Papyrus 52 (P52): The “Ambiguity and Uncertainty” of Modern-Day Evangelical Bible Scholars Redating Early Papyri

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JRL19060215 P52
Rylands Greek P 457, The St John Fragment, On display in the Rylands Gallery at John Rylands Library in Manchester, England
Text John 18:31–33, 18:37–38
Date 110–150 (Recent papyrologists try to redate to 200 C.E.)
Script Greek
Found Egypt
Now at John Rylands University Library
Cite C. H. Roberts, An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library (Manchester University Press, 1935)
Size 8.9 cm x 6 cm
Type Seems to be Alexandrian
Category I
Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Higher Criticism (or “the historical-critical method”: Now known as biblical criticism and literary criticism. Some of the areas are source criticism, redaction criticism, form criticism, tradition-historical criticism, and many others. These scholars do not view the Bible as the Word of God, for these Bible scholars, it is the word of man and a very jumbled word at that. Textual scholar J. Harold Greenlee wrote, “This ‘higher criticism’ has often been applied to the Bible in a destructive way, and it has come to be looked down on by many evangelical Christians.” – The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (2008, p. 2). Baker Publishing Group

Lower Criticism (or textual criticism): Where higher criticism is destructive, textual criticism or textual studies is constructive. Greenlee wrote, “Textual criticism is quite distinct from literary criticism. Textual criticism simply takes the known [manuscripts] MSS of the New Testament, studies the differences between them, and attempts by established principles to determine the exact wording of the New Testament originals.” (2008, p. 2) Textual criticism is looking to the external evidence (manuscripts) and internal evidence (author’s style, words he used, grammar and syntax, and other principles), so as to determine what the original words were in the original texts. Without knowing what the original words are, one cannot create a translation, interpret the Scriptures, know the will of God. Now, having laid that groundwork, we can move onto the article itself.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

Daniel B. Wallace wrote in the Foreword of Myths and Mistakes In New Testament Textual Criticism, “The new generation of evangelical scholars is far more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty than previous generations.” (p xii) An example of this is found in the same book as there are recent attempts by modern scholars to redate P52 from 110-125, the latest 150 C.E. to 175-225 C.E. (Brent Nongbri, Elijah Hixon, Don Parker, Andreas Schmidt, and so on) (Page 103). Why is the early date of P52 important apologetically? P52 is often cited by conservative evangelical Christians to those who are of liberal-moderate biblical criticism (higher criticism) school of thought because these Bible critics try to argue that the apostle John did not author the Gospel that bears his name. They believe the Gospel of John was written about 160-180 C.E.  Well, the apostle John died in 100 C.E., so for them, it would have been impossible for John to author the Gospel. Well, the discovery of P52 put one very solid nail in that line of thought because it was dated to about 110-125, the latest 150 C.E. and was discovered in Egypt. P52 was just a scrap but it was a scrap containing John 18:31-33, 37-38. It hampered the discussion that the apostle John could not have written the Gospel. Or, did it? Keep in mind, P52 was just one piece of evidence in a line of much more external and internal evidence that John authored the Gospel.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS I AM John 8.58

Elijah Hixon (Myths and Mistakes In New Testament Textual Criticism), an advocate of a late date for P52 (third century) explains,

First, P52 does not and cannot offer definitive proof that John’s Gospel is a first-century composition by an eyewitness. Even if P52 was written in the afternoon of April 26, AD 125 (it wasn’t), it would prove only that sections from John 18 were in Egypt by AD 125. Technically, such a date does not prove that John’s Gospel was in its “final” (canonical) form by then, nor does it prove that the text it contains is any more than a few months old. An early date of P52 might render these possibilities unlikely—even extremely unlikely—but it cannot disprove them. Two examples from redaction-critical commentaries demonstrate this point. First, Rudolf Bultmann accepted a date of P52 in the period of AD 100–150 and still argued that as much as forty years could have passed between the original writing of John’s Gospel and a final redaction that left it in the canonical form we have today. Second, Walter Schmithals was well aware of the existence of P52, but he still dated a final redaction of John’s Gospel to around AD 160–180. Given the uncertain nature of paleographical dating and the fact that P52 has not deterred source-critical scholars from adopting second-century dates of a final redaction to John’s Gospel, we quote again Paul Foster’s remarks about the usefulness of P52: “Was John’s Gospel written before the end of the first century? Yes, probably.” (Page 104).

