THE P52 PROJECT: Is P52 Really the Earliest Greek New Testament Manuscript?

From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts

What are the churchgoers, the Bible college students, and seminary students to do when one Bible scholar says one thing and another Bible scholar says something quite different, or worse still, as is the case with P52, several Bible scholars are saying different dates for the time when the Greek New Testament fragment P52 was written? P = Papyrus (a plant in  Egypt),[1] the material that was used to make sheets of papyrus paper that were written on by scribes to make copies of Bible books. 52 = the number assigned to that discovered manuscript.  What makes it even more unnerving is when one is not an expert in the field of study, only having basic knowledge. How can they possibly know who is correct? Worse still, the Christian is put in the embarrassing position on social media of telling an atheist that P52 is dated to 100-150 C.E., and then the atheist responds to the Christian with, ‘no your evidence from 1935 is outdated, as recent research points to a date of 200 C.E. or later.’ What is the Christian to do? What will be accomplished here in THE P52 PROJECT can be used at other times when the Christian is faced with two scholars or more offering conflicting conclusions. We are going to use the common sense that God gave us and weigh the evidence from both sides. We are going to treat THE P52 PROJECT like a criminal trial with P52 being on trial.

What the churchgoer, serious Bible students, and seminary students, and hopefully all Christians will learn in this short publication concerning P52 will help them in their approach when Bible scholars are offering conflicting information on other issues as well. The tiny Greek New Testament manuscript, P52, is an extremely useful, indispensable artifact of early Christianity. Andrews has made every effort to make this subject easier to understand. THE P52 PROJECT is too important to leave it in the hands of textual scholars, paleographers, and papyrologists.

This appears to be more postmodern skeptical thinking by some of the modern-day textual scholars that are driving or motivating the investigation into redating P52. Here we get a lot of motivation behind why it is supposedly acceptable for ambiguous and uncertain paleographers and papyrologists to redated P52. First, let me offer my brief observation that I believe is simply a pattern of behavior that has been going on for more than 150 years. I believe many modern-day Christian textual scholars have gone the way of …

  • Hermeneutics and higher criticism in (subjective interpretation by the historical-critical method [personal feelings] over the objective interpretation grammatical-historical method [facts]), 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 skeptical, ambiguous, and uncertain as possible over seeking a position, qualifying anything that may be ambiguous or uncertain.

P52 has been on trial for some time now. The new papyrologists, paleographers, and textual scholars have served as the prosecutor, seeking to convict P52 of being dated later than the initial dating of 100-150 C.E., and the papyrologists,[2] paleographers,[3] and textual scholars[4] of old as well as some current ones have served as the defense attorney. In many cases, the new scholarship has set standards of proof for dating P52 and other early papyri that far exceeds what is reasonable and rational. Since we are going to play out this quest for dating P52 as a though it was a court trial, it should be noted that there are three primary standards of proof: (1) proof beyond a reasonable doubt, (2) a preponderance of the evidence and (3) clear and convincing evidence. Since we are playing this out like a mock trial, we have an opening statement before delving into the dating of and redating and redating yet again of P52. An opening statement is generally the first occasion that the trier of fact has to hear from a lawyer in a trial. The opening statement is generally constructed to serve as a “road map” for the factfinder. Here it is a measure taken to help the jury of readers to find the ability to look at the evidence objectively. Below we will use legal terms to define better how we should objectively view Bible evidence.

Legal Terms as to How We Should Objectively View Textual Evidence

The burden of Proof: The burden of proof falls on the one making the claims. If the textual scholar is claiming that P52 needs to be dated later, he has the responsibility to prove what he says is true, if he is asked for proof. This proof needs to outweigh the evidence presented for the initial dating and other evidence for the early dating established since. I believe that the legal burden of proof offers the best answers to the issue at hand. Even with circumstantial evidence alone, a criminal can be convicted of capital murder, and receive the death penalty. Below we will list the levels of legal proof and some percentage and wording to indicate the degree of certainty it carries.

