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New Testament Manuscripts

New Testament manuscripts are writings of the New Testament that are important to the study of the New Testament, and fortunately, there is an excellent variety of these writings. There are over 5,800 Greek manuscripts. In addition to these, numerous Latin and other language manuscripts also exist. These show a high regard for the Bible among many groups as they were copied and passed from generation to generation. This helps us to see how New Testament books were transmitted from ancient manuscript traditions in their first centuries of history. This article highlights list of new testament manuscripts by date.

To a Bible scholar and historian, the importance of New Testament Manuscripts is paramount. When we talk about the number of New Testament manuscripts, we’re going to be talking about two things: how old they are and how complete they are. Old doesn’t necessarily mean more accurate and complete doesn’t mean more accurate either. What it means, is that we can look at New Testament manuscripts side by side comparing them to each other to see if they match up. And luckily for us, they do match up! This article also discusses original new testament manuscripts.

New Testament Manuscripts

What are the New Testament Manuscripts? The New Testament manuscripts are known as the oldest copies of the New Testament which are available today. These writings were discovered between 1835 and 1895 at various sites around the world. They contain many of the books in the Bible originally written in Greek such as the Acts, Epistles and Revelation. These writings are held by many to be reliable and well preserved.

New Testament manuscripts are written records of the New Testament. There are more than 5,800 partial or complete Greek manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament. These manuscripts date from between about 125 and 800 A.D. The vast majority of these manuscripts were copied in the first few centuries after Christ’s death.

The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament date from about 125 A.D., only a few years after the original books were written. These early copies are called uncials because they were written in capital letters, or majuscules. The uncials are important because they give us a close approximation of what the original authors wrote. They also help us determine which variant readings are likely to be authentic (i.e., have a basis in what was originally written).

There are also thousands of other Greek manuscripts that date from about 400 to 800 A.D., which scholars call minuscule manuscripts because they were written in lowercase letters (minuscules). Most modern translations of the Bible use these later manuscripts as their base text; however some translations such as the ESV prefer earlier uncials as their source text instead.[1]

The New Testament manuscripts are the earliest surviving copies of the New Testament. The texts of the New Testament were originally written in Koine Greek, also known as “common” or “street” Greek, which was the everyday language spoken in cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean world in the first century CE.

The earliest New Testament manuscripts are papyrus fragments from Egypt, dating to about 125 – 150 CE. These fragments are known as P52 and P75.

The vast majority of New Testament manuscripts date after 300 CE. The two most important earlier manuscripts are Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph). Both date to around 350 CE and are written on vellum (parchment made from animal skin).

The earliest complete copy of the entire Bible is Codex Alexandrinus, dated to about 400 CE and written on parchment (animal skin).

New Testament manuscripts are handwritten copies of the biblical text dating from the second century (AD 200) up to the mid-nineteenth century. The majority of NT MSS, however, were published prior to 1454 when Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized book publishing. Ever since the first apostle set pen to parchment, faithful believers have been copying (or commissioning scribes to copy) the books of the New Testament for their use in church and home. Since at least the second century, translations of the Greek NT were being made into Latin and Syriac as well as Ethiopic, Gothic, Armenian, and Georgian. Since Greek NT MSS are the foundation of faithful Bible translation, they will be the focus of this article.

The number of Greek NT MSS is astounding relative to any other written texts from antiquity, often described as an “embarrassment of riches.” While copies of Homer’s Iliad—arguably the most important text in Greco-Roman society—currently number 1,535 manuscripts, the Greek NT MSS alone number close to 6,000. These MSS can be subdivided into four distinct groups:


The fewest in number (approximately 155), the papyri are a classification of manuscript in which the text is written on sheets of papyrus. Mostly found in Egypt where hot, arid climate has preserved the papyri, they date from the second to seventh centuries. They are identifiable in an NT apparatus as “P” + a number (i.e., P46).


The majuscules are parchment manuscripts written in an uppercase Greek form throughout. These number approximately 338 and date from the fourth to eighth centuries. In an NT apparatus, they are indicated by a zero followed by a number (i.e., 0234).


Numbering approximately 2,958 manuscripts, the minuscules are the largest category of NT MSS. They are written in a lowercase form of Greek. The earliest of these is dated from AD 835 and written on parchment. From the twelfth century on, paper was used.


