Papyrus Merton 51 recto and Luke 7:29-30, 36a

P Merton 51 recto B Luke 7:29-30, 36a
1 [laou, kai paV o la]oV kai oi tel[wnai]
2 [akouosanteV edik]aiwsan ton qn
3 [omologounteV taV] amartiaV eautwn,
4 [oi de Farisaioi o]uk ebaptisanto
5 [upo Iwannou kai thn boulh]n tou qu
6 [kai oi thn entolhn tou q]u hqethsa[n]
7 [kai eiV eautouV tou qu] aqetei.
8 [Hrwta de tiV ina fagh m]et auto[u kai]
29Kai paV o laoV akousaV kai oi telwnai
aiwsan ton qn baptisqenteV to
baptisma Iwannou,
30oi de Farisaioi kai oi nomikoi
thn boulh
n tou qu
hqethsan eiV eautouV mh baptisqenteV
up autou.
36Hrwta de tiV auton
twn Farisaiou ina fagh m
et autou kai

P Merton 51 recto B Luke 7:29-30, 36a
1 And all the people, even the tax-collectors,
2 hearing, acknowledged the justice of God,
3 confessing their sins.
4 But the Pharisees were not baptized
5 by John and the purposes of God,
6 even the precepts of God, they rejected.
7 And one and all by God they are rejected.
8 Now one of them asked to eat with him and
29 And all the people having heard, even the
tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God,
having been baptized with the baptism of John.
30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
rejected the purposes of God for themselves,
not having been baptized by him.
36 Now a certain one of the Pharisees asked
him to eat with him and

Papyrus Merton 51 verso and Luke 6:45-46, 7:35

P Merton 51 verso B Luke 6:45-46, 7:35
1 [ponh]roV profer[ei kaqwV o ponhroV]
2 [o e]feren, wV ek p[onhrou ferei ponh]
3 ron. kai ote apos[tellei ek tou aga]
4 qou qhsaurou t[hV kardiaV h sofia]
5 apollut[ai o ponhroV apo twn ergwn]
6 [au]thV. ouk ar[a su eme legete ke ke]
7 [kai] ou poieite [o legw to qelhma tou]
8 [prV m]ou; leg[w umin
45o agaqoV anqrwpoV
ek tou aga
qou qhsaurou thV kardiaV
proferei to agaqon, kai o ponhroV

ek tou ponhrou proferei to ponhron,
35kai edikaiwqh h sofia apo twn teknwn
46Ti de me kaliete ke ke
ou poieite a legw;

P Merton 51 verso B Luke 6:45-46, 7:35
1 The evil one bears forth just as the evil one
2 bore it forth, thus from evil is born evil.
3 And when sent from the good
4 storehouse of the heart, Wisdom
5 destroys the evil one with her works.
6 Do you not say to me Lord, Lord,
7 and not do what I say is the will of
8 my Father? I say to you..
45 The good man from the good
storehouse of the heart bears forth good,
and the evil one from the evil bears forth evil.
35 And Wisdom was proved righteous by
her children.
46 Why do you call to me Lord, Lord,
and not do what I say?


Color code for Papyrus Merton 51

Text between the brackets.
1. Black - Highly probable to certain letters that are the same as Luke.
2. Blue - Highly probable to certain letters that are different from Luke.
3. Purple - Probable letters that are partly visible on the margins.

Text within the brackets.
4. Purple - Uncertain letters where a trace is visible on the margins.
5. Gray - Unknown letters that are a reconstruction based on the context.

Handwriting and line length

The text is written in an informal hand with loops between some adjoining letters. Letters are larger at the beginning of a line and tend to get smaller and closer together toward the end. The author maintains a line-length of 26 to 29 letters except at the end of paragraphs, which end in a blank line. Three of more letters from a word are wrapped onto the next line, otherwise one or two letters extend the line. If the strict discipline of a scribe had been followed, the lines would have been 27 +/- 1 letters long.

Identification of uncertain letters

Recto side
The h on line 5 is barely visible at the top of the line, but the shape and immediate context support this reading. There is a line for a nomina sacra above the u on line 6 making the preceeding q all but certain. The edge of the n at the end of line 6 is barely visible, but the immediate context makes it probable. All other letters in purple on the recto side are partly visible and their shapes make the identification probable. There appears to be a nomina sacra on line 7 that extends over to the a on the margin. If that is accurate, the preceeding qu is possible even though the letters are not visible.

Verso side
The three letters roV on line 1 are the most problematic. The letter V is partly visible at the very top of the fragment and was previously misidentified as a u. (Thanks to Tim Finney for pointing this out.) The previous letter, tentatively identified as o, is elongated and could also be an a. The letter in brackets may be an r, but only the top is visible. There seems to be the faint trace of a tail the same length as the other rhos on the line. There is a trace of a letter before the r on the edge of the fragment that is barely visible at the bottom of the line. It looks more like an o than an h to me, but I can't assign it with any confidence.

Part of the horizontal line of a t is visible on line 3 and the edge of a letter on line 4 looks like an h. The letter shapes and immediate context make these tentative assignments possible. Only the ends of a horizonal line are faintly visible for the letter identified as a t on line 5, but the assigment is tentative based on the previous letters. The assignment of a g on the last line is possible, as there are no other gammas on the fragment for comparison. All other partly visible letters are probable based on their shapes and immediate context.

