This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sexist early scribe altered Rom 16:15

Stephen Carlson has drawn our attention to James Royse's explanation for the text of Rom 16:15 in P46, which was written about 200 A.D. ("Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri" 2008 p333-4).

Most of the manuscripts read,

Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and the sister of him

However, in place of ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΝΗΡΕΑ, P46 reads: ΒΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ This emendation seems inexplicable, especially since ΒΗΡΕΑ and ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ do not appear to be attested names. Royse, however, has a very promising idea. He suggests that P46 was copied from a manuscript that had the names Julia and Nereus reversed, and that an "Α" and a "Β" had been written above the names to indicate the original order. This method of indicating a transposition is known from other manuscripts, we are told. Thus, Royse suggests that P46 was copied from a text which read like this:


The scribe of P46 then mistakenly assumed that the Β and the Α were intended to correct the Ν and the Ι, respectively, rather than to correct the order of the two names. However, Royse has difficulty accounting for the ΚΑΙ (and) between the two names in P46, and he offers no explanation for why the names Julia and Nereus were reversed in the first place.

Well, given the importance of name order in the ancient world, the reversal of the names demotes Julia, a woman, relative to Nereus, a man. This is therefore yet another example of the alteration of scripture by sexist scribes. The ΚΑΙ could well have been added to make sense of the following phrase, "and the sister of him". Without the ΚΑΙ the 'him' would appear to be Julia, a woman. The insertion of the ΚΑΙ allows the 'him' to refer back to Philologus. The name "Philologus" has all the appearance of being an honorific title/name, and ancient readers would have (correctly) taken him to be a prominent head of a household (or house church), of which the others mentioned are members. Thus, the relationship of these individuals to Philologus is in view here, so it would not be unreasonable for the 'him' to refer to Philologus in the amended text.

So, it seems to me that a sexist scribe made a copy of Romans and changed ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΝΗΡΕΑ to ΝΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ, making the text mean, "Greet Philologus and Nereus and Julia and the sister of him (Philologus)". Later someone else discovered the fraud and tried to correct it by inserting the letters Α and Β, thus:


Later still, a third scribe copied this text, but misunderstood the Α and Β, creating P46, which reads,


The text of Rom 16:15 in P46 is therefore another piece of evidence for the early and widespread practice of altering scripture to diminish the role of women in the church. It therefore should have a small but significant part in the debate about whether Paul wrote 1 Cor 14:34-35. It is also a witness to the importance of name order, which is often overlooked.


  1. If I recall correctly, there are some interesting variants going on with Priscilla and Aquila too.

  2. In an updated post here I simplify the hypothesis and tighten the arguments a little.