Lectionaries were used for reading in a church setting and date from the eighth to the sixteenth century. They differ from the papyri, majuscules, and minuscules in that they include segments of NT books; the previous three categories include entire books normally in proper order. They were written in the majuscule (uppercase) script and number approximately 2,501 manuscripts.

Coptic Liturgical Codex – Egypte en Christelijk


While the most NT MSS include portions or fragments of NT books, if portions of the parchment have been lost, there are four significant manuscript witnesses that contain the entire text of the Bible. These codices (or entire “books”) include Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus.

Significant manuscripts

Although the total number of manuscripts from every category is large, a few NT MSS are more critical due to age, condition, and provenance:

Chester Beatty Papyri P45—third century P46—c. 200; oldest witness of Paul’s Epistles P47—late third century

Bodmer Papyri P66—third to fourth century; portions of John P75—third to fourth century; portions of Luke and John P127—fourth century; book of Acts

Codices Codex Sinaiticus (01)—mid-fourth century Codex Alexandrinus (02)—fifth century Codex Vaticanus (03)—mid-fourth century Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (04)—mid-fifth century. Original biblical text lies under later addition (a palimpsest) Codex Bezae (05)—c. 400 Codex Claromontanus (06)—sixth century

Majuscules 032 (The Freer Gospels)—fifth century 041—ninth century

Minuscules 1—twelfth century 1582—c. 948 13—thirteenth century 35—eleventh century 1739—c. 948

New discoveries

A little over half a dozen new NT MSS have been discovered every year over the past two decades. One highly publicized and recent find is the earliest known fragment of Mark 1, known officially as P137 (or P. Oxy. LXXXIII 5345) discovered in 2011. Although initial reports indicated a possible first-century date, later analysis suggests a date range of AD 150–250. While not from the first century, P137 brings the total number of NT MSS dated from the second century to 19. Further research may discover copies from the first century itself. Nonetheless, the text underlying our Bibles today in any translation will likely never change by any significant degree. Most of the earlier discoveries cohere entirely with the vast majority of other Greek NT MSS.

List Of New Testament Manuscripts By Date

There are thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts, hundreds of which are from the earliest centuries, so this list is far from exhaustive. Indeed, it barely scratches the surface. Still, it is helpful to familiarize ourselves with some of the copies that come up most often in text-critical discussions and some that provide especially early attestation of particular New Testament books.

