Earliest manuscript of the New Testament discovered?

John Rylands manuscript fragment P52
John Rylands manuscript fragment P52

The P52 manuscript fragment from the gospel of John is considered to be the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment. It is dated around 125 A.D.. But historians have found a new fragment from Mark that may be much, much earlier.

Top New Testament scholar and evangelical Christian Daniel B. Wallace reports.


On 1 February 2012, I debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today. This was our third such debate, and it was before a crowd of more than 1000 people. I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.

Evangelicals react to Wallace’s statement here.

Right now, I think it’s best to be skeptical. But I will be following the story closely.

3 thoughts on “Earliest manuscript of the New Testament discovered?”

  1. Thanks for the heads up! Dr. Wallace and crew are involved in a lot of great work involving the New Testament. I follow their work and I’m not sure how I missed this great news. By the way, Wallace and crew have discovered about 70 additional manuscripts over the past few years. Let’s be sure to support them and their continued work!


  2. It’s early days yet, but if these papyri prove to be what they seem, they will be an important link between the autographs and the NT text as it has been transmitted through the centuries. The sparsity of texts from this early period results from the fact that papyri is quite biodegradable and not a particularly enduring writing material. Given that Christianity was an illegal religion for most of its first three centuries, and texts were collected and burned, it is pretty amazing that we have what we have!

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