Posts Tagged ‘p52’

A large number of the posts in this blog have dealt with textual variations in one form or another, especially in the text of the New Testament. I have concentrated so much on this topic, because opponents of the Bible frequently charge that the variations among the manuscripts demonstrates that the text of the Bible has become so hopelessly corrupted that we cannot know whether it reflects the documents as originally written. I have attempted to face the issues as honestly as possible.

Most recently I concluded a series of posts, concentrating on the most serious textual problems we find in the New Testament. I thought about doing one or two more, but I feel the point has been made. Some of my readers questioned my interpretation of the evidence for some of these passages, and with good reason. While a huge proportion of the variations can be determined with virtual certainty, there are passages for which the evidence is more subjective and which do make a real difference in how we read certain books. That is precisely why I chose these passages to examine. I wanted to bring out into the open the most serious textual problems we find.

I have attempted to demonstrate that the most significant textual problems we find have more to do with favorite stories than with real doctrinal or theological issues. Let me mention three that reflect what I have been trying to say.

The story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8 has no doctrinal or theological significance. Removing this story from the text may take away a favorite story (and it is one of my favorites), but it does no damage to anything taught in the New Testament.

The baptismal confession in Acts 8 describes a doctrinal practice within the heritage in which I was raised, but once again, only reflects a simple ritual that very few people would see as significant in any real sense.

Finally, the heavenly witnesses found in 1 John 5 provides a specific reference to what came to be known as the Trinity. At the same time, there are a number of other passages that teach essentially the same thing about which there is no question textually. So, once again, no theological teaching is in question.

And these passages are truly representative of the most serious kinds of textual problems we find in the New Testament. Those who suggest that the text of the Bible has become so corrupted that we cannot have any confidence in what it teaches have the burden of proof to back up such assertions. From my study there is simply no substantial evidence to support such charges. On the contrary, with over 5,800 Greek manuscripts dating back to the second and third centuries, we have a wealth of evidence that should cause us to feel confident that when we read the Bible, we are reading what the authors originally wrote. I remain convinced that is where the evidence should lead us.

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Actually, I am not aware of a book called Textual Criticism for Dummies, but I think it would be good for someone to write such a book. As we begin to look at some of the more significant textual variants in the New Testament, there is one aspect that you may notice if you take time to compare different translations. Virtually all of these passages are included in the King James Version, but are either in footnotes in modern translations or have a footnote, indicating that the most ancient manuscripts do not contain them. And that’s the real issue. In earlier posts I mentioned just a few of the oldest manuscripts we have. Please understand there are more that I could have listed.

Most of these older manuscripts were not available to the King James translators, who basically used only a handful of relatively late manuscripts. Since that time, both the number of manuscripts, as well as the discipline of textual criticism, have allowed scholars to evaluate textual variations with much more precision. The downside is that it has called into question some of the passages that we grew up with and which are meaningful to us. I wish to repeat that no fundamental doctrinal or theological beliefs are threatened by these issues. At the same time, honesty requires that we look at them.

Recognizing that probably no one reading this post will be a textual scholar, I wish to mention one book that might help you if you are curious and want to know more. The book is Essential Guide to Bible Versions by Dr. Philip W. Comfort. After discussing some of the same issues that have been presented in this blog, Dr. Comfort then goes on to concentrate on the history of English translations of the Bible. Most significant for our subject today is the last chapter, entitled “Extra Verses in the New Testament.” If you read through the book, by the time you get to this chapter, you will have the background to understand what he presents there. And what Dr. Comfort does may be helpful to some. He takes every passage that is found in the King James, but which is normally not included in modern versions and explains why they are not included. While most people may not be interested in this much detail, I would offer it to those who feel uneasy and wish to be reassured.

This is especially important, because there have been accusations that textual criticism is an assault on the integrity of the Bible or is an attempt to take out essential passages. If you have heard this or are disturbed by some of the passages we shall look at, you might wish to pick up Essential Guide to Bible Versions.

I have put off the subject long enough. My next post will begin looking at specific passages in the Bible about which there are significant textual problems. I look forward to that, and I hope you do too.

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First of all, a special thank you to Barry Jones for alerting me to this information. In February of this year (2012) Professor Daniel Wallace of the Dallas Theological Seminary announced the discovery of fragments of manuscripts containing some books of the New Testament that may be earlier than any existing manuscripts. While comparisons to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls are certainly premature, if the initial claims for these manuscripts turn out to be true, such an analogy could turn out to be not far from wrong.

Okay, after all the hyperbole, let me begin with a word of caution. Before we can say anything about this discovery with any degree of certainty, we must allow several scholars to authenticate the manuscripts and especially to establish their date. Dr. Wallace has indicated that it may be a year or more before the details of the manuscripts will be revealed. While certainly I am anxious to find out more, I applaud the caution in such an approach. What we are talking about now are first indications. It’s okay to get excited, but let’s also realize that it is simply too early to make any extravagant claims. With that warning, let me summarize what the early findings indicate.

