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What Are The Dates Of The Oldest Mss of NT That Survive?

Overview of Manuscripts from the 1st Century [33 AD to 99 AD]

According to German Biblical scholar, Carsten Thiede, P64 and P67 are fragments of parts of Matthew chapters 3, 5 and 26, and they are from the first century. See chart at Oldest New Testament Manuscripts. 

Portions of chapter 26 also appear on the so-called Magdalen College Papyrus which was found stored in 1996 at Oxford College. (Carsten Peter Thiede & Matthew D'Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus (Doubleday: 1996) at 1.)

Carsten Thiede is Director of the Institute for Basic Epistomological Research in Paderborn, Germany.

In his book done in collaboration with Matthew D'Ancona -- The Jesus Papyrus -- Thiede defends that this Magdalen College Papyrus -- dates "from the mid-first century A.D." (Jesus Papyrussupra, at 1-2.)

Also, beginning in 1972, Jesuit O'Callaghan contended there is a Dead Sea Scroll fragment that belongs to Mark. Since 1972, a few very reputable and diverse scholars have come to support this opinion, e.g., Kurt Schubert,Carsten Thiede and papyrologist Orsolina Montevecchi. (Jesus Papyrus, at 31-32). See also chart at Oldest New Testament Manuscripts. 

What may support this is that Cave 7 of the Dead Sea Scroll uniquely contains Greek texts with the exception of six Greek texts in Cave 4. (Carsten Peter Thiede & Matthew D'Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus (Doubleday: 1996) at 30). This area was overrun by a Roman legion in 68 AD, which creates an outer barrier on the age of the materials therein. Id. 

A Jewish scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls - S. Talmon - agreed that the texts in Cave 7 are Christian documents. Id., at page 32.

 

Overview of Manuscripts from 2d Century [100-199 AD]

The New Testament fragments which survive from this period totally exclude Mark.

However, as noted above, one scholar, Jesus O'Callaghan contends there is a Dead Sea Scroll fragment that belongs to Mark. Since 1972, few have come to support this opinion, e.g., Kurt Schubert and Carsten Thiede. (Jesus Papyrus, at 31-32). See also chart at Oldest New Testament Manuscripts. What may support this is that Cave 7 of the Dead Sea Scroll uniquely contains Greek texts with the exception of six Greek texts in Cave 4. (Carsten Peter Thiede & Matthew D'Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus (Doubleday: 1996) at 30). This area was overrun by a Roman legion in 68 AD, which creates an outer barrier on the age of the materials therein. Id. And a Jewish scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls - S. Talmon - agreed that the texts in Cave 7 are Christian documents. Id., at page 32.

The manuscripts in this period contain primarily three small framents -- one from Matthew (21:34-37, 43, 45) - P104 -- Oxyrynchus -- two from John's Gospel (18:31-33,38 & 18:36-19:7) and one from Revelation (1:13-2:1) in P98 IFAO. See chart at Oldest New Testament Manuscripts.

Other than this, the tiniest part of Acts and nothing from 1 or 2 Peter. The numbered papyrus fragments are:

  • P46, from the late second century, contains the Pauline epistles, including Hebrews (after Romans!), but not 1 or 2 Timothy or Titus. Interestingly, Romans 16:25-27 appears at the end of chapter 15!
  • P4 contains parts of Luke 1-6.
  • P32 contains part of Titus 1-2.
  • P90 is a fragment of John's Gospel containing parts of John 18:36-19:7.
  • P64 contains parts of Matthew 26:7-8 and 26:31, and fragments of verses 14-15, verse 10, verse 32-33 and 22-23.
  • P67 contains parts of Matthew 3:9, 3:15, 5:20-22, 5:25-28. (See also this link to the same effect.)
  • P52 is from AD125. It is very, very tiny and contains parts of John 18:31-4 and John 18:37-8, but with a slightly different wording as compared to later manuscripts. It does not have two complete consecutive words written on it.
  • P98 contains parts of Acts 1:13-20  (Source: New Testament Alterations.)(This source inaccurately ignores the Revelation fragment mentioned in Oldest New Testament Manuscript.)

Mark

"Mark's gospel appears for the first time in the oldest extant manuscripts containing all four canonical gospels (p45)  which was written in the middle of the 3d century. No other manuscript evidence for Mark exists before the 4th century, where Mark is included in the oldest uncial manuscript of the entire Greek Bible." (Helmut Koester, The Ancient Christian Gospels (1990) at 273.)