This is a strawman argument. Hixon is setting up hypotheticals that no one suggested and then knocking them down. Here we get a lot of motivation behind why it is supposedly acceptable for ambiguous and uncertain textual scholars to redated P52. First, let me offer my brief observation. I believe many modern-day Christian textual scholars have gone the way of …

  • Hermeneutics and higher criticism in (subjective interpretation by historical-critical method over objective interpretation grammatical-historical method), to the
  • Bible translation and dynamic equivalent in Bible translation (interpretive translations of what the translator thinks God said over the literal translation of what God actually said), to the
  • New Testament textual scholars seeking to be as ambiguous and uncertain as possible over seeking a position, qualifying anything that may be ambiguous or uncertain.
9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Now, turning to Hixon’s words above, “P52 does not and cannot offer definitive proof that John’s Gospel is a first-century composition by an eyewitness.”

Response: This logical fallacy is called a strawman argument, where the person overstates the other side’s case or intentions, the opposing argument, ignoring the fact that there is an abundance of evidence for John to be the author of the Gospel and P52 is just one piece, and then Hixon proceeds to knock down his “fake” point that conservative evangelicals have to supposedly have P52 dated early, he has created a straw man argument. Hixon goes on to infer that the renowned textual scholars, paleographers specifically (C. H. Roberts, T. C. Skeat, Fredric Kenyon, W. Schubart, Harold Idris Bell, Adolf Deissmann, Ulrich Wilken, and W. H. P. Hatch), who dated P52 initially to an early date and other later textual scholars (Kurt and Barbara Aland [INTF Institute for New Testament Textual Research], Bruce M. Metzger as of 2006, Philip Comfort, David Barrett) that agreed were biased because of their Christian desire to have an early Gospel of John manuscript.

Hixon writes from above, “Technically, such a date does not prove that John’s Gospel was in its “final” (canonical) form by then, nor does it prove that the text it contains is any more than a few months old.”

Response: Canonical or canon criticism is just another historical-critical method that can take its place alongside source criticism, form criticism, rhetorical criticism, and the like. How dangerous is Higher Criticism (Biblical Criticism)?

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Brief Excursion

Such Bible scholars as Robert L. Thomas, Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, F. David Farnell, and the late Gleason L. Archer Jr. among many others have fought for decades to educate readers about the dangers of higher criticism.

Tischendorf was a world-leading biblical scholar who rejected higher criticism, which led to his noteworthy success in defending the authenticity of the Bible text. Tischendorf was educated in Greek at the University of Leipzig. During his university studies, he was troubled by higher criticism of the Bible, as taught by famous German theologians, who sought to prove that the Greek New Testament was not authentic.

NT Textual scholar Harold Greenlee writes, “This “higher criticism” has often been applied to the Bible in a destructive way, and it has come to be looked down on by many evangelical Christians.” Greenlee, J. Harold. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group.

Higher critics have taught that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth, that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, 8th century Isaiah did not write Isaiah, there were three authors of Isaiah, 6th century Daniel did not write Daniel, it was penned in the 2nd century BCE. Higher critics have taught that Jesus did not say all that he said in his Sermon on the Mount and that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees in Matthew 23, as this was Matthew because he hated the Jews. These are just highlights for there are thousands of tweaks that have undermined the word of God as being inspired and fully inerrant. Higher critics have dissected the Word of God until it has become the word of man and a very jumbled word at that. Higher criticism is still taught in almost all of the seminaries, and it is quite common to hear so-called Evangelical Bible scholars publicly deny that large sections of the Bible as fully inerrant, authentic, and true. Biblical higher criticism is speculative and tentative in the extreme. This fits with the textual scholar, Daniel B. Wallace’s recent words in MYTHS AND MISTAKES In New Testament Textual Criticism, where he said: “The new generation of evangelical scholars is far more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty than previous generations.” (Page xii)

