Popular thinking has it that the Bible is unreliable and the manuscripts differ widely. It is often thought that the manuscripts contain large amounts of copying errors. But a tiny fragment found in Egypt, challenges this view. In John Rylands Library, Manchester UK, there is the oldest fragment of the New Testament to date. This fragment was acquired in Egypt in 1920. In 1934 the text was translated into English and it was found to be a fragment of the Gospel of John. This manuscript fragment is known as ‘P52’ and contains the words of Jesus and the words of Pontius Pilate. Some claim the fragment dates to 125 – 150 AD, others think an earlier date of writing is possible.
I visit and view P52 often. It is about 9 cm and written in Greek and is at present on public view. There are few greater pleasures for me than to view this fragment. Often after a long day of voluntary Theological research, it brings my focus back to the Biblical text. For me, it is a breath of fresh air, that during an age of modern critical scholarship and its heavy denial of Biblical texts, we have a great testimony in direct contrast to many critical claims of modern textual scholars.
In contrast to many modern scholars who deny the authenticity and early composition dates of the Gospels, P52 stands as a testimony against the claims that the New Testament accounts were written much later than they actually were. When I see this fragment as I do on a regular basis, its surviving words never cease to amaze me as it could for all who trust in Jesus Christ. These words are a pure testimony to the reality of the absolute identity of Jesus Christ, son of God, who was and is, and is to come, “the Truth”. Not truth, but ‘The Truth’.
The Greek fragment, of John 18: 31-33, on the recto reads as follows;
“the Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill
anyone,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he
spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to
to die. Entered therefore again into the Praeto-
rium Pilate and summoned Jesus
and he said to him, “Thou art king of the
The Greek fragment of John 18: 37-38, on the verso reads as follows,
“a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would
testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth
hears of me my voice.” Said to him
Pilate, “What is truth?” and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, “I find not one
fault in him.”
Is it not amazing that the oldest fragment in the world of the New Testament, dated possibly earlier than 100 AD and no later than 150 AD, speaks of such a great testimony to the word of God. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24: 35.