Matthew

"In contrast to the gospel of Mark, the gospel of Matthew is quite well attested in the earliest tradition of the Christian communities. There are two early papyri written about 200 CE, containing at least the fragmentary text of the gospel of Matthew. Six more papyri were written in the third century. Rich attestation comes from the fourth century: six papyri, five uncial manuscripts, and of course, the two oldest manuscripts which present the entire text of the Bible." (Koester, The Ancient Christian Gospels (1990) at 314.)

These papyri were republished in Volumes 64-66 of the Oxyrynchus papyri project. They were recovered by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt in a series of expeditions from 1896/97 and 1903 through to 1907. (See this link from Tyndale House.)

The oldest of Matthew are three: P.Oxy 4405, which represents a new portion of P77, containing Matthew 23:30-34, 35-39, dating as early as the 2d or 3d century); P.Oxy 4403, containing Matthew 13:55-56, 14:3-5, again from the 2d or 3d century; P.Oxy 4404, containing Matthew 21:34-37, 43 & 45, from the late second century. (See L.W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh, "The New Testament in the Second Century," at this link in PDF, at page 3.)     For more on these papyri, see http://www.papyrology.ox.ac.uk/POxy/ For a comprehensive list of the papyri from that site of portions of all NT books, see this link.

These Matthew papyri have variants found in later sources which differ from our Greek text tradition. Then there are also unique variants found in these fragments which are "only attested" in these versions." Id. If valid, then rather than confirming the Greek text, these recently discovered texts "may very well reflect very early readings that simply happen not to have survived in the extant Greek witnesses." (Hurtado, id., at 4.)

After these papyri are two "Uncials" -- texts that comprise ONE entire New Testament -- the first is the Sinaiticus which was only found in the late 1800s, but is dated to about 340-380 AD. The next UNCIAL is the Alexandrian text from the 5th century, but it is missing the entirety of Matthew 1:1 to chapter 25:6, and thus leaves us no earlier complete Matthew than the Sinaiticus. See "Uncial Manuscripts" at this webpage.

This then allows us to make a conclusion that other than these papyri fragments all Greek texts earlier than 340-380 AD have been lost. And one of the reasons is evident by looking at Matthew 28:19. All scholars and even some Catholic ones admit there was a forgery to add the trinity formula for baptism into the text. But because no post 340-380 AD Greek text omits it -- while it is omitted in the ancient Syriac and old African Latin and the Hebrew Shem-Tob Matthew which rely upon sources predating 340 AD, there must have been an effort to eradicate the earlier Greek texts of Matthew that conflicted with orthodoxy that was willing to alter Matthew 28:19 to sustain late doctrines. This is alluded to by Conybear:

"In the case just examined (Matthew 28:19), it is to be noticed that not a single manuscript or ancient version [in Greek] has preserved to us the true reading. But that is not surprising for as Dr. C. R. Gregory, one of the greatest of our textual critics, reminds us, 'the Greek MSS of the text of the New Testament were often altered by scribes, who put into them the readings which were familiar to them,' and which they held to be the right readings." (Conybear, Canon and Text of the New Testament (1907) at 424.

In other words, Conybear is saying that since scribes were freely altering texts to insert doctrines that were developing, the fact no conflicting text survived in Greek regarding Matthew 28:19 bespeaks that scribes did not want those texts to survive to challenge their work. The problem for those scribes is (a) we now have recovered fragments of earlier versions of passages other than Matthew 28:19 that show their corrupting efforts; and (b) the early church 'fathers' such as Origen, Justin, Tertullian etc., recorded in the 100s and 200s the early versions of Matthew and thus we can see that way the corrupting hand of scribes operated. Hence, this makes it necessary for Christians to exhort scholars to reconstruct faithfullly the original form of Matthew and the other gospels, to remove the hand of scribes who thought to 'help' in this improper manner.

For a site dedicated just to the issue of Matthew 28:19, see this link.

A very detailed mss by mss catalogue, and the dates relating to Matthew you will find at this link - http://www.biblequery.org/mtMss.htm

As to the dating of the underlying writing of Matthew, it is clearly prior to 70 AD. For the epistle 1 Clement is certainly pre-70 AD, as it speaks of the sacrifices are still ongoing at the temple. Yet, 1 Clement quotes Matthew:

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he said: "Woe to that man; it were better for him he had not been born that he should cause one of my elect to stumble...." See The Apostolic Fathers (ed. Jack N. Sparks) (Thomas Nelson, 1978) at section 46.)