Craig Evans says Jesus did not say the I AM STATEMENTS IN JOHN’S GOSPEL:

(1) I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
(2) I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
(3) I am the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7, 9)
(4) I am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14)
(5) I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
(6) I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
(7) I am the True Vine (John 15:1, 5)

After two centuries, higher critics with their higher criticism have ousted the Bible from its earlier status as the fully inerrant, inspired Word of God? Higher criticism has opened the flood gates to pseudo-scholarly works, which has resulted in undermining Christians’ confidence in the Bible. There is utterly no solid evidence for the claims made by higher critics. If any supporter of higher criticism says, “just because some have gone too far, or some have abused the method, this does not negate the benefits of using it,” listen to that foreboding feeling in the back of your mind. Or, the higher critic might argue, “you can take the good parts of higher criticism and leave the parts that undermine the Bible.” This is like saying, “you can remove the 75% poison from the water before drinking it, trust me.” There is a way to remove the bad parts for sure, fully abandon what is known as the subjective historical-critical method of interpretation and return to the old objective historical-grammatical method of interpretation.

End of Excursion

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Hixon writes from above, “An early date of P52 might render these possibilities unlikely—even extremely unlikely—but it cannot disprove them.”

Response: Another repeat of the strawman logical fallacy, in that, he sets the evangelical Christians as saying P52 absolutely disproves a later date for the Gospel of John. Well, first of all, let’s assume just for a moment that P52 C. H. Roberts and company were correct and it dates to 100-150 C.E. Or that Philip Comfort and company are correct and it dates to 100-125 C.E. Well, this would preclude a later date for John and place the Gospel in the first century. You can not have a Gospel clear down in Egypt about 110-125 C.E., which would have taken time for it to work its way there, and at the same time have it be written between 160-180 C.E. Nevertheless, John was long accepted as the author based on internal and external evidence for 1,800 years before P52 was ever discovered.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Hixon writes above, “Two examples from redaction-critical commentaries demonstrate this point. First, Rudolf Bultmann accepted a date of P52 in the period of AD 100–150 and still argued that as much as forty years could have passed between the original writing of John’s Gospel and a final redaction that left it in the canonical form we have today. Second, Walter Schmithals was well aware of the existence of P52, but he still dated a final redaction of John’s Gospel to around AD 160–180.”

Response: Look, appeasing higher critics is like a capitalist country making concessions to the tiny percentage of communist party members citizens in the country. You cannot reason with the unreasonable, you cannot be rational with the irrational. You do not base your textual work on the big boys club of fear of being left out of the scholars club because you refuse to be a part of their so-called academia.

Hixon writes above, “Given the uncertain nature of paleographical dating and the fact that P52 has not deterred source-critical scholars from adopting second-century dates of a final redaction to John’s Gospel, we quote again Paul Foster’s remarks about the usefulness of P52: ‘Was John’s Gospel written before the end of the first century? Yes, probably.'”

Response: No one has ever claimed that manuscript dating is certain in nature. The English word certain in the context of setting dates (paleography) means that we know for sure what the date is; our established date is proved, confirmed, authenticated, verified, beyond doubt, having complete conviction about the date we have set; confident. This would refer to setting a specific date, such as dating P52 specifically to 125 C.E. Yet, what we really have in reality is terminus post quem (“limit after which”) and terminus ante quem (“limit before which”) specify the known limits of dating a manuscript. This would be like C. H. Roberts with his 100-150 C.E. A terminus post quem is the earliest time (e.g., 100 C.E.) the manuscript (P52) could have been written, and a terminus ante quem is the latest time (e.g., 150 C.E.) the manuscript (P52) could have been written. 50 years was a common time period with seventy maximum. Now, they want a 100 year time period and even a 200 year time period. Uncertain, on the other hand, means that our dates for any manuscripts are not able to be relied on; not known or definite, not completely confident or sure of our dated manuscripts. Well, if the field of paleography is a field of uncertainty, why even waste the money on getting manuscripts dated. Why even have such a field of study? Being balanced, we can say that setting dates for literary manuscripts (P52), is largely educated guesswork, not beyond doubt, but external and circumstantial factors can help scholars date manuscripts.” Philip Comfort and David Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Volume 1: Papyri 1-72 (Oct 2019, p. 12)