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

Warrants Further Investigation

Reasonable (30%): This is a low-level burden of proof in that it is enough to accept something as reasonably likely, being so unless proven otherwise by a more in-depth look, which may bring in more evidence. For example, at this level, it is reasonably likely that P52 dates to 100-150 C.E.

Probable (40%): This is also a low-level burden of proof in that it is enough to accept something as likely being so unless proven otherwise by a more in-depth look, which may bring in more evidence. At this level, it is likely to be so that P52 dates to 100-150 C.E.

Conviction for Claim

The preponderance of Evidence (51%): This is a higher-level burden of proof that makes it more likely to be true than not true that P52 dates to 100-150 C.E.

Clear and Convincing Evidence (85%): This is an even higher level of burden of proof that P52 dates to 100-150 C.E., substantially far more likely than not.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt (99%): This is the highest level of burden of proof that P52 dates to 100-150 C.E., being beyond a reasonable doubt. It must be understood that feeling as though we have no reason to doubt is not the same as 100 percent absolute evidence of certainty. If one has doubts that affect their belief of certainty, it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. This, too, must be qualified. It is reasonable to have doubts about certain aspects of the whole, as they may not have all the answers as of yet. However, it does not affect the level of certainty as a whole.

We should also take note that Unrealistic expectations are unhelpful expectations. When we set aside reasonable, rational, acceptable expectations with unrealistic, unreasonable, irrational expectations, we have now heaped doubt on the Christian community.

Why should every Christian buy THE P52 PROJECT book? There is a course of action in the dating and redating of the earliest Greek New Testament papyri that will lead inevitably from one action or result to the unintended consequence of undermining the actual trustworthiness of the New Testament. Christians need to be able to defend against this trend. Much effort was put into THE P52 PROJECT book so that we could understand it and the issues at hand. If ever you have share one of our articles on social media, please let it be this one.

The P52 PROJECT The P52 PROJECT The P52 PROJECT

[1] Papyrus, Papyri: named for the Egyptian plant from which it is made, in the proper climate this is a very durable writing material that was made by bonding vertical strips of the papyrus pith to horizontal strips. Writing could easily be done on the side with the horizontal strips, and with some difficulty on the other side (called an “opisthograph” when written on both sides). The oldest manuscripts of the NT were written on papyrus; some of them are as early as the second century.

[2] Papyrology is the study of ancient literature, correspondence, legal archives, etc., as preserved in manuscripts written on papyrus, the most common form of writing material in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. A papyrologist is also a textual scholar. But not all textual scholars are papyrologists.

[3] Palaeography or paleography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria. A paleographer is also a textual scholar. But not all textual scholars are paleographers.

[4] Textual Critic (Scholar): a scholar whose goal is to reconstruct from extant manuscripts either the autograph or the initial text of the NT from which all existing copies originated. The methodology is the same in either case. The critic uses mental, and computer-based toolsets to decide between variant readings among the manuscripts. There are different schools of thought, which tend to prefer either the early manuscripts with more difficult readings or the later manuscripts exhibiting what has been called the Majority Text.

Textual Criticism: the art and science (some would say only art) of determining the original text from variant readings exhibited by extant manuscripts. At present, a good deal of scientific methodology seems to be used as statistics, and computer processing is heavily employed. At the same time, however, TC is also faith-based (at least among conservative theologians), and the results are arguably impossible to verify. Faith plays a role in the belief by many that God has preserved His word somewhere among extant Greek manuscripts, which makes conjectural emendation unnecessary and unacceptable. As to verification, logic and the genealogical relationships between texts than can be constructed are often very convincing, but sometimes a decision is somewhat tenuous. Some critics would claim that no decision can really be verified, but many theories are accepted today without physical verification, on the strength of reasonable probability.

The P52 PROJECT The P52 PROJECT The P52 PROJECT

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