Luke

This is a gospel that the writer Ignatius of the 100s never once quoted. Nicholson: 72.

Some suggest it was a fairly late creation. I think not. What we do know is that Luke has several mutilations, sad to say.

Tertullian at 200 AD quotes from Luke a passage similarly found at Matthew 5:17, which reads: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." This verse in Tertullian's scriptures preceded what remains in our Bibles at Luke 16:17, which reads: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail". Now the verse comparable to 5:17 in Matthew is gone from Luke 16 which Tertullian quoted in the 200s from Luke.

Tertullian also quotes the verse at Matthew 15:24, which reads: "But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel", as also contained in his copy of Luke. But now it is gone from Luke.

The Gospel of Luke also has evidence of moving around verses.

When the Gospel of Luke was originally written, Luke 9:47-48 was connected with what is now Luke 17:1-2. The reason stems from something Origen wrote ca. 200 AD.

In Origen's Commentary on Matthew, he compares the narratives pertaining to the little ones in Matthew with their corresponding verses in Mark and Luke, Origen writes: "Next we must test accurately the meaning of the word 'necessity' in the passage, 'For there is a necessity that the occasions come,' and to the like effect in Luke, 'It is `inadmissible' but that occasions of stumbling should come,' instead of 'impossible’"
In comparing the verses, Origen clearly speaks of the parallel between Matthew, Mark and Luke, and those in Luke 9:47-48 as being connected with those at Luke 17:1-2. Evidently either Luke 17:1-2 or Luke 9:47-48 was moved to different sections.

Causes

To some significant degree, most of the early manuscripts were destroyed by Rome when it was an avowed enemy of Christianity.

"Diocletian in 303AD ordered all the sacred books to be burnt, ...but enough survived to transmit the text (Swete in Variorum "Aids")."

"One of the reasons why no early MSS. have been discovered  is that they were, when found, burned by the persecutors of the Christians:  Eusebius writes: "I saw with mine own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down and razzed to their foundations, and the inspired and sacred Scriptures consigned to the fire in the open market place (Hist.Eccl. viii 2.)."

"Among such senses he could not fail to learn what books men held to be more precious than their lives." (Dr. Westcott:  General Survey of the History of the Canon of the N.T., at 383).

To Conceal Prior Changes

Another possibility is that in the 300s, the Roman empire wanted to obliterate rival versions to the official Greek and Latin versions so as to give a single more current text exclusive authority. The efforts at pious alterations prior to the 300s are well-established by Christian scholars who were devout and not skeptics. 

For example, Dr. F. H. Scrivener writes that:

"In the second century we have seen too many instances of attempts to tamper with the text of Scripture, some merely injudicious, others positively dishonest." Scrivener states that "it is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within 100 years after it was composed: and that Irenaeus and the African Fathers, and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syrian Church" used inferior manuscripts (F.H.Scrivener, Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament).

Dean Burgon quotes Gaius (AD175-200) who speaks of the source of corruptions that survive in the early papyri:

"The Divine Scriptures these heretics have audaciously corrupted. Laying violent hands upon them, under pretense of correcting them." (Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 323).

Eusebius (Eccleastical History), citing the second century Church commentator Clement of Alexandria:

"The worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected originated within one hundred years after it was composed."

In the words of Colwell (What is the Best New Testament Text?, p.119)  

"The first two centuries witnessed the creations of the large number of variations known to scholars today.  In the manuscripts of the New Testament most variations, I believe, were made deliberately."

G.D. Kilpatrick (Atticism and the Text of the Greek New Testament, at 125-131) states:  

"Deliberate changes in all text types appear to antedate A.D. 200...as distinct from errors... all categories of deliberate alteration...  are present in both groups. Tatian is the last author to make deliberate changes. The vast majority of deliberate changes were older then A.D. 200.  They came into being in the period A.D. 50-200."

To Conceal The Jewish Orientation of Early Christianity

Another possibility is that Rome did everything it could to erase the historical truth that Christianity is Jewish at its core. Hence, erasing any and every memory of that period was necessary. So passages that emphasize this had to be removed, written without them, and leave us with a Jesus more palatable to Gentiles and pagans.

There are systematic examples of this.

