Monday, February 03, 2014

How We Got the Bible: Manuscripts from the Sand

In chapter 11 of the book, Lightfoot writes of New Testament papyri discoveries. He focuses on the most notable collections discovered and whether they oppose or confirm the Westcott-Hort text. These papyri collections are as follows:

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Discovered by B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, this collection contains at least twenty-seven manuscripts of portions of the New Testament. Twenty of these date to the second, third, or early fourth centuries. All of the manuscripts predate the Vatican and Sinaitic Manuscripts and some by one hundred and fifty years. An example is Papyrus (P)1, which contains more than fifteen verses of Matthew 1 and is dated in the third century. The collection also contains a variety of Greek literature and everyday writings such as deeds, personal letters, and tax receipts. Items such as these provide us with a better understanding of terms and idioms in the New Testament.

The Chester Beatty Papyri. Named after the American who acquired the collection, these papyri came to light in 1931 and are thought to have been discovered north of the ancient city of Thebes in Upper Egypt. The collection consists of eleven manuscripts. Eight of these contain great portions of the Old Testament in Greek. The remaining three manuscripts (P45, P46, and P47) are of the New Testament. P45 is a copy of the Four Gospels and Acts, P46 is the earliest text of most of Paul’s letters as it dates to the early third century, and P47 is a third century copy of about a third of Revelation.  

The Bodmer Papyri. Named after Martin Bodmer who purchased the collection, and also discovered in Thebes in 1952, this collection has a large number of manuscripts written in Greek and Coptic and has text from the Old and New Testament. The three New Testament manuscripts in this collection are P66, P72, and P75. P66 dates to A.D. 200 or earlier and preserves almost all of the first fourteen chapters of John and partial fragments of the remaining chapters. The scribe of this manuscript made many careless mistakes, however, corrected most them. P72 is noteworthy for it contains complete copies of 1 and 2 Peter and Jude from the third or fourth centuries. This is the earliest known text of these letters. P75 is dated between A.D. 175 and 225 and encompasses significant segments of the Gospels of Luke and John. It is the earliest known copy of Luke and one of the earliest of John.

Aside from these collections, Lightfoot draws attention to the John Rylands Fragment (P52) which was found in 1934 by C.H. Roberts while sorting through papyri from the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. This fragment is only 3 ½ by 2 ½ inches, has writing on both sides, and is part of John 18:31-33, 37-38. It is dated in the first half of the second century and confirms that the Gospel of John was already in circulation in Egypt, where it was originally found, at this time. Except for differences such as spelling and word omission, this oldest known copy of the text of John reads exactly the same as our modern text.

Lightfoot summarizes the impact the papyri discoveries have had in regards to determining the text of the New Testament:

The New Testament papyri in particular have thrown much light on the text of the New Testament. Of the nearly one hundred New Testament papyri presently known, more than fifty are of the fourth century or earlier, and more than thirty are of the third century or earlier. Further, these early papyri cover in part (some in whole) every book of the New Testament, except 1 and 2 Timothy.

He closes the chapter by summarizing what these papyri discoveries tell us about the Westcott-Hort text:

These early papyri mainly confirm the Westcott-Hort type of the text and add immeasurably to the solid foundation upon which our modern text rests.

 Stand firm in Christ,

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