Hixon cites Dr. Don Parker, Papyrologist at Macquarie University, Ancient History Dept, Sydney. “It is difficult to place [P52] into a very narrow time period.” And he lives up to the not so narrow because he places it anywhere in the second to third centuries. He goes on to say, “This may be unsatisfactory for those who would like to locate [P52] in a narrower time frame but the paleographical evidence will not allow it.”

Response: The paleographical evidence by the new paleographers is not as strong as one might conclude. It is largely dependent on manuscripts that are not dated and an attempt at comparing documentary with literary or semi-literary hands; when they should attempt to use literary manuscripts for comparison with literary manuscripts. Turner states, “Confidence will be strongest when like is compared with like: a documentary hand with another documentary hand, skillful writing with skillful, fast writing with fast. Comparison of book hands with dated documentary hands will be less reliable. The intention of the scribe is different in the two cases …; besides, the book-hand style in question may have had a long life.” – Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (ed. P.J. Parsons; 2nd ed.; London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1987), 19–20. Cf. Bell and Skeat, Fragments, 1.

Michael Gronewald argues that P52 should be dated no earlier than 200 A.D. based on his analysis of P.Köln VI 255, using the hooked apostrophe in recto line 3 to support his redating of P52. To reinforce this argument Gronewald turned to a comment by Eric Gardner Turner an English papyrologist in Greek Manuscripts, suggesting with certainty (certainty when it suits them) that the apostrophe between mute consonants (e.g., lamb) was a feature of the third-century (200-300) A.D. However, Turner actually said, “In the first decade of iii AD this practice [using an apostrophe between two consonants] suddenly becomes extremely common and then persists.” Notice here what Turner does not say, he was not saying that this practice was not taking place in the second century at all but rather it became “extremely common and then persists” in the third century. Then Turner goes on to give examples of using a hooked apostrophe between two consonants from the second century: BGU III 715.5 (101 A.D.) and P.Petaus 86.11 (184/85 A.D.) and SB XIV 11342.11 (193 A.D.). Even P66 that has been dated to 150-200 A.D. has a hooked apostrophe between two consonants, αγ’γελους. Turner states, this practice of a hooked apostrophe between two consonants “is not normally written in documents till iii AD”36 – Turner, Greek Manuscripts, 108. (bold and underline mine)

On this Philip Comfort writes,

Turner indicates that another feature began in the early third century, namely, the use of a separating apostrophe between double consonants. Some paleographers of late seem to have adopted this observation as “fact” and thereby date manuscripts having this feature as post AD 200. Some paleographers would even redate manuscripts displaying this feature. For example, Schmidt redates P52 to ca. 200 based on the fact that its hand parallels that of the Egerton Gospel, which is now thought by some to date closer to ca. 200 based on this feature appearing in a newly published portion of the Egerton Gospel. However, I would argue that the previously assigned date of such manuscripts was given by many scholars according to their observations of several paleographic features. Thus, the presence of this particular feature (the hook or apostrophe between double consonants) determines an earlier date for its emergence, not the other way around. Thus, the Egerton Gospel, dated by many to ca. 150, should still stand, and so should the date for P52 (as early second century). Another way to come at this is to look at P66, dated by several scholars to ca. 150 (see discussion below). Turner, however, would date P66 later (early third) largely because of the presence of the hook between double consonants. What I would say is that the predominant dating of P66 (i.e., the dating assigned by most scholars) predetermines the date for this particular feature. Furthermore, there are other manuscripts dated prior to AD 200 that exhibit the apostrophe or hook between double consonants:
1. BGU iii 715.5 (AD 101)
αγ’χωριμφις
2. P. Petaus 86 (= P. Michigan 6871) (AD 185)
αγ’γων
3. SPP xxii 3.22 (second century)
απυγ’χεως
4. P. Berol. 9570 + P. Rylands 60 (dated by the editors of the editio princeps to ca. 200, dated by Cavallo to ca. 50)
φαλαγ’γας

Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 108–109.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE

DATING P52

P52 is to be dated to the beginning to the middle of the second century (c. 110-150 C.E.), no later than 175 C.E.

