Stuff Early Christians Read: P. Oxy. 4010, the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) is this sort of common piece of Christianity that, if you went to church for any sustained period of time in your life, you probably know. In the church of my youth, we repeated it every Sunday (and it was not an overly liturgical church). It is a beautiful thing, because as the text in Matthew 6:7 presents it, it is not simply a prayer but it is Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. It is not a prayer, it is an exemplar prayer. Some might even say it is the prayer.

We twenty-first (and twentieth) century Christians weren’t the first to notice this. The Lord’s prayer was found on a single papyrus sheet in Oxyrhynchus.

P. Oxy 4010 (TM: 64491) is dated to 300–399, and on lines 11 and below contains the Lord’s Prayer. Blumell & Wayment’s Christian Oxyrhynchus, pp. 354–356 is the basis of my discussion below and also the source of the transcription and reconstruction that I translate below.

The right side of the papyrus has not survived, but the enough of the text remains to reliably reconstruct it. Interestingly, another prayer (perhaps reflective of 2 Cor 1:3) is prepended. The purpose of this manuscript is not known. It has no evidence of fold marks so is not likely an amulet text, and based on its end of the prayer at the end of the sheet, appears to be intended as a single sheet production.

As a witness to the text of Matthew 6:9–13, P. Oxy 4010 does not exactly reproduce the critical text (NA28). A phrase from 6:10 (“your will be done”) is absent, likely due to homoiteleuton. The scribe seems to prefer ωσπερ to ως (in 6:12; Blumell & Wayment make the same note in v. 10 but it seems errant). Of most interest is the apparent repeating of the phrase “save/rescue us” at the very end of the prayer: “but [save us f]rom the evil one, save u[s].” I say “apparent” because the first “save/rescue” occurs in a reconstruction and thus makes assumptions about text we cannot absolutely verify, but the reconstruction does seem appropriate.

Here is a translation of P. Oxy. 4010, with reconstructions noted and translation representing the differences in text present and text reconstructed as much as possible (which is why it reads a little strange):

8 Master of all … [Father of mercies]
9 and God of all co[mfort]
10 and have compassion and …
11 consider us … [   Our Father]
12 who is in heaven, let be holy [your name]
13 let your kingdom come, as i[n heaven also upon]
14 earth. Our bread f[or the day give]
15 to us today, and forgive u[s the deb-]
16 ts of us, just as eve[n] w[e forgive]
17 our debtors, a[nd lead not]
18 us into temptation, but [save us fr-]
19 om the evil one, save u[s]

This really is a neat papyrus. Somewhere, someone found it important to write down (or, likely, have written down) these prayers. Whatever their purpose, whatever their function, they were recorded by someone who found them valuable. It was probably read, and re-read. It probably offered encouragement, comfort, and hope to the reader.

Yes, Lord. Save us from the evil one. Save us.

 

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