We present a few New Testament manuscripts from the early second century to the beginning of the fourth. We chose 300 CE as our terminus ad quem because the production of New Testament manuscripts radically changed after the persecution under Diocletian (303-305 CE) and especially after Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire. Many of the manuscripts that are presented here are nearly two hundred years older than the well-known uncials such as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.
The early manuscripts presented here contain about two third of the New Testament text and in some cases the apocrypha. One can loosely consider these manuscripts to be the representative sample of the “Bible” which the people in the early centuries of Christianity read and revered. To them, these manuscripts were the New Testament text.
It is to be remembered that the manuscript tradition of the New Testament is non-uniform. The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible (Under “Text, NT”) reminds us that:
It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform.
Thus, the modern day Greek New Testaments are the critical editions produced by eclectic method, where the prefered reading is determined on a case-by-case basis, from among numerous variants offered by the early manuscripts and versions. Therefore, these critical editions of the Greek New Testament do not completely replicate the evidence of any one manuscript. In fact, a careful reader of the critical editions of the New Testament would notice that not all the manuscripts contained in the lists of witnesses that are found in the introductory matter are used in the apparatus.
We have cited the following works consistently for the physical description and dating of the manuscripts.
Kurt Aland & Barbara Aland, The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions & To The Theory & Practice Of Modern Text Criticism, 1995, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Bruce M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption & Restoration, 1968, Oxford University Press, New York (later editions omit the checklist of Greek New Testament papyri).
B. P. Grenfell & A. S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, 1898 – , 66 volumes to date, Egypt Exploration Fund, London.
Kurt Aland et al., Greek-English New Testament, 1986, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, Germany.
A brief note on dating of the manuscripts is required. The dating of the manuscripts listed below represent consensus among the scholars. As the New Testament scholarship progressed, the dating was changed in some cases and we have followed the latest dating that has been accepted by the majority of the scholars. Supporting evidence is provided by the extra references quoted in the bottom of the document. In some cases when there is no consensus, e.g., whether the manuscript originated from second or third century, we have clubbed them into manuscripts from 2nd / 3rd century. Lastly, the manuscripts below are arranged in the numerical order in each sub-section.
Please let us know if we have made some mistakes or if our knowledge is not up to the mark.
- Alexandrian Text (or “Neutral” Text)
- Western Text
- Caesarean Text
- Byzantine Text
- Appendix: Note On Western Non-Interpolation
Examples Of The Early New Testament Manuscripts
Young Kyu Kim suggested that P46 should be dated to the first century (Y. K. Kim, “Palaeographic Dating Of P46 To The Later First Century”, Biblica, 1988, Volume 69, pp. 248-257). Although the article provoked a widespread interest, but failed to receive any sustained attention in the literature. Recently Pickering produced a detailed refutation of Kim’s dating and he dates P46 back to c. 200 CE (S. R. Pickering, “The Dating Of The Chester Beatty-Michigan Codex Of The Pauline Epistles (P46)” in T. W. Hillard, R. A. Kearsley, C. E. V. Nixon and A. M. Nobbs (eds.), Ancient History In A Modern University: Volume II (Early Christianity, Late Antiquity And Beyond), 1998, Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, NSW Australia and William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (Michigan)/Cambridge (UK), pp. 216-227). There is no support for Kim’s dating from other palaeographers
Also a claim has been made by Carsten Thiede and Matthew d’Ancona in their book The Jesus Papyrus (the US edition of this book is called Eyewitness To Jesus) that P64 and Qumran fragment 7Q5 belong to mid-1st century CE. However, Thiede’s book has come under a lot of criticism due to its sloppy research. Thiede also published a paper:
Carsten P. Thiede, “Papyrus Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland P64): A Reappraisal”, Tyndale Bulletin, 1995, Volume 46, pp. 29-42.
The above one is a slightly revised version of the paper that appeared earlier in:
Carsten P. Thiede, “Papyrus Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland P64): A Reappraisal”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 1995, Volume 105, pp. 13-20.
Many scholars have written a critique of the work of Thiede and d’Ancona. The New Testament scholar Professor J. K. Elliott had written a devastating critique (See his review of Thiede’s book in the reference below). An online review by Professor Elliott is also available. The critiques of Thiede’s work are done by:
- J. K. Elliott, “Review Of The Jesus Papyrus & Eyewitness To Jesus”, Novum Testamentum, 1996, Volume 38, pp. 393-399.
- Peter M. Head, “The Date Of The Magdalen Papyrus Of Matthew (P. Magd. Gr. 17 = P64): A Response To C. P. Thiede”, Tyndale Bulletin, 1995, Volume 46, pp. 251-285 (Reprinted here with minor alterations).
- D. C. Parker, “Was Matthew Written Before 50 CE? The Magdalen Papyrus Of Matthew”, Expository Times, 1996, Volume 107, pp. 40-43.
A detailed discussion on the issues related to early dating by Kim and Thiede is available here.2nd Century CE
Papyrus 64, P64, Papyrus 67, P67, and Papyrus 4, P4 (believed to be coming from the same codex).
Other Important Uncials
Canon Of The Bible
A detailed discussion about the various canons of the Bible drawn at various times by different Churches can be seen here.
Articles Releted To The New Testament Manuscript Reliability
- Radical Eclecticism (G. D. Kilpatrick, J. K. Elliott)
- Reasoned Eclecticism (B. M. Metzger, K. Aland)
- Reasoned Conservatism (H. A. Sturz)
- Radical Conservatism (Z. Hodges, A. Farstad)
The Multivalence Of The Term “Original Text” In New Testament Textual Criticism, E. Jay Epp, Harvard Theological Review, 1999, Volume 92, No. 3. pp. 245-281.
- The Use of the Term “Original Text” Past and Present and Its Multivalence
- The Relation of an Elusive, Multivalent “Original Text” to the Concept of “Canon”
Based on a narrative whose source is alleged to have been the renowned Scottish Judge Sir David Dalrymple (Lord Hailes), it is frequently asserted that the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from the citations of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries, with the exception of only eleven verses. Going back to the original documents, something which none of the authors have attempted to study, it is shown that the data in them clearly disproves this claim – repeated in numerous missionary and apologetical publications for a period of more than 165 years.
- Historical And Theological Antecedents
- An Anecdote
- Dalrymple’s Invitation: Some Preliminary Observations
- Formation Of A Critical Text: Methodology & Implications
- Appendix: Other Articles Of Interest
Articles Related To The Reliability Of The New Testament (Offsite)
The Textual Reliability of the New Testament (1) by Steve Carr
The Textual Reliability of the New Testament (2) by Steve Carr
There are couple of Kenneth W. Clark Lectures delivered by Professor Bart Ehrman at Duke Divinity School. The lectures are on Text and Tradition: The Role of New Testament Manuscripts in Early Christian Studies. The two lectures are:
- Text and Interpretation: The Exegetical Significance of the “Original” Text
- Text and Transmission: The Historical Significance of the “Altered” Text
These lectures are interesting from the point of view that it represents modern trends in the approach to the problems of the text of the New Testament.