Textual Criticism - Lesson 13

Some Famous Papyri Manuscripts (Part 1)

This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 13
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Some Famous Papyri Manuscripts (Part 1)


A. Almost all discovered after 19th century

B. 127 total so far [published], all fragmentary, containing half the NT

C. 2nd – 8th century

D. Those within c. 125 years of NT contain 43%+ of NT

E. Confirm superiority of Alexandrian text (no early Byzantine papyri)


A. F.C. Baur (dated John 160 A.D.)

B. C.H. Roberts (1934)

1. Codex fragment of John 18

2. AD 100 – 150 [could be earlier]

3. Earliest manuscript written as a codex

4. Basically Alexandrian


A. Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland

B. Purchase of MSS in Egypt

C. 30 leaves of P46 at University of Michigan

D. Published in 1930’s


A. 3rd century

B. Gospels of Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Acts (Western order)

C. Oldest MS of Mark’s Gospel

D. 30 leaves of an original A.D. 112

E. Text is a bit puzzling


A. 3rd century

B. Revelation

C. Oldest MS of Revelation

D. Ten leaves

E. Excellent text


A. AD 200

B. Paul’s letters + Hebrews

C. Oldest MS of Paul

D. 86 leaves of an original 104

E. Single quire

F. 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Pastorals missing

G. Ephesians 1.1

  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



1. Papyri (Part 1)

Introduction: In this lecture, we are going to look at some famous manuscripts which used Papyri. These manuscripts were written on Papyrus and this is how they are defined while other manuscripts are not defined by the kind of material they were written on. These others were defined by the letters that were used or the kind of genre they are. Almost all of our New Testament Papyri manuscripts were discovered after the 20th century began. Westcott and Hort, two scholars who came up with a new view of the text in 1881 which was immediately considered a classic that influenced scholars throughout the world really had access to one Papyrus. They didn’t factor in regards to how they thought about the text. To date, one hundred and twenty-seven New Testament Papyri have been cataloged. Every single one of them is fragmentary. We don’t have a complete text of whatever that Papyrus was intended to cover. None of them were intended to cover the whole New Testament. We do have some that seemed to have been all four Gospels and Acts. Probably the closest we have to a complete Papyrus is P46 which has nine of Paul’s letters in it. And yet, even there, we are missing some of the material. Altogether, the Papyri contain about half of the New Testament. They date from the 2nd century, from within a hundred years of when the New Testament was completed and goes through to the 8th century at the latest. Now, within a hundred and twenty-five years of the completion of the New Testament, the Papyri that we have today that go back to that time period and cover more than forty-three percent of the New Testament. So, all of the Papyri through to the 8th-century cover about half of the New Testament. But we cover almost half within a hundred and twenty-five years. Their importance has to do especially with their date because they are actually the earliest witnesses much of the time, more than half of them are written from the 4th century or before. They become the earliest witnesses to the text of the New Testament and in that respect, they are extraordinary helpful for us to think about other manuscripts that deviate from them or agree with them. We have manuscripts from different locations that agree with these early Papyri which tell us probably that was a text that circulated much earlier than the witnesses that may well go back to the original. They generally confirm the superiority of the Alexandrian texts.

It is important to note, not all of our Papyri are Alexandrian. There are some we called mixed texts, some people would call them Cesarean, most likely not exactly Cesarean though. There are some that are most likely Western manuscripts. What is interesting though, we don’t have any Papyri or at least any of the early Papyri that we would be called Byzantine. Only very late and perhaps only two of these manuscripts could we say is a Byzantine Papyrus; only the very late ones. So, it isn’t right to say, Oh look, this is the text that Egypt produced, which comes from the line of the Pharaohs and so they must be evil manuscripts. We don’t have just the Alexandrian texts, but the Western and even the so-called Cesarean texts seem to have been from that region. We also have Byzantine manuscripts at Saint Catharine’s Monetary in Egypt. There may be only one or two Papyri texts.

a. John Ryland’s Papyrus: P52:

