The Berean Expositor
Volume 24 - Page 135 of 211
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The Chester Beatty Papyri.
pp. 79, 80
Until recently the oldest manuscripts of either the N.T. or the O.T. that were known
were those written on vellum--a material that superseded the use of papyrus in the
fourth century A.D. There has just come to light, however, a group of Greek manuscripts
written upon papyrus, and known as the Chester Beatty Papyri, which are more ancient
than any yet discovered. The collection comprises 44 leaves of Genesis and potions of
other parts of the Law and the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, epistles of Paul, and the book
of the Revelation. One apocryphal work is included, namely, the book of Enoch. Among
other items that can be appreciated by the non-expert is the fact that the four Gospels,
together as a unit, and distinguished from the many apocryphal Gospels, are proved to
have been already in use, and that the epistle to the Hebrews was included among the
epistles of Paul.
The most important question that is raised in connection with a "find" like this is,
How does the text of these papyri compare with that in use to-day? It is reassuring to
learn that no doctrine of the N.T. is altered in the slightest by any new reading, and the
evidence that we have substantially the text of the originals grows with every discovery.
In our articles entitled "The Volume of the Book" we discuss the pre-eminence given
by Westcott and Hort to the Vatican MSS, and give evidence that the Revisers were not
justified in setting aside the voice of antiquity or for giving unwarranted weight to
manuscripts that accorded with the theory of Westcott and Hort. This theory, namely,
that the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus give us what Westcott and Hort called the Neutral
text, is by no means substantiated by these earlier manuscripts. This is not the place to
discuss the matter of the text, but we do suggest that readers would be wise, when using
the R.V., to be on their guard when alterations, additions or subtractions of the Greek text
are made or suggested. Sir Frederick Kenyon, G.B.E., K.C.B., says:--
"All in all, the Chester Beatty papyri make the most important contribution to the
textual criticism of the Greek Bible since the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus, now
nearly ninety years ago" (John O' London's Weekly, 16th Sept., 1933).