First, Jerome translated into Greek and Latin in the late 300s the Gospel According to the Hebrews. It was a Hebrew / Hebrew letters text kept at the library of Caesarea and its custodians claimed Matthew wrote it. Jerome believed this, and had great faith that its variants were the valid original.

But now both translations by Jerome are gone although 49 quotations from this gospel exists among the early patristic writers -- from Origen, Hegesippus, Epiphanius, Eusebius and Jerome. Why is it gone? No one dares say the obvious: it offended the post-Constantine church which sought to savage all Jewish influence in Christianity. Passover was changed to Easter, for example, -- the day of the goddess Eostre -- by Constantine's direct goal to divorce Christianity from Judaism. See our link to the discussion of the "Easter Error." Nicholson similalry notes:

Similarly, the extensive biography of James the Just done by Hegesippus is entirely gone, along with most of Hegesippus' writings which extensively quoted the Gospel According to the Hebrews.

Nicholson mentions some of this in passing while discussing other points:

Now we know that Hegesippus wrote largely about James the Just, and his Memoirs were still in existence at least as late as the 6th cent. It is the more probable that his account of James did include this story because we have already seen that he used the Gospel according to the Hebrews. (Edward Nicholson, The Gospel According to the Hebrews (1879) at 65.)

Accordingly, it appears there were systematic efforts to conceal the original Gospel According to the Hebrews written by Apostle Matthew after most patristic fathers showed it great respect and deference through the 390s.

And one of the ways to prevent its influence was to destroy every copy of earlier mss. of Matthew, Luke, etc., that had passages reminiscent of that earlier gospel. This is sad to say, but it makes it no less true.

Study Notes

Earliest MSS of Latin Vulgate

The oldest surviving manuscript of the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament is known as Codex Fuldensis. It was commissioned by Victor, the bishop of Capua in Italy in 546 A.D. Incidentally, it includes the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans as a part of the New Testament. “The Old Testament Apocrypha,” World Internet Bible College at http://internetbiblecollege.net/Lessons/The%20Old%20Testament%20Apocrypha.htm (accessed 5/28/2011).

Manuscripts from 200-299 AD

These manuscripts are more complete than the earlier ones, and some may date from the end of the previous century. Three are of particular note:

P66, from about AD 200, contains these portions of John's Gospel:

  • John 1:1-6:11
  • John 6:35 - 14:6 and 14:26 and 14:29-30
  • John 15:2-26
  • John 16:2-4 and 16:6-7 and 16:10-20
  • John 20:22-23 and 20:25 - 21:9

One scholar, in 'The Unauthorized Version', says of these P66 fragments:

"We have two early papyri which overlap across seventy verses of John's Gospel, and even if the plain errors of their copyists are excluded, they differ at no less than seventy small places.".

P72contains Jude and 1 and 2 Peter and sundry non canonical works, such as The Nativity of Mary, the eleventh Ode of Solomon, Melito's Homily on the Passover, the Apology of Phileas etc.

In 2 Peter 1:2, other manuscripts read "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus." p72 deletes the "and' to read "God, our Lord Jesus". P72 also differs from the present Jude 5 to say that the savior of the people from Egypt was "the God Christ". p72 also differs from 1 Peter 5:1 to state that Peter was a witness to the "sufferings of God", and not the "sufferings of Christ", as all later manuscripts read.

P75, usually dated at 175 AD - 225 AD contains the following from John's and Luke's Gospels:

  • Luke 3:18-22
  • Luke 3:33-4:2
  • Luke 4:34 - 5:10
  • Luke 5:37 - 6:4
  • Luke 6:10 - 7:32 and 7:35-39 and 7:41-43
  • Luke 7:46 - 9:2
  • Luke 9:4 - 17:15
  • Luke 17:19 - 18:18 and Luke 22:4 - 24:53

Roman Rulers Erase Earlier Texts

[from New Testament Alterations]

The early fourth century was a time when the Roman branch of Christianity gained almost total dominance over other rival branches, including the true remnants of original Nasarene "Christianity". They immediately began legislation and persecution against these rival philosophies and their manuscripts. In an attempt to bring these groups and manuscripts in line with the new orthodox position, Pope Damasus I, the year 382, had Jerome begin revision & unification of Latin Bibles. In 384 Jerome presented Pope Damascus I with new Latin Gospels which become the Vulgate Latin Text recognized as the standard Western Christian Bible. Once in possession of this new "orthodox" bible, the orthodox church systematically eradicated all divergent texts and those who used them, creating the scarcity of first, second and third century source material which now plagues modern Essene scholarship.

