“The importance of this fragment is quite out of proportion to its size, since it may with some confidence be dated in the first half of the second century A.D., and thus ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language.
It provides us with invaluable evidence of the spread of Christianity in areas distant from the land of its origin; it is particularly interesting to know that among the books read by the early Christians in Upper Egypt was St John’s Gospel, commonly regarded as one of the latest of the books of the New Testament.”
How do we know the New Testament documents are historically reliable? Generally there are 3 tests for determining valid historiography and trustworthiness of a document:
- Internal test: asks whether the document itself claims to have been written by eyewitnesses who have very little to gain and much to lose by lying.
- External test: asks whether material, including archeological evidences and other historiography, which are external to the document either confirms/disconfirms the reliability of the document.
- Biographical test: looks at the variety of copies and seeks to determine how far removed in time they are from the original documents.
There are approximately 5,300 copies of Greek manuscripts dating from early 2nd century to the 16th century. Approx. 8,000 manuscript copies of the Latin Vulgate (translation done by Jerome, 382-405 CE) exist and more than 350 copies of the Syriac (Aramaic) New Testament dating circa 400s are available for scrutiny. Virtually the entire New Testament could be reconstructed from quotations in the early Church Father’s writings (ca. 150 CE – 400 CE). (See also the fine article by Dan Wallace on some of the latest findings and research here.) Consider the following historical records of some ancient texts compared to the Four Gospels of the New Testament.