Stuff Early Christians Read: P. Egerton 3 + PSI inv. 2101, A Commentary or Homily of Origen


P. Egerton 3, Frags. 1&2, recto, from Bell & Skeat (plate III)

This has taken awhile to get together. But I do finally have data for P. Egerton 3 + PSI inv. 2101 (TM: 62337) based on the published transcriptions and interaction among scholars regarding the material. There are a few relevant articles:

  • H.I. Bell and T.C. Skeat, eds., Fragments of an unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935) no. 2, pp. 43–51, with plate III. Note that this papyri is the second papyri in the publication, but it’s inventory number is 3. To reduce any confusion with the well-known P. Egerton 2 (item 1 in this publication) which, combined with P. Köln 255, provide textual evidence of an early apocryphal gospel, I will refer to it as P. Egerton 3.
  • R.M. Grant, “More Fragments of Origen?,” VigChr 2 (1948) 243–247.
  • R. Leaney, “The Authorship of Egerton Papyrus no. 3,” VigChr (1955) 212–217.
  • H. Chadwick, “The Authorship of Egerton Papyrus No. 3,” HThR 49 (1956) 145–151.
  • M. Naldini, “Nuovi frammenti origeniani,” Prometheus 4 (1978) 97–108. MS data and images.
  • M. Naldini, “Ancora sui nuovi frammenti origeniani (PSI inv. 2101),” Prometheus 6 (1980) 80–82.
  • R. Yuen-Collingridge, “Hunting for Origen in Unidentified Papyri: The Case of P. Egerton 2 (= inv. 3)” in T.J. Kraus and T. Niklas, Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 39–57.

Bell and Skeat initially suggest and then rule out Origen as the source of this material due to the dating of the fragment (“early third century”) being almost too early for Origen to be considered the author. They only will say that it could be a homily or a commentary, and settle on commentary for the title of the article without restricting themselves to it in the analysis of the material.

Grant comes along in 1948 and makes a forceful argument that the material is, in fact, an early commentary of Origen, likely on Genesis, despite the seemingly early date ascribed to the fragment. Leaney expresses indebtedness to Grant, makes a few more proposals and contests one of Grant’s readings. Chadwick, among other discussion, quashes Leaney and says Grant is where it’s at.

Naldini, in the ed. princ. of PSI inv. 2101, proposed that it and P. Egerton 3 are both fragments of the same codex, and his proposal has been accepted fairly universally.


This work has significant interchange with biblical material, which makes reconstruction of some portions of the fragments possible. Here’s a breakdown of the cited/quoted/alluded material (references extracted from above cited material). Note that P. Egerton 3 has consecutive line numbering through both fragments, recto and verso (and their columns); PSI inv. 2101 follows a more traditional scheme of numbering each fragment starting with line 1.

  • P. Egerton 3, Fragment 1
    • recto
      • lines 4–8, Mt 4:5
      • lines 9–12, Mt 27:52–53
      • lines 13–15, Mt 25:34
      • lines 16–18, Php 3:20
    •  verso
      • lines 44–46, Mt 5:8
      • lines 54–58, Ps 11:7
  • P. Egerton 3, Fragment 2
    • recto
      • lines 64–65, Jn 1:14
      • lines 68–71, Jn 1:29
      • lines 72–74, Jn 16:27ff
      • lines 75–77, Jn 6:55
      • lines 84–87, Php 2:6
    • verso
      • lines 132–133, 2Ti 2:19
  • PSI inv. 2101, Fragment A
    • recto col. 2
      • line 20, Col 3:9–10; Gen 1:27
      • lines 22–23, John 20:22
      • lines 26–28, 1Co 12:31
      • line 29–33, 1Co 13:9–10
    • verso col. 1
      • lines 10–16, 1Jn 3:2–3
      • lines 25–27, Col 1:15
      • line 30, cf. Didache 11.1
      • lines 31–32, 1Co 13:12
      • line 34, Eph 2:10
    • verso col. 2
      • lines 1–4, Eph 2:10
  • PSI inv. 2101, Fragment 1
    • recto
      • line 6, Gen 1:26
  • PSI inv. 2101, Fragment 2
    • recto
      • lines 3–5, Gen 2:25
      • lines 9–11, Jn 3:20
    • verso
      • lines 3–7, Gen 1:28; 9:1
  • PSI inv. 2101, Fragment 3
    • no discernable intertextual material

There are several points in the extant text where the author (Origen) refers to authors of Scripture (e.g. Paul) and the writing the reference comes from (e.g. Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, John’s first letter, the Psalmist).

Grant and Naldini both propose the writing as focused on the book of Genesis. But the citations (above) don’t really focus on Genesis. Once you dig into both P. Egerton 3 and PSI inv. 2101, though, you see that the citations/quotations are (apparently in typical Origen style, according to Grant) grouped and focused. PSI inv. 2101, especially, focuses on the phrase “according to the image” and could be a homily or extended discussion on being created in the image of the divine, as an image-bearer of God.

Whether Origen was the author or not (likely so), this tells us that even in the early third century (so, early 200s) and even earlier, there was discussion going on as to what it meant to be made in the image of God. And Origen mined the scriptures to understand and explain this concept and others; from Johannine material (gospel and first letter) to the creation mandate (Gen 1:26–28; 9:1) to Matthew, to Pauline material (Eph 2:10; 1Co 12, 13;  2Ti 2:19) and other stuff.

This is deep discussion, and it should help us discard the notion that early Christians somehow lacked sophistication and were dull or dim-witted, or unaware of theological nuance, or unable to appreciate the complex issues their developing theology was revealing.



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