Textual Evidence

Clark on
The Papyri

Excerpt from: Kenneth Willis Clark, The Text of the Gospel of John in Third-Century Egypt,
Novum Testamentum, Vol. 5, Fasc. 1. (Jan., 1962), pp. 17-24.

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Last Updated: Mar 2, 2010

Clark on the Papyri
    Introduction - False Methodology and Evaluation of Papyri
    Priority of Papyri - and Re-assessment of Aleph/B Called for

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Clark on the Papyri


Taken from:
Kenneth Willis Clark, The Text of the Gospel of John in Third-Century Egypt,

Novum Testamentum, Vol. 5, Fasc. 1. (Jan., 1962), pp. 17-24.

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Gospel of John in 3rd Cent. Egypt

"The situation, however, has been significantly altered by the recent discoveries, with respect to the text of the Gospel of John. Since we now have two well preserved witnesses in the Bodmer manuscripts ( P 66 and P 75 ) whose texts largely overlap through the first fourteen chapters of the book, it is now possible to consult two Egyptian Christian scribes for their extensive textual witness in the third century.

It would be premature to estimate the ultimate effect upon our critical text, and yet it is immediately clear that there must be a radical revision of textual method. For almost a century, since the researches of Tischendorf, and Westcott & Hort,it has been the habit of textual critics to evaluate any newly discovered manuscript in terms of the fourth-century codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. When the Beatty manuscripts were discovered thirty years ago this traditional method was [still] applied, despite the fact that the new witnesses were a century earlier than the standard employed.

Other third-century fragments have been evaluated in the same customary manner, and consequently have been described as a textual "mixture" of recensions that belong to the fourth century. Surely this traditional method wrongly inverts the chronology of textual development, and leads to meaningless scholastic description, and obstructs the way to clear and constructive conclusion.

New Approach and Evaluation of
All MS Evidence is Required

Now with the comparative testimony of two third-century texts of the Gospel of John ( P 66 and P 75 ) we are released from this false inversion, and are now required to analyze the third-century testimony for itself. It follows from this that the highly regarded 4th-century codices which we have long known must themselves be subjected to a fresh evaluation in terms of the new third-century witnesses which we now have at hand. Therefore our method and our mental habit must henceforth be radically revised.

The reputation of the Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were attained in an earlier century when they were the newest acquisitions and the earliest copies. At that time it was not possible to judge them on the basis of earlier witnesses.

Today the third-century papyri of Beatty and Bodmer (P 45, 46, 47, 66, 75) are themselves the newest acquisitions and the earliest copies. It is these papyrus witnesses, so extensive and substantial, which must be studied and evaluated in order to form an independent judgment of their character - not in terms of codices still to be written a century later, but rather in terms of the primitive and explicit witness which they themselves record. This is the first requirement in our method and research.

Only when such an analysis shall have been completed shall we be in a position to re-examine the status of the 4th-century codices, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

To study the manuscripts in correct historical sequence is much more likely to reveal their true textual history and to yield the true autograph of the Greek text.

Therefore, our attention should now be directed to the textual character of the two Bodmer copies of the Gospel of John (P 45, 46, 47, 66, 75).


In order to free the mind from the usual textual standard which is represented in the fourth-century codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, we shall consider the testimony on an eclectic and rational basis in terms of literary criticism (i.e. internal evidence).

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