I’ve heard different information about the earliest NT manuscript. Is the
ms from John (125 AD) the earliest? And what about the Magdalene
manuscripts and of these from Mark (46 AD) found in Egypt are these the
earliest MS?

The manuscripts you refer to are the Rylands Papyrus and the Magdalene
Manuscript. The Rylands Papyrus has been thoroughly studied and dated to
about 125 AD. It is a fragment of John. The Magdalene manuscript is
so-called because it resides in Magdalene College at Oxford. It is a very
small fragment of Matthew 26. Dr Carsten Thiede has tentatively dated it
to AD 65/66 by comparison to writing styles of several well-known
manuscripts of the same period. His analysis involves looking at the
papyrus fibers, the angle of the stylus used to lay down the ink and so
forth. It would be fair to say that this conclusion is still somewhat
tentative. It may be wise to wait for some more studies to confirm the
date of writing of this manuscript. However, if the date holds up, this
would clearly be an astounding find, as it would be a manuscript from
within less than a generation of the original writing of the letter?
perhaps within less than ten years. Other very early manuscripts have been
analyzed as well, including a manuscript fragment from Luke which has been
tentatively dated to AD 100.

If one is teaching others about the earliest manuscripts, and wanted to be
careful, perhaps one could say that the earliest confirmed manuscript is
the Rylands fragment of John from AD 125, as well as some more recent
manuscripts of Mark and Luke which have been dated to AD 100, and one
papyrus fragment of Mark 26 which has tentatively been dated as early as
AD 65. These are fun and exciting times for those who study the New
Testament document history and who believe that the entire New Testament
was written by about AD 80.

John Oakes, PhD

Comments are closed.