It may come as a surprise to many of our readers that one of the common, virtually obligatory, qualifications among the professionals in the Greco-Roman world was that of a tachygrphos, or shorthand writer.6
Among the disciples, Matthew, a former customs official, would also likely have had a working knowledge of tachygraphy, and thus may have been able to transcribe the Sermon on the Mount verbatim, just as Tertius and others were able to transcribe Paul's more verbose utterances.7
Even in the Old Testament, in Psalm 45:1, the Hebrew, sopher mehir, the "ready writer (KJV)," or "skillful writer (NIV)," is translated in the Greek Septuagint, oxugrafoV, oxygrphos, a synonym for tachygrphos, or shorthand writer. The technical term must have been common enough among Greek-speaking Jews in the 3rd century B.C. for its use in the Septuagint to have any purpose.
Paul also mentions a technical term, membranae, a Latin word transcribed into Greek, referring to a parchment notebook.8 This was apparently a predecessor to the codex, or "book" that we know today. These were written on both sides of the sheet and were small and often pocket-sized. They were easy to handle, to skip through for reference, and to store, and thus led to the ultimate departure from the traditional scrolls.
The tedious, painstaking tasks of record-keeping in the ancient world is difficult for us to imagine today. Thus, it is understandable that abbreviations were even more common in antiquity than today.
Even in our linguistic world, when a technical term emerges, or a complex phrase is used with substantial frequency, we indulge in abbreviations or acronyms: NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization; DNA for deoxyribonucleic acid; or the alphabet soup associated with governmental organizations: CIA, FBI, DOD, et al.9
One of the more significant incidences of abbreviated words, found even on the earliest samples of formalized writing, is the use of nomina sacra, holy names.10 One example is the chi-rho, Cr, a monogram of Christ consisting of the first two letters of His name in Greek, CristoV, Christos. Others include:
Jesus, IhsouV Iesous = IV
God, qeoV, Theos = qV
Holy Spirit, pneuma, Pneuma = pna
Why are these "holy names" important? They were deliberate; their use was regular and systematic from the start. The scribes did not employ these to simply save space on a sheet of papyrus: the key point is that these "holy names" reflected a theological position.
The word "Lord," kurioV, kurios, could be applied to many different persons far removed from the Trinity; however, when abbreviated kV, it became a divine name, referring to Jesus.
In the Old Testament, we note a more subtle abbreviation in the use of the heh, for the Ruach Elohim, the Holy Spirit. An example of this occurs in Genesis 17. When the names of Abram11 and Sarai12 were changed to Abra(H)am13 and Sara(H)14 it was accomplished by simply inserting the heh into their names, marking the involvement of the Spirit of God into their lives.
The First and the Last
In numerous places in both the Old and New Testaments, God refers to Himself as "the First and the Last."15 This is also explicit in the New Testament identifiers, "Alpha and Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.16 (In several of these references, they are unquestionably references to Jesus Christ Himself.17)
In the Old Testament, we frequently encounter the letters aleph, and the tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When used with a connector-bar, a maqqeph, the two-letter prefix, at-,is used as a grammatical element to indicate a direct object. There are also instances, however, where aleph tau is used as a pronoun to indicate the second person masculine singular; a hypocatastasis ("putting down underneath"), a kind of grammatical pun: "a hidden declarative implied metaphor expressing a superlative degree of resemblance."18 For example, in Zechariah 12 we find the prophecy of the Messiah's climactic appearance to Israel:
...and they shall look upon me [aleph tau] whom they have pierced... Zechariah 12:10
The untranslated aleph tau could be translated as follows:
"... and they shall look upon me, the aleph and the tau, whom they have pierced."
...in which the aleph and the tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are, thus, equivalent to the alpha and the omega in the Greek.
We also find the same untranslated letters in Genesis 1:
In the beginning God [aleph tau] created the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1
This Aleph and Tau, that created the heavens and the earth, is the same Aleph and Tau whom they pierced on the wooden cross erected in Judea almost 2,000 years ago.19 And this Ultimate Nomina Sacrum is scheduled to return when He is least expected.