The three fragments of papyrus have been hidden away for a hundred years in an Oxford University library. But a German scholar has uncovered startling new evidence that these tiny scraps of Scripture were authored by the contemporaries of Christ—contemporaries who had firsthand evidence that Jesus was the Son of God.
The scraps contain lines from the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew. They describe a woman anointing Jesus and Judas’s betrayal of Christ. The fragments were donated to Oxford’s Magdalen College library in 1901 by a missionary alumnus who brought them from Egypt.
And there they sat for nearly a century, until a German researcher named Carsten Thiede decided to take a closer look at them last year.
Earlier scholars believed the papyrus was written in the second century. But advances in research on Greek texts enabled Dr. Thiede to come to a different—and more accurate— conclusion. Dr. Thiede realized that the fragments were written in a Greek script that was common in the first century B.C. but went out of fashion around the middle of the first century. He concluded that the Magdalen manuscript was actually written in about A.D. 50—a mere 17 years after the crucifixion of Christ.
But the Oxford manuscript is itself a copy, which means the original Matthew Gospel must have been written even earlier.
Dr. Paul Achtemeier, a theology professor at Union Theological Seminary, says that if Dr. Thiede’s findings hold up, it means that the Gospel of Mark, which predates the Matthew Gospel, was written as early as A.D. 40—only seven years after the crucifixion.
Think of it: only seven years!
That’s thrilling news for evangelical Christians. But Dr. Thiede’s conclusions throw a real monkey wrench into the teachings of liberal theologians. Liberal scholars contend that the Gospels were written as much as a hundred years or more after Christ’s crucifixion, and that contemporaries of Jesus didn’t believe His claims to divinity. They dismiss the accounts of His miracles and resurrection as products of the oral tradition.
But if the Gospels were indeed written shortly after Jesus walked the roads of Galilee, as evangelicals believe, then there wasn’t time for an oral tradition. And even more exciting, the Magdalen manuscript refers to Jesus using a Greek term for the word Lord that was reserved exclusively as a reference to God, proving that the earliest Christians did believe that Jesus was God Himself.
Christians, of course, shouldn’t be surprised when historical documents authenticate biblical truth. As historian Paul Johnson writes, “In the long term, Christian truth and historical truth must coincide.”
Thanks to decades of liberal teachings, many people today aren’t sure if the Bible can be trusted. That’s why these Magdalen fragments are so important. They provide solid evidence for the historicity of Scripture.
So the next time you get into a discussion with nonbelieving friends, tell them about these three ancient scraps of papyrus. You may edge them a little closer not only to biblical Truth—but to Jesus Christ Himself.