F C Bower: We will look at three groups of manuscripts: the John Ryland’s Papyrus. Note that Papyrus is singular whereas Papyri are plural. The John Ryland’s Papyrus is known as P52. There is also the Chester Beatty Papyri: P45, P46, and P47. And then the Bodmer Papyri: P66 and P75. These Papyri are
numbered in order of their publication which comes very close to the order of their discovery. So P52 which was published in 1935 was the 52nd Papyrus of the New Testament that was discovered. Ninety years before P52 was discovered in the year 1844 in the Tubingen Year Book, F C Bower, who was a
scholar and professor at the University of Tubingen in Southern Germany, wrote an article in which he basically adopted a Hegelian Dialectic and thus argued and applied this to the New Testament. This was a philosophy that was developed by one of Bower’s professors, a professor Hegel. We know this
philosophy by different words such as the words thesis, antithesis and synthesis. This is the approach that Bower took for the New Testament. His thesis was this: you have Petrine Christianity, a very Jewish form of Christianity and then you have Pauline Christianity which allowed gentiles to come in without
having to be circumcised. Then there is an amalgamation of the two which we see in the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John. So by applying his Hegelian Dialectic, he says that the Gospel of John could not possible have been published before AD 160. Most people would not think that John could have lived that long. But Bower’s hypothesis is that AD 170 was around the time that John’s Gospel was published. That is the thesis that was driving so much of European scholarship. There was ninety years of skepticism. Scholars, all over Europe, were saying because John’s Gospel was published so late, therefore had no historical reliability.

C H Roberts: Then in 1934, ninety years after Bower published this article, Colin H Roberts, a fellow at Oxford University, a professor. In the UK system, there is only one professor in each department. He was at the John Ryland’s Library of Manchester University. He was working through some Papyri that a
colleague before him had begun to edit, which had been discovered in 1920 and just deposited at the library. So he was going through these Papyri and comes across this fragment that was 3.5 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide. He notices on one side there was text and he flips it over on the backside where
text was written on it as well. So, this was either an epistograph or a codex. And if it was a codex, it was probably Christian because he knew that a codex was something the Christians had adopted earlier on where non-Christians did not. As he deciphered the text, he discovered that it was John 18:31-33 on the front side that then John 18:37-38 on the backside. If it had been an epistograph, you could have had anything on the back, even in another book. This was the text of John, P52 on both sides. So it reads, ‘the Jews for us, it is not permitted to kill’, and then ‘that the Word of Jesus might be fulfilled which he
spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to die. And he summoned Jesus and said to him, are you the king of the Jews? A king, I am, for this I have been born and for this.’ The words for this aren’t in this manuscript. The line above says, ‘for this, I have been born and for this, I have come into the world.’
This is a place of haplography where he wrote once what he should have written twice. He should have written for this two times exactly the same words in Greek. He wrote it the first time and skipped it the second time. So this manuscript shows this typical kind of error. And a part from some minor spelling
errors, this is the only difference that P52 has from our standard Greek text which we believe goes back to the original. ‘For this, I have come into the world so that I would testify to the truth, everyone who is of the truth hears my voice. Said to him, Pilate, what is truth? And this after saying again, he went out unto the Jews and said I find not one fault in him.’ I think this is a fascinating text that it is on this, what is truth, on the very text that F C Bowers of University of Tubingen said wasn’t true.

