“There is no second-century manuscript evidence.” —Helmut Koester
When it comes to the transmission of the New Testament text, the second century has been long recognized as a critical time period. And it is not hard to see why. If the New Testament books were written (more or less) in the first-century, then the extant manuscripts that get us closest to that time period will inevitably take on a level of significance.
The second century is also significant because of modern scholarly claims that it was precisely this period when the most serious textual corruptions were likely to have occurred, suggesting the earliest phases of transmission were marked by “textual chaos.”
So, do we have any manuscripts that possibly go back to this important century? Some scholars say no. As the above quote by Helmut Koester indicates, many see the second century as unreachable. Or, as J.K. Elliott has argued, “The second century is something of a dark age as far as the history of the New Testament text is concerned.”
And much of this skepticism has to do with the dating of manuscripts. In recent years there has been a push to reconsider the dates of our earliest NT papyri, pushing the dates of these manuscripts later and later.
Of course we cannot resolve these debates over dating here. And a number of scholars remain unconvinced that the traditional dates given to these manuscripts are so unreliable. But even with this recent push to re-date manuscripts, there are still a number that could be reasonably dated to the second century.
I might suggest that a reasonable way to proceed is to include manuscripts which have been given a possible second-century date either by (a) the original editors, or (b) the Nestle-Aland 28/Institut für Neuetestamentliche Textforschung (https://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/liste).
When we consider both sources, we end up with twelve manuscripts possibly from the second century: [Read more…]