Muenster’s Manuscript Depository Table

Primary Name P52
Language g
Origin Year Early 125
Origin Year Late 175
Origin Year Description II (M)
Content Overview J 18,31-33.37-38
Leaves Description 1 frag
Columns 1
Columns Max (if varies)
Lines 7
Lines Max (if varies) 18
Lines Description 7 (18)
Height 220
Height Max (if varies)
Width 180
Width Max (if varies)
Versification DEFAULT
Institute John Rylands University Library of ManchesterJohn Rylands University Library of Manchester
Location Manchester
Shelf Number Gr. P. 457
Content J 18,31-33.37-38
Leaves 1 Frg
Alternative Date 2-3 Cent. Nongbri

How do Paleographers Date Manuscripts?

Imagine that we are paleographers rummaging through the library of an old monastery, one that dates back to the third century A.D. As we carefully move books aside, we discover that there are other loose pages within one of the books on the shelf. As we pull out the pages, we have discovered what looks to be an ancient uncial Greek document. As we continue to work our way through the books, looking for more pages, we are wondering about the age of this document. To our delight, the last page provides a clue that would establish the date within 50 years. It was not the same manuscript, but it was the same hand, the same style, the same handwriting, the same punctuation, as well as other features that would establish this as the same person who made the other Biblical manuscript. However, this manuscript has a date on it.

Sadly, it was not a practice of scribes to place dates in their manuscripts after they had completed them. Thus, the textual scholar must compare other documents that have dates, both Biblical and non-Biblical documentary texts, to make a determination from an investigation of the handwriting, punctuation, abbreviations, and the like. What we may have at times is a literary text on one side of the page, and a documentary text on the other side, making it easier to establish the date of the literary text.

400,000 Textual Variants 02 400,000 Textual Variants 02 400,000 Textual Variants 02 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Handwriting Investigation

How do textual scholars know that the manuscript dates to the second, third, or fourth century C.E., or to any other century? If we were to pull any book from our bookshelf and turn a few pages in it, we would normally find the date of publication on the copyright page. If we bought a used book that was missing the copyright page, we would have no idea of when it had been published. It is only because of modern technology that we could date the book. Extant ancient literary manuscripts hardly ever had dates on them. However, ancient documentary manuscripts do, and this is crucial in our ability to be able to date the undated literary manuscripts.

It is by means of the art and science of paleography that we can arrive at an approximate date when the manuscript was written. Terminus post quem (“limit after which”) and terminus ante quem (“limit before which”) specify the known limits of dating a manuscript. A terminus post quem is the earliest time the manuscript could have been written, and a terminus ante quem is the latest time the manuscript could have been written.

Paleographers could be viewed as manuscript detectives; through their knowledge of the writing of ancient texts, the forms, and styles, we get a reasonably close idea of when a manuscript was copied. As an example, when looking at our modern languages today, we can see that within every generation or two there are subtle changes. This holds true of ancient languages as well. Through painstaking comparison of hundreds of small features within an ancient manuscript, a paleographer can provide us with a date that is usually correct to plus or minus 25 to 50 years.[1] Such features can distinguish certain periods as the amount of punctuation within a manuscript, abbreviations, and the amount of spacing between words. There are certain documents such as receipts, letters, leases, and petitions that do contain dates. It is these that have formed a library of letters with the styles that go into making each letter during different time periods.[2]

However, it is best when dating these ancient manuscripts to compare like manuscripts: a literary (professional or semi-professional scribe) document with a literary document and a documentary with a documentary. The documentary hand is by a copyist who is not a professional or semi-professional but rather a literate copyist who has experience making documents, such as tax receipts, business and personal letters, and business contracts.

