By: Martin A. Shue

It is highly probable that you are reading this short article out of curiosity based upon the title I chose. If so, then I have accomplished what I set out to do by giving this article the above title. I wanted to draw attention to this article so that I might once again demonstrate just how absurd and different the modern versions are. Imagine with me, if you will, that you are attending a small group Bible study perhaps at the home of the individual teaching it. Everyone is seated in a circle with Bibles open anxious to get started. The teacher begins with prayer then announces the topic for the evening – ‘Influential Women of the New Testament’. Many interesting women are discussed over the next. Everything seems to be going great until the teacher mentions a dear lady named Nymphas. Since most are not acquainted with Nymphas the teacher asks everyone to turn to Col. 4:15 where you find the only mention of Nymphas in the Bible. The teacher reads aloud, “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” At this point many eyes, including yours, look up in confusion. While the teacher continues to talk you notice others whispering among themselves and pointing to their Bibles. You too are studying the words of your Bible while wondering if someone is going to say something. At this point the teacher notices that some are not keeping up with the discussion and asks what is wrong. One older gentleman, who attends faithfully, softly spoke up and said, “Well, the problem is that Nymphas was not a woman at all but a man.” To this many others in the circle nod in agreement. The teacher glances back over the Bible and notes on his lap and states, “It says right here in my Bible that Nymphas was a woman”. The older gentleman and several others exclaim, “But it says right here in our Bible that Nymphas was a man.”

Indeed the older gentleman was right, Col. 4:15 in our Authorized Version reads, “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” Either Nymphas was some sort of cross dressing transvestite or we have a clear contradiction in Biblical texts. Obviously, Nymphas was not a transvestite so how can such an enormous blunder exist in English translations? This is a very significant error and should not be treated lightly. When you have one Bible stating that Nymphas was a woman and another stating that Nymphas was a man there is a problem. Both texts are not teaching the same thing as we are often told. Both cannot be right either. It is impossible for Nymphas to be both man and woman. Clearly both Bibles cannot be the inspired word of God because one of them is teaching a falsehood. In this short essay we will look at the evidence for and against both readings in hopes of settling the question once and for all of whether Nymphas was a man or a woman.

The text that underlies most modern versions is the Westcott/Hort Greek text. This text reads, “autes”, which is “her” in English. It should be noted that Nymphas may be either masculine or feminine depending on where the accent is placed. Since the W/H text has chosen to follow the reading “autes” they also use the feminine form of Nymphas. The Expositors Greek NT had a rather interesting note regarding this verse. It reads, “The attestation of autes is very strong, though numerically slight.” Just how “numerically slight” is this reading? Well, according to Tischendorf’s notes on this verse the only uncial to contain this reading is Codex Vaticanus (B). He also lists 67** in support of the reading. To this Nestle/Aland adds cursives 0278 and 1881. How Expositors Greek NT believes that to be ‘strong attestation’ is beyond common reasoning. Basically what we have here is yet another instance where the modern versions have ignored the many thousands of Greek mss. and have blindly followed Vaticanus.

The Greek text that underlies our Authorized Version reads, “autou”, which is “his” in English. This is the reading found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. A few of these include uncials D, E, F, G, K, L, Psi and nearly every cursive copy (e.g. 049 056 0142 0150 0151 181 223 330 451 365 436 462 614 629 630 876 12411505 1799 1852 1960 2344 2412 etc.) It may also be noted that the Latin Vulgate, the Coptic, the Gothic and the Syriac Peshitta (150 AD) all read “his”. Demonstrating that the reading has very ancient support.

The Early Church Writers also testified to the fact that Nymphas was a man and not a woman. Theodoret and “Dam.”, as Tischendorf notes, both refer to Nymphas as a man. Commenting on Col. 4:15 John Chrysostom writes, “See how he cements, and knits them together with one another, not by salutation only, but also by interchanging his Epistles. Then again he pays a compliment by addressing him (i.e. Nymphas) individually. And this he doth not without a reason, but in order to lead the others also to emulate his (i.e. Nymphas) zeal. For it is not a small thing not to be numbered with the rest. Mark further how he shows the man (i.e. Nymphas) to be great, seeing his house was a church. (Chrysostom, Homily on Col.)” It is clear from Chrysostom’s remarks that he fully believed Nymphas to be a man.

John Gill makes another interesting observation on this matter. Gill writes, “Nymphas, which some, unskillful in the Greek language have took for a woman; whereas it is the name of a man, as the following words show; and is a contraction of Nymphios, or Nymphidios, or Nymphodoros.”

The early English versions are virtually unanimous in their support of “his”. The Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva and Rheims versions all read “his” The Rheims translation is especially interesting since it is a Catholic production and they certainly had access to Vaticanus; however, they rightly rejected the reading of B (her) and followed the Traditional reading.

Lastly, I wish to point out that the famed Sinaiticus reads, “autwn” along with codices A, C, P and a few cursive copies. “Autwn” (or ‘their’) is neuter and may be used with either the masculine form of Nymphas or the feminine form. In fact, ‘autwn’ (their) was a scribal blunder that has nothing to do with Nymphas at all. The reason this variant exists is because very early a scribe supposed he had found an error in the sacred text. Supposing that the pronoun “his” was referring back to the brethren in Laodicea this scribe took it upon himself to ‘correct’ the text not realizing that he was the one in error. Therefore, he altered “autou” (his) to read “autwn” (their), which makes little sense when read in context. “Their house” would imply that the ‘brethren’ in Laodicea all lived in one house. This we know is simply not true. It is very obvious that the pronoun in this sentence is referring back to Nymphas.

Both the internal and external evidence points to the fact that Nymphas was a man and not a woman as many translations proclaim. It is most unfortunate that the modern versions have chosen to follow the false reading of Codex Vaticanus. Dr. Frederick Scrivener, commenting on this verse, stated that the reading “her” was “very unlikely”. I would fully agree with this most competent judge.