS among the variants, and (5) tends to have no preference toward any textual family. In other words, the overwhelming evidence leads one to conclude that the only lasting tendency that P46 has in 2 Corinthians is inconsistency.
So what does all this reveal about early Christianity? First and foremost, I think that the inconsistency and lack of alignment with a textual family shows that P46 is a conduit for hearing the earliest rendition of Paul in 2 Corinthians, and this is especially pertinent if one holds to an early dating of P46 to ca. 80 A.D. as Young Kyu Kim proposed in his article Paleographical Dating of P46 to the Later First Century in 1988. Second, as pertains to the MSS with the highest percentage of agreement with P46 (i.e. Copt. and OL), this further corroborates the claim that early Christianity was missional focused, that is, early Christians tried to spread Christianity by translating their sacred texts into other important languages such as Coptic and Latin. Thirdly, as pertains to the Latin type MSS that agree with P46 among the singular readings, this may reveal an important facet of the transmission history of 2 Corinthians, namely, since the Corinth that Paul evangelized and wrote to was the rebuilt Roman city of Corinth – not the Greek Corinth – it is possible that when the original 2 Corinthians was received in Corinth that the church shortly thereafter translated it into Latin due to Roman influence on the city. Lastly, while P46 was discovered in Fayum, Egypt, that does not necessarily mean that it was produced or even primarily used in that region throughout its history. But regardless of whether it was in fact either used and/or produced in Egypt, seeing that P46 has the highest percentage agreement with the Coptic MSS, this might indicate that early Egyptian Christianity used P46 and/or other early non-extant MSS of its similar type and nature to produce their Coptic translations of 2 Corinthians. In these ways, then, Chester Beatty Papyrus II sheds some light on early Christianity, and perhaps even that in Egypt.