P52: Well, C H Roberts sent photographs of this Papyrus to three leading papyrologists of Europe in 1934 and each independently dated this manuscript between the years AD 100 and AD150. When P52 was written, the ink of John’s Gospel was barely dry. He published this a year later as an unpublished
fragment of the 4th Gospel and it became John Ryland’s Papyrus number 457 and it hangs in a beautiful frame in the library of Manchester University. Scholars have come to the conclusion about these early Papyri that we can’t really predict a date of a Papyrus closer than about fifty years. That might be the span of time that a scribe might be coping out a text. So his handwriting wouldn’t change over a fifty-year period. But we can certainly date it to about that range saying most likely it is 100-150 AD. The way these things are dated, scholars look at other manuscripts that actually have dates on them. Somebody might say that I’m writing this in the 3 rd year of Augustus Caesar. We can date that as we know when that happened. You have some dated manuscripts which Roberts compared this to. He was doing this back in the 30’s when papyrology was an infant kind of discipline. To this day, nobody has been able to refute what he said. He ended up being an incredible papyrologist. The closest parallel he discovered of any dated manuscript was Papyrus Fayum 110 in AD 94. That was the closest parallel in terms of the letter formation and other things that you are looking for. The second closest one was Papyrus Oslo 22, dated 127 AD. To say this is 100-150 AD was a conservative estimate, which may well have been earlier. Some scholars would simply say that P52 is dated to 125 AD. You can’t be that precise. In 2005, a scholar by the name of Brent Nongbri wrote in the Harvard Theological Review and article called the use and abuse of P52. He said that he wasn’t sure that it could be dated that early because he said that some of these letters were found in later manuscripts. So, he dated it to the late 2nd maybe early 3rd century saying that we really couldn’t use it for apologetic purposes; therefore, we have no idea when John’s Gospel was written. His parallels were only partial, not nearly as good as Robert’s parallels where he found many letters that were written earlier.

So, I think what you have is this one fragment of Papyrus, P52, that sent two tons of European scholarship to the flames. And this reminds of a line that William Lane had on his desk, a Great New Testament professor had this motto: ‘an ounce of evidence is worth a pound of presumption.’ Power had two tons of presumption and Roberts had on ounce of evidence that destroyed it. This is the significance of P52. There are some other things that are significant also such as being our earliest codex! It is the earliest manuscript we have that was written as a codex and it really strongly suggests that Christians adopted that form almost immediately. If this is a late 1st-century manuscript, Christians used this very quickly, shortly after the Book of Revelation would have been written. The full-sized page would have been about 21 x 20 cm or 8.25 inches x 8 inches. The whole Gospel of John would presumably comprise of the contents with the text being basically Alexandrian. This is evidence that even the unprofessional scribes were not making intentional changes. It confirms that what we see in the text today, they were being fairly carefully back then.

b. Chester Beatty Papyri: P45, P46, and P47

Introduction: Chester Beatty was an American collector. He was a copper miner who made a lot of money. Later, he became a collector of books on world religions. He made a number of purchases of manuscripts in Cairo which are housed at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. This place is part of the Dublin castle, a remarkable place. Thirty leaves of P46, Paul’s letters are at the University of Michigan. All of these volumes were published in 1930’s by the curator of Western Manuscripts at the British Library Sir Fredrick Kenyan.

P45: So, P45 is a manuscript from the 3rd century. It has the Gospels and Acts and it is not that the Gospels were in the wrong order; this is the order that this manuscript has them in, Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. It is known as the Western order where you put the Apostles first and then Luke and Mark followed by Acts. It is the oldest manuscript of Mark’s Gospel; the only one of the 3rd century. It only has thirty leaves of the original one hundred and twelve leaves. The text is a bit puzzling, a kind of improved style of the Alexandrian; some call it proto-Cesarean, though this is probably not correct. It is a good text, but not a perfect text. The scribe seemed as if he was taking some liberties for a variety of reasons. It is an extremely important text because it is early having enough material to study and consider it closely.

P47: P47 is another one of these Chester Beatty Papyri, dated to the 3rd century. It only has the Book of Revelation in it. It is the oldest manuscript of Revelation with only ten leaves, but it is an excellent text, one of the most important manuscripts of the Apocalypse. Even though it doesn’t have very much of the book, it is the oldest text of Revelation, being the third most important manuscript we have on the Book of Revelation in helping us understand what the original text says.

P46: Now P46 is the prize of these three manuscripts dated to about AD 200 right between the 2nd and 3rd century. It has Paul’s letters and Hebrews. Why would it have Hebrews? Hebrews was always included with Paul’s letters in manuscripts. This was because people thought Paul wrote Hebrews and so the scribes just had this tradition always of included Hebrews with Paul’s letters. This is our oldest manuscript today of Paul’s letters. I have held all of these leaves in my hands of P45, P46, and P47. I spent time in Dublin examining them in a private room with one of the librarians. Talking about having Christmas morning over and over again; every one of them are under two plates of glass and they were easy to read. The Greek was still very clear because the early Papyri used a carbon-based ink that is still black; later parchment manuscripts used iron gal that turns rusty. So the Papyri are actually the easiest to read than later parchment manuscripts.

