A while back I wrote a letter to the editor of a local free newspaper, responding to a letter by another reader who claimed that the Bible was written in the time of Constantine. The author of this initial letter has now responded once again, asking where the manuscripts are from before the time of Constantine.
Although I can hear gasps of disbelief (and perhaps a few guffaws of laughter) from historians and Biblical scholars, I think it is important to answer such claims clearly, and I wish to do so here.
We have several manuscripts that are earlier than the start of the fourth century, and some seem to be quite a bit earlier.
Where are the manuscripts? P52, a small fragment of the Gospel of John, is in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. It is from before the middle of the second century. P66 is usually dated around the year 200. P72 and P75 are also before the time of Constantine. All of the last three papyrii are at the Bodmer Library in Geneva, Switzerland. The Chester Beatty papyrii, P45, P46 and P47, are (with the exception of small fragments) in the Chester Beatty collection in Dublin, and they are from the third century.
For those curious about methods of dating, most of our earliest manuscripts are dated using paleography. Anyone who has ever read a letter from their grandparents’ time will be aware that handwriting styles change over time, and thus the writings style itself can provide a good indication of the time period in which something was written.
The fact that we have early manuscripts demonstrates nothing about the historical factuality of their contents. For that, historical criticism is required. But it is precisely that approach that Corya seems to wish to bypass by making outlandish claims about textual criticism.