Seven papyri containing portions of the New Testament have been discovered in Egypt, six of them probably date from the second century; however, one of the manuscripts may actually go back to the first century. The potentially first century manuscript is from the Gospel of Mark. This would make it the earliest New Testament manuscript in existence, supplanting p52 which is a fragment of the Gospel of John, dating from the first half of the second century. Now this fragment of Mark probably only contains a very few verses; however, a first century date would truly be significant. Almost all of the earliest manuscripts we have were discovered in Egypt, because the hot, dry climate makes it more conducive to preserving ancient papyrus. Having a first century manuscript from Egypt also implies that the original must have been written early enough for copies to be made and find their way to Egypt. This may have implications for the remaining six manuscripts as well.

One of the other second century manuscripts contains portions of the gospel of Luke. This would make it the earliest manuscript of that gospel.

We have four manuscripts that contain portions of the letters of Paul. While I wish Dr. Wallace had revealed which letters are included, he wisely chose not to do that at this time. If I read his interview correctly, one of these letters might be Hebrews which was often included in early collections of the writings of Paul.

The final manuscript is not actually from a New Testament book. Rather, it is an ancient homily, dating from the second century, based on the book of Hebrews, chapter 11. This is significant, because it would indicate that in the second century the writer of the homily considered the book of Hebrews to be authoritative, and it would also imply that Hebrews was originally written early enough for it to circulate and obtain a degree of acceptance by the second century.

So there it is. You know what I know. Let me repeat what I said at the beginning. It is too early to accept these claims as is, although Dr. Wallace emphasizes that the manuscripts have been examined by one of the leading paleographers with an outstanding reputation. If I discover any more data to either authenticate or refute this information, I will include it in later posts. For now, it’s exciting to think about, but we will have to allow scholars to do their work.

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The pictures below show the front and the back of the oldest manuscript of the New Testament which has been found.

p52 Front John 18.31-33 AD 100-150

p52 Back John 18.37-38 AD 100-150

This manuscript is referred to in two different ways. Its official designation is p52. The “p” indicates that it was written on papyrus instead of vellum. The manuscript is also referred to as the Rylands Fragment. It gets its name, because it is kept in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. This tiny scrap of papyrus is only about 3 ½” X 2 ½”. The two sides contain respectively portions of John 18.31-33 and John 18.37-38. It has been determined that in order to obtain the text on the front and the back as we have it, the complete manuscript of the Gospel of John must have been 130 pages long and its dimensions were approximately 8 ½” X 8 ” for the codex itself. You may recall that scrolls would normally be written on only one side, so we know that the Rylands Fragment is from a codex, because it has writing on both sides.

Just as the silver amulet of Numbers we discussed last week has implications for the dating of the Pentateuch, this tiny manuscript when first discovered sent shock waves through the academic community, precisely because of what it told us about the date at which the gospel of John was written. Traditional dating for the Gospel of John tends to go from AD 70 – 100, with perhaps more people accepting a date late in the first century (close to AD 100).

Beginning in the Nineteenth century, however, a large school of scholarship was teaching that John could not have been written that early, that in fact it dates from the second half of the second century (AD 150 – 200). F.C. Baur, a scholar who represented the Tubingen School in Germany, said that John actually was written @ AD 170.

Manuscript p52 was acquired in Egypt in 1920. It remained in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England until 1934, when a student first began to analyze it. He had the fragment examined by three scholars who specialized in studying and dating ancient papyri. All three of them agreed that this small scrap of the Gospel of John was written between AD 100-150, probably closer to 100-130. A fourth scholar actually placed the Rylands Fragment as early as the 90s, which would make it almost contemporary with the autograph.

So now we have a fragment of the Gospel of John, presumably not the autograph (original), that dates no later than AD 150 and probably some years earlier. Also, the manuscript was found in Egypt. Although some scholars have suggested Alexandria in Egypt as the place where John was written, Asia appears to be more likely. If the Gospel of John was written in Asia, then Ephesus would be the most likely location. Let’s admit that much of this is speculation, but it bears on the date of the Gospel. Unless Alexandria is accepted as the place of writing for the original, then the Gospel of John had to have been written early enough for this little fragment to have been copied and then taken to Egypt where it was acquired in 1920. Even if it were written in Alexandria, we must still accept a date of @ AD 100-125 for the writing of the gospel of John. So, a whole school of Biblical scholarship based on speculation was destroyed by a scrap of papyrus, just as it was challenged for the Pentateuch by a silver amulet.

As I have said a number of times, I do not believe we must accept traditional dates for the books of the Bible. We should examine each one on its own merits and follow where the evidence leads. I have come to believe, however, that liberal scholars tend to be at least as biased as conservative ones, especially when dealing with matters that are based on speculation.

I am convinced that the whole body of Biblical studies would benefit greatly from a little more humility on the part of scholars espousing their particular theories. I still like the short prayer I read somewhere. “Lord, make my words sweet and tender, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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