We have eight six leaves of the original one hundred and four, which is a very significant number and this was a single quire manuscript. You have these one hundred and four leaves or basically fifty-two bi-folio pages laid down and folded, single quire. They had to trim the outside edges so that it would be flush on the outside and then as you get to the inside pages, they became more narrow. The manuscript lacks 2nd Thessalonians and we know where it would go so there is no doubt that the manuscript had it. But neither did it have Philemon or the pastorals. One of the interesting things that we know that at the end of this document, there would have been at least seven more leaves that we don’t have. We know this because of how the manuscript was numbered in this manuscript. We can see part of a leaf where we have page one in the front; basically what we have, it starts at Romans chapter 5 at the very first leaf and it is numbered. At the end it would have had another seven leaves. Some think that those seven pages would have been blank while others think that Philemon would have gone there, but nobody thinks that the Pastoral Epistles, 1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus would have gone there. There would not have been enough room for them to go there for the pastorals would have taken ten leaves. There have been issues on how to deal with this as to what to do with this manuscript. Did the scribe know about the Pastoral Epistles? What is also interesting, the scribe begins to shrink his letters per line as he approaches the end. So, there is quite a lot of material in the last two pages than he has in the first two pages. It seems as if this scribe knew that he had made a mistake and realized that he didn’t make enough room for the Pastoral Epistles. So, I suspect that he may have put the Pastoral Epistles in a different document that we don’t have. It is fun to speculate on these things, but scholars take these things very seriously. But to say that he didn’t know about the Pastoral Epistles or didn’t think they were authentic, I think is a fairly weak argument because all of the testimonies show that Paul wrote the Pastoral Letters. We have scholars today saying that Paul didn’t write them! But you don’t have any of the church fathers saying that. There is a universal testimony going back to the earliest times saying that Paul wrote these letters.

We have a leaf from Ephesians chapter 1 and what is interesting about this leaf, it acknowledges Paul as an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God and then it says, ‘to the saints who are’ and ‘are faithful in Christ Jesus’. For most translations, the passage reads, ‘to the saints who are in Ephesus’ and ‘are faithful’. This leaf doesn’t have those two words, in Ephesus. This manuscript and Codex B Vaticanus say ‘to the saints who are’ and ‘are faithful.’ How do we explain this? We know that Ephesians was a circular letter, not sent just to one church. It was sent to all of the churches in Asia Minor. We don’t see any personal comments about the people there. Paul seems to be writing something that he may or may not know the churches. Almost all scholars would say that this was meant for a broad group. So, in Ephesus, makes it too particular, but the omission makes no sense. So, which is correct, are either one of them right, or are both of them correct? If you look at Colossians chapter 4, verse 16. Colossians was a book that Paul wrote along with Ephesians, sending it out at the same time. Paul says have the letter that was sent to Laodicea read here and have your letter read in Laodicea. We may or may not have that letter to the Laodiceans anymore. Marsiyon talks about the letter to the Laodiceans and what he means by it is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. From Rome where Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians, if you get into Asia Minor, your port of entry was Ephesus, being the major town. And if you go counter-clockwise along these churches that Paul would have written to, Laodicea is between Ephesus and Colossi. If Ephesians was meant to be a circular letter, then Paul is probably telling the Ephesians to personalize the letter so the congregation will know that he is writing to them as well. So put in the words, ‘in Ephesus’ and then he says to Tychicus, when he takes the letter to Laodicea tell them to put in the words ‘in Laodicea.’

So, as this letter goes around to the churches, they were supposed to enter their address in it to make it a personalized letter. So, I take it that in Ephesus and blank are both authentic. This is the only place where I would say that we have a reading in the New Testament manuscripts where it is a reader response inspired reading. It was what the reader was supposed to enter into the text that makes it what the inspired text is. In other words, ‘in Ephesus’ is correct and then a blank for other churches is also correct. Our two earliest and most important manuscripts for Ephesians 1:1 lacks any location but the remaining ones have it.