Manuscript Evidence From The Second And Third Centuries -- By: Shawn M. Barr

Journal: Michigan Theological Journal
Volume: MTJ 04:2 (Fall 1993)
Article: Manuscript Evidence From The Second And Third Centuries
Author: Shawn M. Barr

Manuscript Evidence From The Second And Third Centuries

Shawn M. Barr

It is widely known that the New Testament is one of the best attested to ancient literary works in existence. Gordon Fee recognizes this when he states, “The immense amount of material available to the New Testament textual critic, exceeding all other ancient documents by hundreds of times.”1 Writing in a smilar vein, J. Harold Greenlee states, “…the number of available manuscripts of the New Testament is overwhelmingly greater than those of any other work of ancient literature.”2 What is not widely known, however, is how well documented the New Testament is by early manuscript evidence, nor is it common knowledge what the actual early texts are which support the New Testament.

Are all the manuscripts that exist just copies of copies? Are they so far removed from the originals that the time between them is hundreds and hundreds of years? or is it possible that not only is the manuscript evidence of the New Testament significant in number but also in earliness of date?

How many of the early manuscripts exist that are from the second and third centuries? What passages do the manuscripts from this period contain? To be more specific, how much of the New Testament is included from the Chester Beatty and Bodmer papyri?

In this article the contents of forty-two papyri and five uncials dated from 300 A.D. or earlier have been formatted in chart form so that it can be easily determined how much of the New Testament is from that period. This chart will not include any other biographical evidence. Spanning nine pages, this chart is identified as Chart A.

A second chart (Chart B) follows giving a .summary of the first. It shows the number of verses each book contains and the total verses from the bibliographic evidence presented in the chart. it also shows what percentage of the book is supported by early manuscript evidence and the date of the earliest manuscript.

Some papyri collections are very significant to the bibliographic evidence presented in these charts. The oldest manuscript is Ryland’s p52 This papyrus includes a few verses from John 18, and is dated ca. 125 A.D.3 Next, there is the Chester Beatty papyri. These papyri,were recovered in the 1930’s and include p45, p46, and p47.4 These papyri provide 3056 verses, or 38.41% of the New Testament. The Bodmer papyri, discovere...

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