The study of the Bible has received a fresh stimulus through the recent discovery of a group of manuscripts older than any (except some very small fragments) that were previously known. These manuscripts are all in Greek, written on papyrus, the normal writing material of the Roman Empire until it was superseded by vellum in the fourth century. They were found three or four years ago in Egypt by natives, and were eventually acquired by Mr. A. Chester Beatty, the well-known collector of illuminated manuscripts.
Century Older Than Codex Sinaiticus
Hitherto the earliest substantial manuscripts of the Greek Bible were the two great vellum codices known as the Vatican and, the Sinaitic, both probably written in the fourth century. Earlier than these were only a few fragments of papyrus, too small to be of much importance. The age of the Chester Beatty papyri can be judged only from their handwriting, but there is general agreement among the experts who have seen them in assigning most of them (including all the New Testament books) to the third century, while the MS. of Numbers and Deuteronomy seems certainly to be as old as the second century. Therefore it may be broadly said that this discovery carries back our evidence for the text of the Bible by a hundred years or more.
Value of the New Discovery
The question which will naturally be asked, and which affects not only professional Biblical students but all those who read and cherish the Bible, is, What is the bearing of all this new and very early evidence on the authenticity and integrity of our text of the Bible, and especially of the Gospels, which are the foundations of Christianity? The answer to this question is definitely reassuring. The new manuscript, written less than two hundred years after the dates at which the Gospels were originally composed, has in all essential respects the same text as that which we have previously known. There are no important omissions, no important additions, and no variations which in any respect affect doctrine. The evidence for the Gospel text is now carried back by a century, and we may rest assured, by earlier and far more plentiful evidence than exists in the case of any other work of ancient literature, that we have in all essentials the authentic text of our sacred books.—Sir Frederic Kenyon.