[1] Dr. Bruce M. Metzger wrote, “Since the style of a person’s handwriting may remain more or less constant throughout life, it is unrealistic to seek to fix upon a date narrower than a fifty-year spread.” (B. Metzger 1981, 50)
[2] John F. Oates, Alan E. Samuel, and Bradford C. Welles, Yale Papyri in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (New Haven, American Society of Papyrologists, 1967), 1:4.

Papyrus 52 - P52
A blown-up portion of the front (recto) side of P52 John 18:31-33. The back (verso) side, not shown here, contains parts of seven lines from 18:37-38
The Rylands Papyrus 52 at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England
Text John 18:31–33, 18:37–38
Date 110-125 C. E.

C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”

Script Greek
Found Egypt
Now at John Rylands University Library
Cite C. H. Roberts, “An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library” (Manchester University Press, 1935)
Size 8.9 cm x 6 cm
Type Seems to be Alexandrian
Category I
P52
P52 – John 18:31–33, 37–38

At left and above is P52, a fragment of John’s Gospel. If we were to look closely at the actual copy (See high definition mage CSNTM),[3] we would see that this copyist added a little hook or embellishment to his manuscript. For example, a loop or curly line, while also omitting certain marks, incorporating a unique type of cross-stroke and rounded stroke of particular letters, which place this fragment in the early part of the second-century C.E.

While some textual scholars may disagree, as of the time of this writing, 10 codices are dated within the second century C.E., with another 56 codices that are dated to the third century. These are undoubtedly some of the most valuable manuscripts in establishing the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

[3]    http://csntm.org/manuscript/View/GA_P52

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

This author would date the writing of the Gospel of John to A.D. 98. Therefore, P52 would have to date to about 110-150 A.D., latest 175 A.D., only a few decades after the original was written. These few decades would have given it time to make its way down to Egypt, where it was discovered at the turn of the 20th century.

Now, all is not settled because some recent scholars are making efforts to redate P52 to a later date. Andreas Schmidt dates it to around 170 C.E.[4] and Brent Nongbri dates it to the late second early third centuries (no earlier than 200 C.E.),[5] and Elijah Hixon has cited these scholars to support his position of a later date for P52.

[4] A. Schmidt, “Zwei Anmerkungen zu P. Ryl. III 457,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 35(1989:11–12)
[5] Nongbri, Brent (2005) “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel.” Harvard Theological Review 98:1, 23-48.

Papyrus Egerton 2, fragment 2 (recto)
Papyrus Egerton 2, fragment 2 (recto)

Stanley E. Porter has further re-examined in detail the relationship of P52 to P.Egerton 2[6] Porter has offered two more early biblical papyri [P. Oxy IV 656 (fragment of Genesis) and P.Vindob. G. 2325 (apocryphal gospel, the Fayum Fragment)], as he has offered us a comprehensive examination of the history and the variety of views amongst the papyrologists for the dating of P52 and P.Egerton 2, as he presents his argument that Roberts was correct on all three points: (1) both P52 and P.Egerton 2 are close parallels, (2) they are set apart by widely separate dates, and that P52 is to be set to the earlier date. Porter points out that P.Egerton 2 is in “a less heavy hand with more formal rounded characteristics, but with what the original editors called “cursive affinities.” (p. 82) He goes on to add that “Both manuscripts were apparently written before the development of a more formal Biblical majuscule style, which began to develop in the late second and early third centuries. (p. 83) Based on this, he also notes that even though the hooked apostrophe, which is found in P.Egerton 2 is unique as far as the second century is concerned, people are misconstruing what Turner actually says: “In the first decade of iii AD this practice [of using an apostrophe between two consonants, such as double mutes or double liquids] suddenly becomes extremely common and then persists.” Porter then writes, “Note that Turner does not say that the practice does not exist before the third century AD, but that in the first decade it becomes extremely common’ and then ‘persists.’” (p 83) Porter concludes, “The result is to bring the two manuscripts together, somewhere in the middle of the second century, perhaps tending towards the early part of it.” (p 84)

[6] Porter, Stanley E. (2013) “Recent Efforts to Reconstruct Early Christianity on the Basis of Its_Papyrological Evidence” in Christian Origins and Graeco-Roman Culture, Eds Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Leiden, Brill, pp 71–84.