Second CenturyJohn Rylands Papyrus P52P52Small fragment from John’s Gospel
Usually dated around 125 AD, making it the oldest known manuscript
Second CenturyPapyrus 90P90Small fragment of John’s Gospel dated to the late 2nd century
Second CenturyPapyrus 104P104Small fragment of the Matthew
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 4P4Early fragments containing portions of Luke 1-6
Considered by many scholars to be part of the same manuscript as P64 and P67
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 64P64Early fragments containing portions of Matthew 3-5
Considered by many scholars to be part of the same manuscript as P4 and P67
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 67P67Early fragments containing portions of Matthew 25-26
Considered by many scholars to be part of the same manuscript as P64 and P4
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyUncial 01890189Small fragment of the Book of Acts
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 66P66Fragmentary copy of the Gospel of John
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 46P46Contains portions of most of Paul’s letters
Includes the Book of Hebrews
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 75P75Contains large portions of Luke and John
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 20P20Small fragment of the Book of James
Late 2nd/Early 3rd CenturyPapyrus 98P98Small fragment of Revelation
3rd CenturyPapyrus 45P45Contains portions of each of the four gospels and of Acts
Oldest surviving manuscript of the Gospel of Mark
3rd CenturyPapyrus 47P47Contains significant portion of Revelation
Late 3rd/Early Fourth CenturyUncial 01710171Contains Portions of Matthew and Luke
Late 3rd/Early Fourth CenturyPapyrus 115P115Contains significant portion of Revelation
Late 3rd/Early Fourth CenturyPapyrus 72P72Contains 1 & 2 Peter and Jude
Late 3rd/Early Fourth CenturyPapyrus 100P100Fragment of the Book of James
Fourth CenturyCodex SinaiticusאContains the entire New Testament
Fourth CenturyCodex VaticanusBContains the majority of the New Testament
Late Fourth/Early Fifth CenturyCodex WashintonianusWContains the four Gospels
Fifth CenturyCodex AlexandrinusAContains the entire New Testament
Fifth CenturyCodex Ephraemi RescriptusCContains the entire New Testament
Manuscript is a palimpsest (original text was erased and the pages reused, though technology allows us to see the original).
Fifth CenturyCodex FreerianusIContains the Pauline Epistles
Fifth CenturyCodex Guelferbytanus BQContains portions of Luke and John
Fifth CenturyCodex BorgianusTContains portions of Luke and John
Has the text in both Greek and Sahidic Coptic
Fifth CenturyUncial 048048Contains Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and the General Epistles
Fifth CenturyCodex Bezae CantabrigensisDContains the Gospels and Acts
Has the text in both Latin and Greek, in parallel columns
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Claromontanus
Sixth CenturyCodex ClaromontanusDContains the Pauline Epistles
Has the text in both Latin and Greek, in parallel columns
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis
Sixth CenturyCodex LaudianusEContains the Book of Acts
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Basilensis
Sixth CenturyCodex CoislinianusHContains the Pauline Epistles
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Seidelianus II and Codex Mutinensis
Sixth CenturyCodex Petropolitanus PurpureusNContains the Gospels
The pages of this manuscript were decoratively dyed purple
Sixth CenturyCodex SinopensisOContains Matthew
In addition to the text, this manuscript also contained illustrations.
Sixth CenturyCodex NitriensisRContains Luke
Manuscript is a palimpsest (original text was erased and the pages reused, though technology allows us to see the original).
Eighth CenturyCodex RegiusLContains the Gospels
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Angelicus
Eighth CenturyUncial 047047Contains the Gospels
Eighth CenturyCodex BasilensisEContains the Gospels
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Laudianus
Ninth CenturyCodex BoreelianusFContains the Gospels
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Augiensis
Ninth CenturyCodex AugiensisFContains the Pauline Epistles
Has the text in both Latin and Greek, in parallel columns
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Boreelianus
Ninth CenturyCodex Seidelianus IIHContains the Gospels
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Coislinianus and Codex Mutinensis
Ninth CenturyCodex MutinensisHContains the Book of Acts
Some significant gaps in the text due to damamge
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Coislinianus and Codex Seidelianus II
Ninth CenturyCodex AngelicusLContains most of the Book of Acts, the General Epistles, and the Book of Romans
Shares an abbreviation with Codex Regius
Ninth CenturyCodex SangellensisΔContains the Gospels
Contains the text in both Greek and Latin
Ninth CenturyCodex CoridethianusΘContains the Gospels
Ninth CenturyCodex PetropolitanusΠContains the Gospels
There are numerous gaps in the text due to damage
14th/15th CenturyMinuscule 629629Contains the entire New Testament
Has the text in both Latin and Greek
The Greek text appears to have been shaped by the Latin
Earliest manuscript to contain the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8 in the Greek text
16th CenturyCodex Montfortianus61Contains the entire New Testament
Manuscript cited by Erasmus in his decision to add the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8
Erasmus called this manuscript Codex Britannicus

Why Are NT MSS Important for Biblical Studies?

Why Are NT MSS Important for Biblical Studies?

Oxyrhynchus Papyri (Wikipedia)

Biblical studies are enriched by the overwhelming number of NT MSS in at least three specific ways. First, the NT MSS are a tangible witness to divine providence. God chose to give his people a written record of his words through divine inspiration of human authors, and this written record has persisted for over two millennia. The NT MSS, including their number and agreement, demonstrate God’s preserving activity in history.

Second, the NT MSS are a witness to the persistence and activity of the gospel message. Since the apostles first wrote their Gospels and epistles, faithful followers of Jesus have seen in these texts the power to live as new creations in Christ. The lectionaries are one good example, demonstrating that Christians throughout history considered these texts important enough to read publicly as an essential sacrament in the gathered church.

Third, the NT MSS are a witness to ancient textual practice. The discipline of textual criticism compares the many manuscripts with each other to ascertain the earliest and most reliable form of the NT. Such research has clarified the history of how such passages were received—like the ending of Mark 16 and the pericope of the adulterer in John’s Gospel (John 7:53–8:11). The discipline has also helped us to understand ancient scribal tendencies, the identification of Jesus as Lord by earliest Christians, and the influence of Christianity on the important transformation of publication from parchments to codices to the printing press.

Original New Testament Manuscripts

The Codex Sinaiticus dates back to the second half of the fourth century and is widely considered to be the earliest complete Bible manuscript. There’s a complete New Testament in there that’s the earliest one we have. Only the Codex Vaticanus, another early Christian Bible manuscript, is nearly as complete. Among Christian scriptures, only a few fragmentary manuscripts from an earlier time period have been discovered.

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