Earliest texts?

For apologetics purposes … what are the earliest texts we have of the New Testament - complete and fragments? What other evidence do we have (archeological or otherwise) that validates the authenticity of the New Testament texts?

Last time I checked, the two oldest fragments we know about are the second-century P46 and P66, and the oldest “complete” is fourth-century Sinaiticus.

Keep in mind that in addition to ancient copies testifying to the stability of the text, we also have the indirect testimony of other Christian writings such as commentaries and sermons that quote passages.

…and P52.

As Apollos pointed out, here are some of the very earliest ones (i.e. ones that were made before AD 250):

Rylands Library Papyrus P52 (ca. early-mid 2nd century AD) - contains John 18:31-33 (recto) and 19:37-38 (verso).
Papyrus 90 (late 2nd century AD) - contains John 18:36-19:1 (recto) and 19:1-7 (verso)
Papyrus 98 (late 2nd century AD) - contains Revelation 1:13-2:1
Papyrus 104 (late 2nd century AD) - contains Matthew 21:34-37 (recto), 43 and 45? (verso)
Papyrus 4 (late 2nd-early 3rd century AD) - contains (extensive parts of) Luke 1-6. Along with P75, it is one of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke.
Papyrus 66 (ca. AD 200) - contains John 1:1-6:11, 6:35b-14:26, 29-30; 15:2-26; 16:2-4, 6-7; 16:10-20:20, 22-23; 20:25-21:9, 12, 17.
Papyri 64 and 67, aka the Magdalen Papyrus (ca. AD 200) - contains Matthew 3; 5; 26.
Papyrus 32 (ca. AD 200) - contains Titus 1:11-15; 2:3-8
Papyrus 75 (ca. AD 175-225) - contains (extensive portions of) Luke 3:18-24:53 and John 1-15. One of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, along with Papyrus 4.
Papyrus 46 (ca. AD 175-225) - Surviving leaves (most of which are somewhat damaged) contain:
[LIST]*]Romans 5:17-6:3, 6:5-14, 8:15-25, 27-35, 8:37-9:32, 10:1-11, 11:24-33, 11:35-15:9, 15:11-end (with 16:25-27 following chapter 15!);
*]Hebrews 1:1-9:16, 9:18-10:20, 10:22-30, 10:32-13:25;
*]1 Corinthians 1:1-9:2, 9:4-14:14, 14:16-15:15, 15:17-16:22;
*]2 Corinthians 1:1-11:10, 12-21, 11:23-13:13;
*]Ephesians 1:1-2:7, 2:10-5:6, 5:8-6:6, 6:8-18, 20-24;
*]Galatians 1:1-8, 1:10-2:9, 2:12-21, 3:2-29, 4:2-18, 4:20-5:17, 5:20-6:8, 6:10-18;
*]Philippians 1:1, 1:5-15, 17-28, 1:30-2:12, 2:14-27, 2:29-3:8, 3:10-21, 4:2-12, 14-23;
*]Colossians 1:1-2, 5-13, 16-24, 1:27-2:19, 2:23-3:11, 3:13-24, 4:3-12, 16-18;
*]and 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1:9-2:3, 5:5-9, 23-28, in that order.[/LIST]
Papyrus 45 (c. AD 250) - Contains Matthew 20-21, 25-26; Mark 4-9, 11-12; Luke 6-7, 9-14; John 4-5, 10-11; and Acts 4-17

As for the earliest complete text of the NT we have; that is, one that has all the books bound under one volume, the credit goes to both the 4th-century (ca. AD 330-360) Codex Sinaiticus, the only uncial manuscript with a complete (surviving) text of the New Testament, and Codex Vaticanus (c. 325–350) - which however contains only the Gospels, Acts, the General Epistles, the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews (up to 9:14). 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; and Revelation were missing and was supplemented by a 15th century minuscule hand (some even think that maybe Revelation was not included after all).

For apologetic purposes, get your opponent to prove his facile contention that the biblical text has been corrupted.

Even while I was a nonbeliever that objection always struck me as sophomoric.