Stanley Porter has also challenged Nongbri’s contention that there are legitimate comparisons that can be made between P52 and documentary papyri of the later second and early third centuries. Porter notes the warning from Eric Turner, “[c]onfidence will be strongest when like is compared with like: a documentary hand with another documentary hand, skillful writing with skillful, fast writing with fast. Comparison of book hands with dated documentary hands will be less reliable, the intention of the scribe is different in the two cases.” (p 79) Based on this Porter cautions against Nongbri’s misguided view that literary texts should be compared primarily with documentary hands that have dates, disregarding the comparison of other literary texts. (p 81) Porter goes on to say, “Whereas dated manuscripts must enter into consideration and form the overall basis for much dating, I believe that it is also important to distinguish documentary from literary or semi-literary hands and attempt to use literary manuscripts for comparison with literary manuscripts.” (p 79) Porter goes on to argue that Nongbri’s submitted late second and third-century manuscripts to be compared with P52 are in many cases quite different from P52 so that they require comparison to concentrate on detailed letterforms without thought of the overall formation, trajectory, and style of the script. The final analysis is that “the result is to bring the two manuscripts together, somewhere in the middle second century, perhaps tending toward the early part of it, as a workable and serviceable date of transcription.” (p 84).

Paleographer Philip W. Comfort writes,

Many scholars (Frederic G. Kenyon, H. I. Bell, Adolf Deissmann, and W. H. P. Hatch) have confirmed the dating of P52. Deissmann was convinced that it was written at least during the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117–138) and perhaps even during the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98–117). Deissmann wrote an article on this, “Ein Evangelienblatt aus den Tagen Hadrians,” which was translated in the British Weekly.

This dating is derived from comparing P52 to manuscripts such as P. Fayum 110 (a.d. 94), the Egerton Gospel (A.D. 130–150), P. Oslo 22 (A.D. 127), P. London 2078 (reign of Domitian, A.D. 81–96), and P. Berolinenses 6845 (ca. A.D. 100). Though each of these manuscripts bears significant resemblance to P52, P. Berolinenses 6845 is the closest parallel, in Roberts’s opinion. Another manuscript shares many similarities with P52, P. Oxy. 2533. The editors of P. Oxy. 2533 said that its handwriting could be paralleled with first-century documents, but since it had the appearance of being second century, they assigned it a second-century date. Thus, both P. Oxy. 2533 and P52 can safely be dated to A.D. 100–125. However, its comparability to manuscripts of an even earlier period (especially P. Berol. 6845), pushes the date closer to A.D. 100, plus or minus a few years. This is extremely remarkable, especially if we accept the consensus dating for the composition of the Fourth Gospel: A.D. 80–85. This would mean that P52 may be only twenty years removed from the original.[7]

[7] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts: Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, 2 Volume Set The (English and Greek Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019), 337-8.

This author would disagree with the dating of the authoring of the Gospel of John to 80-85 C.E. I would place the dated at about 98 C.E.

Stanley E. Porter concludes,

The conclusion of this study and the result of its investigation is that we are essentially back where we began in 1935 with the first publication of P.Egerton 2 and P.Ryl. III 457 (P52)— two manuscripts that have figured largely in recent discussion of the reconstruction of early Christianity. Roberts concluded that P.Ryl. III 45 (P52) should be dated to the first half of the second century, a conclusion with which Turner was generally in agreement even if expressing caution. Bell and Skeat concluded that P.Egerton 2 should be dated to the mid-second century, a cautious date on their part. Even if we recognize the two clusters of dates and evidence that Bagnall has suggested (as opposed to the four noted above), the evidence seems to indicate that we are back at the beginning. And this fact remains the same even if we take into account a larger number of comparable manuscripts, weigh letter typology, and find a suitable trajectory of manuscript features. In other words, the result is to bring the two manuscripts together, somewhere in the middle second century, perhaps tending toward the early part of it, as a workable and serviceable date of transcription. With that in place, we can then begin to place other manuscripts and frame the development of early Christianity in the second century.

