Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith


January 2016

The Earliest New Testament Manuscripts

For years the answer to the question, “What is the oldest New Testament manuscript?” was easy: P52, a manuscript identified and housed in Manchester, handsomely dated to the early 2nd century. C.H. Roberts wrote in the original publication of this fragment

P52‘On the whole we may accept with some confidence the first half of the second century as the period in which P. Ryl. Gk. 457 was most probably written—a judgment I should be much more loth to pronounce were it not supported by Sir Frederic Kenyon, Dr. W. Schubart and Dr. H. I. Bell who have seen photographs of the text and whose experience and authority in these matters are unrivalled’ (C.H. Roberts, An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935], 16).

Advancements over the last eighty years in the field of Greek paleography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting) coupled with the increase in readily available collections of digital images and refined classification would lead one to assume that the experts would be able to form an even more comprehensive opinion than they were able to form in the 1930s. In 2012,  Pasquale Orsini & Willy Clarysse published  “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography.” Orsini and Clarysse provides exactly this re-evaluation. With solid methodology and an impeccable track record, their conclusions are difficult to argue with, their evaluation of the date is not far off from what Roberts came up with in giving the range 125-175 for P52. So is P52 still the earliest fragment of the New Testament?

Looking through the results presented by Orsini and Clarysse there is another candidate, P104, an interesting fragment of Matthew 21, published in 1997. This papyrus receives a date 100-200. Some particular scripts are easier to pin down than others and that is why P104 has a span of a century, whilst P52 only half a century. So we have P52 and P104 both dated by a range that has its median in the middle of the second century (it may be earlier, it may be later).

According to professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, Daniel Wallace, a recent  manuscript “was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers,” who said he was “certain” that it was from the first century. If that paleographer is right, the recently discovered fragment from Mark’s gospel would be the oldest existing manuscript of the New Testament.

A Defense Of The Christian Faith

Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information. Early Christian writers (c. 120–220) who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists.[1]

ApologeticsThere is no question that we as Christians are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 and one of the ways to do this is to study His Word to prepare a defense of our faith.
There are many passages in scripture that encourage us and command us to be ready to defend our faith. Here are just a few:

Proverbs 25:11 “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”
Proverbs 26:5 “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.”
Acts 17:16-17 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles.”
Acts 22:1 “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”
2 Corinthians 4, 6,7 “…commending ourselves as servants of God … in knowledge… in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness.”
2 Corinthians 5:11a “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men…”
Philippians 1:16 “I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.”
Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
2 Timothy 2:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
2 Timothy 2:25 “…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
Titus 1:9 “…holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
1 Peter 3:15 “…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…”
Proverbs 22:17-21
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge;
For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
That they may be ready on your lips.
So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I have taught you today, even you.
Have I not written to you excellent things
Of counsels and knowledge,
To make you know the certainty of the words of truth
That you may correctly answer him who sent you?”


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