What do you mean by corrupted? Do you mean that at one point someone went around and edited EVERY single Bible to something else and destroyed the oral memories of everyone? :shrug:

That’s part of the problem. I heard an objection once that the texts have been altered; the conclusion was that they cannot be trusted anymore. What was the alteration? That was never specified. It never is.

So I asked the objector if spelling MATTHEW as MATHTHEW constitutes a corruption, and when he answered I could tell that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

The objection’s appeal lies primarily in its theoretical possibility. Sophisticated objectors just shift the time frame when presented with the facts - for example, if you produce Sinaiticus they just say the text must have been corrupted earlier, and if you trot out the Beatty and Rylands papyri they just retort that the corruption was not only earlier but also in some other part of the text not represented by the fragments.

Some Church Father dealt with this objection in the context of refuting some heretics who held that very position. He challenged them to produce uncorrupted copies, and of course they were not forthcoming. So how did they know the text had been corrupted? It was required by their heresies, surprise surprise.

And nobody seems to have the same problem with any other ancient text, and this is the dead giveaway that it’s just grasping at straws.

By the way, SnakeMauler, you forgot that the translations would also have to be changed. That would be a big job.

I was wondering what the oldest complete text (catholic) we have is?? Not just NT docs… r there any from 2nd century complete not just fragments. why do u think complete texts havent been preserved from early on? rough conditions (persecution) the church operated under?? materials used?

Oldest “complete” would be Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. As far as I know, there are no known complete texts from the 2nd century.

I would say that complete texts from before 400 are rare mostly because of the material. The earliest copies we now have were made on papyrus, made from vegetable fiber that grows brittle with age and that can get moldy in humid environments.

Persecution may have been a factor before 313.

Another reason may be the sheer size of a handmade Bible. It was common practice to divide the Bible into volumes, whether as scrolls or codices, as a complete Bible would be impractically big. Hence a “complete” Bible would be rare.

Another reason may be the popularity of the Bible itself. Copies eventually wore out and would be discarded or cannibalized for repairing other books.

Yep. This explains why many ancient papyri (not just of the New Testament) we have come from hot and dry areas like Egypt: in such conditions the material is stable, formed as it is of highly rot-resistant cellulose. By comparison, papyrus seems only to have lasted years or decades in European areas, where it is more humid.

Another reason may be the sheer size of a handmade Bible. It was common practice to divide the Bible into volumes, whether as scrolls or codices, as a complete Bible would be impractically big. Hence a “complete” Bible would be rare.

And one must remember: in the early centuries of Christianity, the canon of the New Testament was still a matter of debate as many localities (or even separate individuals) often favored a quite-different ‘set’ from the other.

For example, local church A might consider Revelation to be ‘canonical’, but community B might disagree with A and consider the Shepherd of Hermas more fit for the position, while church C could favor both of them. Yet another community (church D) might not even know of Hermas, not having a copy of it. It was only when a good majority of Christendom agreed on most books of the canon that having all of them in one volume came into vogue.

Another reason may be the popularity of the Bible itself. Copies eventually wore out and would be discarded or cannibalized for repairing other books.

One such example is Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (c. 450), the remains of a 5th-century Bible which was scraped off and reused for the treatises of St. Ephrem in the 12th century. A number of other well-known and/or ancient NT manuscripts were themselves discovered in what was virtually the equivalent of storehouses for old and rejected books (a similar phenomenon occurs in Judaism: see genizah) or even at rubbish heaps.

This has proven very helpful. Perhaps I can ask a few more questions?

The consitency of early texts and their sheer number is a powerful argument against corruption. The internal evidence (historical incidents) give us a fairly clean idea of when the texts were written. The use of the text in the Church Fathers is also persuasive. Does anyone know how much of the NT is found in the writings of the Apotolic Fathers - I am thinking especially of those with direct connections to the Apostles, such as Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Polycarp (and Ireneus), Ignatius of Antioch?

What is the scholarly opinion on the disputed (Markan ?) fragment from Qumran?

