Thursday, January 18, 2018

Paul's "Large Letters" at Galatians 6:11

While reading through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt," I came across a reference to Plutarch (46 CE-120 CE) writing about Marcus Cato (234 BCE- 149 BCE), the Roman historian and Senator. Plutarch wrote,

"His [Cato's] History of Rome, as he tells us himself, he wrote out with his own hand and in large characters (μεγάλοις γράμμασιν), that his son might have in his own home an aid to aquaintance with his country's ancient traditions." (Marcus Cato, 20.5)
I thought this was an interesting reference for it was mentioned by Cribiore in the context of teachers writing their models of literature excerpts in large letters so that a student can better read and follow the writing sample by copying it repeatedly (Cribiore, 99).

P.Pateus 121 Petaus, an illiterate village scribe practices copying his post script repeatedly;
"I Petaus, village scribe, have entered"

This reference reminded me of Paul's phrase found in his letter to the Galatians,

"See with what large letters (πηλίκοις γράμμασιν) I am writing to you with my own hand." (Gal. 6:11, ESV)

This phrase fits well with some of the postscripts found at the end of extant letters preserved on papyri (Richards, 172-173). A postscript was often used to authenticate a contract, letter or other such document that was prepared by a scribe by providing a statement in writing by the party involved similar to how a signature works today (Bahr, 28-29). This type of authentication is obviously occurring at Philemon 19 "I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self" (ESV).

P.Mich.inv.942 showing the authenticating postscript in a different hand

The connection between Paul and Cato here is in their use of writing in "large letters." Cato wrote with large letters apparently, in order to facilitate easier reading of his History by his son. Perhaps Paul was writing in large letters for a similar reason? Likely Paul was merely emphasizing his characteristic large-lettered handwriting in order to emphasize the postscript. But it may be that Paul was writing in large letters for emphatic reasons as well.


Bahr, Gordon J. "The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters" Journal of Biblical Literature 87.1 (March 1968): 27-41.

Cribiore, Rafaella "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

Plutarch. "Plutarch's Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin" (Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1914).

Richards, E. Randolph, "Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection" (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004).