[1] Stanley E. Porter Recent Efforts to Reconstruct Early Christianity on the Basis of Its_Papyrological Evidence [9789004234161 – Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture]

World-Renowned Paleographers and Textual Scholars Date P52 Early

  • 100-150 C. H. Roberts
  • 100-150 Sir Frederic G. Kenyon
  • 100-150 W. Schubart
  • 100-150 Sir Harold I. Bell
  • 100-150 Adolf Deissmann
  • 100-150 E. G. Turner (cautiously)
  • 100-150 Ulrich Wilken
  • 100-150 W. H. P. Hatch
  • 100-125: Philip W. Comfort
  • 100-150 Bruce M. Metzger
  • 125-175 Kurt and Barbara Aland
  • 125-175 Pasquale Orsini
  • 125-175 Willy Clarysse
  • 170 C.E. Andreas Schmidt
  • 100-200 Daniel B. Wallace

Other More Recent Textual Scholars Date P52

  • 100-225 Brent Nongbri
  • 81–292 Don Barker
  • 200-300 Michael Gronewald

In New Testament textual studies, there are but two ways to make a name for oneself as a textual scholar. (1) The person would have to make a discovery that overwhelms the scholarly world in the extreme. (2) The person has to take a view or a position on something and then go out and find evidence that changes that view or position. Brent Nongbri seems to be trying (2) in his efforts to have his place within the history of New Testament Textual Studies. In 2120, scholars can look back at who changed the dates of the early papyri.

Daniel B. Wallace writes in the foreword of MYTHS AND MISTAKES In New Testament Textual Criticism that “The new generation of evangelical scholars is far more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty than previous generations.” (Page xii). This is certainly the case. However, this trend has been a long time coming. In the 1800s into the early 1900s, Higher Criticism (biblical Criticism) ruled the day wherein liberal to moderate Bible scholars dissected the Word of God until it became the word of man and a garbled word at that. A few positions of these scholars would be that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, Job was not a real historical person, the prophet Isaiah of the eight-century B.C.E. and Daniel the prophet of the sixth-century B.C.E. did not write the books that bear their name, Jesus did not say everything recorded that he said in his famous Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus did not say that the Pharisees were snakes and vipers in Matthew 23, it was Matthew who said these things because he hated the Jews.

The Holy Spirit_02 THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Then, in the middle of the twentieth century, we from literal Bible translations (what God said by way of his human authors) and entered into the era of interpretive translations (i.e., dynamic or formal equivalent), wherein the translators give the reader what they think the authors meant by their words. The last few decades textual scholars have refocused their objectives and goals from attempting to ascertain the original words of the original text to getting back to the earliest text possible. More recently, there his been a concerted effort to reset the dates of our earliest manuscripts to later dates.

Philip W. Comfort is one of few who has actually examined and published major works in which he has examined the entire range of early New Testament manuscripts, and he is constantly under attack by the new wave of textual scholars that favor ambiguity and uncertainty and are seeking to redate our early papyrus manuscripts to later dates. If they can undermine the credibility of this one man who is standing in their way; then, they will control the narrative.

One thing I loved/love about the late Norman L. Geisler (as an apologist, not a textual scholar) was/is that he did not worry about what man thought, his first concern as always what God thought about him. John Macarthur (as a theologian and an apologist, not a textual scholar) comes from the same mindset. This author believes that New Testament textual criticism, formerly constructive, has joined higher criticism (biblical criticism), as well as interpretive translation movement, and now has become destructive. If any conservative, evangelical textual scholar wants to maintain New Testament textual criticism that is constructive, do not hesitate to contact Christian Publishing House at support@christianpublishers.org or call Edward D. Andrews at 866-580-6125, ext. #1.

COVER IMAGE: Hugh Houghton: Professor of New Testament Textual Scholarship and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing.

Some info from Wikipedia

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