The Papyrus Rylands Greek 475 also known as p52. is a fragment of the Gospel of John that dates from around AD 135. Fascinating. It is an important fragment. p52 is the earliest known New Testament manuscript. It measures 3.5″ x 2.5″, and contains lines from the Gospel of John 18:31-33 on the front and John 18:37-38 on the back. You might ask why this is important.
We have no original documents. The original gospel that John wrote is not extant (that means we don’t have it, it is apparently lost). The Rylands fragment is one of the earliest copies of the NT that we have and even though it only contains a small portion of the full gospel it tells us at least one important thing: the Gospel of John was written in the first century. This fragment is a papyrus fragment that was discovered in Egypt. We believe that John wrote the gospel from Ephesus. In order for the gospel to make its way as far as Egypt you have to allow for several decades of copying and circulation.
It is believed by most (I actually lean toward an earlier date) that the gospel was written by the apostle John in the late first century. Irenaeus is an important reason we think that the apostle was the writer (liberal scholarship wants to say that the gospel was written by someone other than the apostle John). Ireneaus was mentored by a man named Polycarp who was personally with John as his disciple. He is only one step removed from the apostle. Here is what Ireneus says:
“John himself, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned back on Jesus’ chest – he, too, published the Gospel while he was staying at Ephesus in Asia” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)
“I can remember the events of that time…so that I am able to describe the very place where the blessed Polycarp sat…and the accounts he gave of his conversation with John and with others who had seen the Lord” (Irenaeus as quoted by Eusebius, Church History 5.20.5-6) both quotes cited by Robert H. Gundry in A Survey of the New Testament p. 256.
That last quote actually sent shivers up my spine, imagine sitting with people so directly connected with the eyewitnesses of Jesus! Tomorrow we begin our study of the Gospel – don’t miss this great book!