Prof. Eberhard Nestle, an expert in original evangelical texts, comments on this situation in his Einf~hrung in die Textkritik des griechischen Testaments:

"Learned men, so called Correctors were, following the church meeting at Nicea 325 AD, selected by the church authorities to scrutinize the sacred texts and rewrite them in order to correct their meaning in accordance with the views which the church had just sanctioned."

The Danish professor of religious history, Detlef Nielsen, says further:

"We have to handle many, partly contradictory texts which were written in the time period of 50 - 150 AD. In the New Testament were no less than four evangelical texts included. One tried to bring about some kind of unity which was presented as an unadulterated, true narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus, complementing each other, and which together -- though apparently unsimilar -- formed the only true evangelical text. In order to bring the various passages in harmony of each other, they were subjected to a thorough revision. As a first measure one rewrote the evangelical handwritten manuscripts, disregarding parts which did not conform, and wrote comments to make them compatible with each other. One then took to the clerical art of interpretation in order to explain the contents in such a way that a unified evangelical text could be created."

One of the oldest evangelical texts is Mark.... Papias is communicating this in his epistle to the presbyter, Johannes, admitting it is not a perfect work because not everything was well-explained to Mark:

"Mark...recorded with great energy, if not with great accuracy, everything that he could remember had been told about Jesus. He himself had never seen the Master. He was just the interpreter of Peter, and could only retell what he had heard at various instances; not always had he got everything well explained to him and commented. One should therefore not reproach Mark ..."

Edgar Hennecke says:

"It is known that the wording of the Greek texts, which we use as a base, originate from the 5th century"

Alphred Resch says:

"Probably many of these manuscripts were kept in old monasteries in the 4th century, like Codex Cantabrigeniensis D. and Codex Syrus Sinaiticus which both marvelously survived. At the time, 382 AD during the pope Damasos, the canonical texts were adopted and in this connection all old documents were destroyed."

Many fragments and smaller manuscripts exist from these centuries. The five main western manuscripts of this period are:

  • Codex Vaticanus about AD 350. This has lost the New Testament from Hebrews 9 onwards. (Includes 1-4Maccabees - Psalms of Solomon - Ps151 + 27NT), and is missing Gn1-46:28, Ps105:27-137:6, 1Tm-Phm, Heb9:14-end)
  • Codex Sinaiticus about AD 350. This manuscript, the most complete, lay hidden in a monastery until the end of the last century. It includes the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. Nine correctors worked on it until the 12th century. It also includes works from the Old Testament which are rejected by Christians today, such as 4 Maccabees. (Has 2-3Maccabees - Psalms of Solomon - Ps151 + 27NT + Barnabas + Hermas), is missing Hermas 31.7-end)
  • Codex Alexandrinus about AD 400. This also includes 1 Clement and contained 2 Clement and the Psalms of Solomon. It has lost Matthew 1-24 , John 7-8. (Includes 1-2Maccabees + 14_Church_Odes + 27NT + 1-2Clement), missing 1K12:17-14:9, Ps49:20-79:11, Psalms of Solomon, Mt1-25:6, Jn6:50-8:52, 2Cr4:13-12:6, 1Clement57.7-63.4, 2Clement12.5b-end)
  • Codex Bezae about AD 420. This contains (in this order) Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, 3 John and Acts.
  • Codex Washingtonensis (5th century). This contains (in this order) Matthew, John, Luke, Mark.

Around 400 the Peshitta Bible become the standard Syrian Christian Bible. This is the Syriac (Aramaic) Vulgate, Syr(p), (OT + 22 NT, excludes: 2Pt, 2-3Jn, Jude, Rev.). This text may be of more interest to many modern Essenes due to its Aramaic language and preservation of idioms.

About this time, around 400, some think the pericope of the Adulteress, John 7:53-8:11, was probably added to John. However, there is reason to believe it was in the Hebrew Matthew, and was merely copied into John late so as to preserve it. From this same time period we also have the Codex Bobiensi which has "shorter", and perhaps the original, ending of Mark which does not contain the Resurrection story of Mark 16:9-20. (Jerome, circa 400, cites the "expanded" ending of Mark found after Mk16:14).