Reconstructed text

All the letters in gray are a conjecture. No claims are being made for their authenticity. However, they do form the basis for a testable hypothesis if additional fragments are discovered. So, check your archives and prove me wrong!

Recto side
The text on lines 1,2,4,5 was constructed based on similarity to Luke 7:29-30 and keeping a 26 to 29 letter line length. Text on lines 3,6,7 was inferred from the context. The eiV eautouV in Lk 7:30, which does not appear in all ancient manuscripts, fits perfectly on line 7. Line 8 is the most uncertain, but the grammar and subject matter of Lk 7:36a (repentant sinful woman contrasted with a self-righteous Pharisee) fits the context of the first seven lines very well. All visible letters on each line were checked on the image with the lines above and below. This provided additional constraints to the spacing, which was particularly helpful on line 1 and line 8.

Verso side
The verso side is much harder to reconstruct. All the text is a guess because there is less comparison with Luke 6:45-46 to rely on. Lines 1 and 2 are a discussion about the nature of evil, but many variations of the specific words are possible. I see a time dimension in this discourse (past evil actions predict future ones) which is more explicit than in canonical Luke. Line 3 is probable based on the context and similarity to agaqou qhsaurou thV kardiaV in Lk 6:45, however apostellei could instead be apostellete and thV kardiaV on line 4 could be ta kardia. There is a time dimension of something good being sent that we don't find in Luke.

After this comes my bold conjecture, something about good destroying evil that ends with the feminine authV. Lady Wisdom in Lk 7:35 fits the context nicely and the spacing works. There is a precedent for wisdom destroying evil in Indian wisdom traditions. The question ouk ara su on line 6 is similar to Acts 21:38. The rest of the line is probably similar to Lk 6:46. I happen to like Clement's version in Stromata 7, which agrees with Codex Bezae. The construct o legw to qelhma tou prV mou; seems a bit redundant, but the context and the spacing fit well. Clement has both versions, Ti me legete ke ke kai ou poieite a legw; (Strom. 7.110.1) and Ti me legete ke ke kai ou poieite to qelhma tou prV mou; (Strom. 7.104.4). Lastly, we have a Jesus saying in line 8 legw umin that I am leaving tantalizingly unanswered in the reconstruction. I will discuss one solution as a thought exercise but many are possible. Once again, I assumed a 26 to 29 letter line length and used the image to apply additional constraints to the spacing.

Textual criticism

So, what is this text? Conventional wisdom holds that P. Merton 51 is a homily or commentary based on Luke. This was inferred apparently by the presence of short summary clauses like wV ek p[onhrou ferei ponh]ron and because the text of Merton is longer than Luke in some verses. Nothing can be completely ruled out for such a small fragment. However, arguments based on the length of pericopes alone are insufficient. One could conclude by the same reasoning that Mark is a commentary based on Matthew. Filling in the unknown words with text from Luke is also problematic. Something similar was done with Papyrus Egerton. Attempted reconstructions were loaded with vocabulary from John only to conclude it was a commentary based on John. Some previous efforts at recovering the text of P. Merton 51 are filled with this kind of reasoning. If the reconstruction presented here is accurate, I think it can be fairly stated that the conventional wisdom is wrong, or else it depends upon arguments from silence, such that P. Merton 51 is a homily without evidence of preaching or a commentary without comments.

The text of Merton may be a gospel harmony. Recto verse 6 has thematic similarities to Mark 7:9, KalwV aqeteite thn entolhn tou qu..., although the context - eating with unwashed hands - is different in Mark. If the reconstruction is accurate, to qelhma tou prV mou could be derived from Mt 7:21. As I pointed out previously however, Clement quotes this expression as part of a saying with more similarities to Luke 7:46 than Matthew. Other attempts at finding similarities, such as omologounteV on recto line 3 to exomologoumenoi in John 1:9, seem more strained.

The text of Merton may be an uncanonical gospel. The agreement between Merton 51 and Luke - similar subject matter but few identical words and phrases - is like the double-tradition material of Mark and Luke such as Mk 1:35-38 / Lk 4:42-43; Mk 1:45, 2:1-4 / Lk 5:14-19; Mk 3:9-11 / Lk 6:18-19. Directional dependence is hard to establish based on this information alone. The statement in recto line 7, kai eiV eautouV tou qu aqetei, which I would translate as "and one and all by God they are rejected", has been interpreted as evidence of a commentary because it is in the present tense. This explanation overlooks an obvious possibility - that it was directed against the Pharisees in the present, at a time when the Temple was still standing.

Hypothetical ending

Here is my best guess at the Jesus saying on verso line 8. The first clause is from Clement Strom. 6.164.2 with a small modification and the second is from Justin Martyr's First Apology 1.16.11. The specific wording should not be taken too seriously. The probability of an exact match is very small.

P Merton 51 verso ending
08 [prV m]ou; leg[w umin ean mh pleonash]
09 [umwn h dikaiosunh pleion Farisai]
10 [wn ouk eiselqhte eiV thn basileian]
11 [tou qu, oV gar akouei mou kai poiei]
12 [a legw akouei tou aposteilantoV me.]

P Merton 51 verso ending
08 my Father? I say to you if it is not greater
09 your righteousness, more than the Pharisees,
10 you will not enter into the kingdom
11 of God, but whoever hears me and does
12 what I say hears the one who sent me.


I would like to thank Ben C. Smith for many helpful discussions and correcting my poor Greek grammar, Tim Finney for an independent review of the images of P. Merton 51, and Andrew Berhard for generously providing the images.