Historicity & Preservation, Part 2

Just how old are the New Testament manuscripts? Let’s find out…

A few of the oldest examples include:

  • The p52, or John Rylands Fragment, containing sections of the Gospel of John, dating to 125 AD
  • The p46, or Chester Beatty Papyrus, from approximately 200 AD, with contains sections of the books of Romans, Hebrews, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Philippians, and 1st Thessalonians
  • The p67 Barcelona Papyrus, dating to approximately 200 AD, which contains sections of the Gospel of Matthew

In light of it all, it should be abundantly clear that the record for the New Testament manuscripts far outpaces any other comparable literature of antiquity not only in terms of scribal integrity but also chronologically, being reproduced much sooner after the original documents than any other such material. Furthermore, in consideration of the spiritual side of the matter, we find that though the writing of the Gospels may not have taken place immediately after the fact, the Lord Jesus Himself declared that those who were to write those things would be guided in their memory by the Holy Spirit:

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” – John 14:25-26

The application of high technology brings empirical evidence to the table for those who value it. In 1994, Dr. Carsten Thiede used a scanning laser microscope on manuscripts from Qumran (dated to 58 AD), Herculaneum ( dated earlier than 79 AD), Masasa (dated to around 74 AD), and Oxyrhynchus (approximately 66 AD), testing them against a particular fragment – known as the “Magdalen Papyrus (p64)” – which contains a bit of the Gospel of Matthew. His testing via laser microscope was profound, revealing such things as:

  • (a) the various layers within the papyrus itself
  • (b) the height and depth of the ink on that papyrus, and even…
  • (c) the angle at which the scribe held the stylus when writing!

The results? According to Dr. Thiede’s findings, the papyrus in question was either written by Matthew himself or was a direct copy of it. The implication of course was that this fragment of the Gospel of Matthew was written while the witnesses to Christ’s life were yet alive! So astounding was this revelation that The Time of London ran this statement on their front page:

‘Oxford papyrus ‘is eyewitness record of the life of Christ’

“A papyrus believed to be the oldest extant fragment of the New Testament has been found in the Oxford Library … It provides the first material evidence that the Gospel according to Matthew is an eyewitness account written by contemporaries of Christ.”¹

Simply amazing!


  1. Dec 24,1994, The Times – Dec 24,1994, The Times, London, front page, Aricle by D’Ancona, Matthew, referencing Carsten Peter Thiede, Director of the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany; first published in Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie

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