While I’m on the topic of miracles, here’s a particularly interesting question I received a long time ago, and my response.
I have looked up the content of all the papyri I’m aware of (off of links on wikipedia, so who knows if they’re accurate).
It is my understanding that although p52, p90, and p104 are dated around 125-150 AD, they contain fragments of John 18 and Matt 21 only, and that it’s not until 200 AD that manuscripts emerge which actually contain accounts of supernatural actions by Jesus.
So, it’s possible that accounts of miracles existed in copies that got destroyed, but is it fair to say that the earliest available copies of accounts of Jesus’s supernatural actions date from around 200 AD?
In other words, assuming people on average had kids by age 20 back then, and thus 20 years counts as a generation, is it fair to say that the earliest available accounts of miracles by Jesus were written by the great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson of somebody who would have been alive at the same time as Jesus?
This is an interesting question! It is true that we do not start getting relatively complete manuscripts of the Gospels until around the year 200. But I don’t think it would be fair to say that this means that we do not have reports of Jesus’ miracles until then – unless we want to be overly-literalistic in our thinking.
This is why: as I have indicated in other posts, we have far more manuscripts, and early manuscripts, of the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world. These manuscripts were themselves copied from earlier ones, which were copied from earlier ones, which were copied from earlier ones. That’s a key point.
For the Gospel of Luke – just to pick an example – we have an excellent manuscript, P75, from around 200 CE. It is not a complete manuscript, but a large fragment. It does, however, contain the reports of Jesus’ miracles. Now P75 did not make up these reports itself. It was copying an earlier manuscript (a very good one, from what we can tell).
And as it turns out, we have…
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