Tag Archives: Ancient History

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.

MUST-READ: Brian Auten reviews new apologetics essay collection

The post is here. The book is called “Contending with Christianity’s Critics”. It is a collection of essays edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig. He has a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Do you ever wonder where I learned to argue on all these topics? Well, take a look at Brian’s post.

Just look at some of these chapter summaries, and think of how you could serve the Lord just by effectively telling the truth about him!

Chapter 2:

“At Home in the Multiverse” by James Daniel Sinclair looks at the issues in current cosmology regarding the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. Sinclair differentiates between the strong and weak anthropic principle and shows some of the problems with positing “many worlds” to explain the fine-tuning: “The Many Worlds advocate is engaged in a problem called the Gambler’s Fallacy.”(3) Sinclair explains that if we have prior knowledge of many worlds, then this fallacy is not taking place. But, “if I am simply inventing Many Worlds, then I am engaged in the fallacy.”(4) Sinclair then addresses six problems facing the multiverse hypothesis.

Chapter 7:

Part two, The Jesus of History, begins with Robert H. Stein’s essay: “Criteria for the Gospels’ Authenticity.” Here Stein lays out a clear presentation of the positive and negative criteria for historical authenticity. The positive criteria: multiple attestation, embarrassment, dissimilarity, Aramaic linguistic and Palestinian environmental phenomena, tradition contrary to editorial tendency, frequency, and coherence. The negative criteria: contradiction of authentic sayings, environmental contradiction, and tendencies of the developing tradition. Stein’s exploration of each is helpful and enlightening, allowing him to conclude that “The burden of proof now clearly shifts from the need to prove a passage’s authenticity to the need to prove its inauthenticity.”(16)

Chapter 8:

“Jesus the Seer” by Ben Witherington III focuses on the two key phrases used by Jesus: “Son of Man” and “kingdom of God.” Witherington’s goal here is to find where these two concepts occur together in the Old Testament. Witherington’s chapter contends that “there is no nonmessianic Jesus to be found at the bottom of the well of historical inquiry. Jesus made some remarkable claims for Himself and His ministry; the historian’s job is not to explain the claims away but rather to explain them.”(17) When the historian is faced with certain facts about Jesus and his claims, they cannot be ignored: “A historian has to explain how the high Christology of the church could have arisen after the unexpected and precipitous demise of Jesus through crucifixion. This conundrum becomes more puzzling, not less, for those who don’t believe in Jesus’ rising from the dead than for those who do.”(18)

Chapter 9:

“The Resurrection of Jesus Time Line” by Gary Habermas establishes the time line starting from the late first century and works back to the death of Jesus about 30 AD. According to Habermas, “current critical scholarship even agrees to the exceptionally early date of this proclamation [of the resurrection] as well as the eyewitness nature of those who made the claims.”(19) Habermas provides an overview of the time line: AD 60-100 The composition of the Gospels; AD 50-62 Dating the “authentic” Pauline epistles; AD 34-36 Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem; AD 45-50 Paul’s later trip to Jerusalem; AD 30-35 Back to the date of the actual events. Habermas shows that this time line is not a point of controversy, but accepted by the majority: “Virtually all critical scholars think this message began with the real experiences of Jesus’ earliest disciples, who thought that they had seen appearances of their risen Lord. It did not arise at some later date. Nor was it borrowed or invented.”(20) Habermas sees this as “the chief value of this argument. It successfully secures the two most crucial historiographical factors: (1) the reports of the original eyewitnesses, which are (2) taken from the earliest period. This is the argument that has rocked a generation of critical scholars.”(21)

Chapter 13:

“The Coherence of Theism” by Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty. Here the authors seek to defend the coherence of the concept of God. They address six attributes: “necessary existence, incorporeality, essential goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternity.”(26) They point out: “The attributes of God are therefore not a patchwork of arbitrary characteristics. Each one is, rather, interconnected, and together they form a coherent whole. Appreciating this helps one avoid the more crude depiction of God one finds in Dawkins’s work.”(27)

Chapter 15:

“Did God Become a Jew? A Defense of the Incarnation” by Paul Copan aims “to show that the incarnation, though a mystery, is a coherent one.” Copan’s task: “(1) briefly review the scriptural affirmations of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, (2) highlight three important distinctions to help us understand the incarnation, and (3) examine the question of Jesus’ temptation in light of His divinity.”(29)

The other chapters are ALL good, addressing real questions that you will hear if you ask people in your office or in your family why they are not willing to investigate whether Christianity is true. This is incredibly practical. It’s all muscle, and no fat. It’s an arsenal – tailor-made for people who are concerned about God’s reputation, and who want to love him by defending his existence and character in the most effective ways.

Further study

If you like podcasts, Bill Craig explained the different chapters in a recent podcast. But Brian’s text review is superior.

I highly recommend this book and “Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics”, along with Lee Strobel’s “Case for…” books, as the basic building blocks of an amateur apologists’s arsenal.I especially recommend Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator”.

You may also be interested in a new book offering a detailed response to the New Atheists, called “God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible”.