Is there other non-biblical corroberating evidence? I am aware of Josephus and Tacitus - are there others? And is there archeological evidence as well? I came across an argument that the tomb at Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem was sealed about 42ad and contains Jewish-Christian tombs with inscibed crosses and the name Jesus and Jesus the Redeemer etched on them. True or false?

Thanks for letting me pick your brains. I want to make sure that anything I am teaching is accurate and defensible.

The question of patristic use of scripture is of the sort that can be answered satisfactorily by inspection. An edition of, say, Clement, will probably have scriptural quotations and references indicated in footnotes. Here is a link to a Google Books version of a popular anthology of patristic literature that includes Clement and has scriptural references in footnotes: books.google.com/books?id=uSsRAAAAYAAJ&dq=nicene%20fathers&pg=PA229#v=onepage&q&f=false

As for the identification of 7Q5, the Wikipedia article seems to sum it up adequately: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7Q5

The field of Biblical archaeology does bring something to bear on the NT text, but the field is too broad to be outlined here. I don’t know anything about the Dominus Flevit excavations apart from what everyone else can find on the Internet.

Admittedly, we do not have much direct archeological evidence that we can directly relate to Jesus (i.e. something like ‘this is Jesus’ tunic’), and many of them are either buried under rubble or millenia of piety and devotion. But here are two stuff I can name at the moment:

1.) Pilate Stone: A block of limestone with a carved inscription attributed to Pontius Pilate, prefect of Iudaea from 26-36, found in 1961 in an ancient theater, built by decree of Herod the Great c. 30 BC, located in Caesarea Maritima (present-day Qesarya). On the partially damaged block is a dedication to Tiberius Caesar.


Since the text is so damaged - one can only make out Tiberieum, [Po]ntius Pilatus and [Praef]ectus Iuda[ea]e on it now - there are a number of proposals as to how the original text may have originally read. Here are some of them:

1.) dis augusti]S TIBERIEVM po]NTIVS PILATVS praef]ECTVS IVDAea]E fecit d]Edicavit] "To the honorable gods (or To the Divine Augusti Augustus and Livia])* the Tiberieum Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Iudaea, has made (and) dedicated."
2.) caesarien(ibu)]S TIBERIEVM po]NTIVS PILATVS praef]ECTVS IVDA
ea*]E d]Edit] “The Caesareans’ (i.e. people of Caesarea Maritima) Tiberieum, Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Iudaea, dedicates.
3.) kal(endis) iulii]S TIBERIEVM m (arcus) ? pon]NTIVS PILATVS praef]ECTVS IVDAea]E d]Edicavit] " “The Tiberieum of the kalends of July Marcus (?) Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Iudaea, has dedicated.
4.) opu]S TIBERIEVM… “The Tiberieum building…
5.) iudaei]S TIBERIEVM… “The Judeans’ (Jews’) Tiberieum…
6.) nemu]S TIBERIEVM… “The Tiberieum of the (sacred) grove…
7.) munu]S TIBERIEVM… “The municipal Tiberieum…
8.) nauti]S TIBERIEVM pon]NTIVS PILATVS praef]ECTVS IVDAea]E r]Efecit] “The seamen’s Tiberieum Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Iudaea, restores.

2.) Ossuary of Caiaphas: In November of 1990, a family tomb was discovered in Peace Forest in North Talpiot, Jerusalem. The crypt contained four loculi, with twelve intact ossuaries, as well as some coins. The coins, as well as the writing on the ossuaries, help date this tomb as being from around the 1st century AD.
On one of the ornate ossuaries (74 cm long, 29 wide, and 38 high), two inscriptions were found: on the side was written Yehosef bar-QYF’, with Yehosef bar-QF’ written on one end (you can barely see it on the photo below). This ossuary contained the bones of two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age. Another ossuary from the same tomb also bore the inscription QF’. The bones were buried again back on the Mount of Olives, while the ossuary is currently located in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Those who favor the Caiaphas interpretation (based on Josephus, who mentions his name as Joseph Caiaphas) propose that QYF’/QF’ should be read as Qa[ya]fa’, while those questioning it think that it should be vocalized as Qofa’ or Qufa’ instead.

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