In today’s Readers’ Mailbag, I will be answering questions connected with the writings of Paul: what is the earliest manuscript of his letters; did the author of Acts know Paul’s letters; and is Paul described as a heretic in the Dead Sea Scrolls.



Bart, early in your book Misquoting Jesus (p. 4) you wrote a sudden, shocking surprise (to many born-again Christians) when you said “As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament.” I’ve witnessed my own neighbor’s disbelief and visible anger when I pointed this out to him. … My interest is your response to my question “How old are the earliest copies we have of Paul’s letters 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians.” … As you know, these books describe, in part, the resurrection of Jesus.



It is a little difficult for me to know the question behind this question, so first let me answer the direct question and then to respond to what I *think* might lie behind it.   The brief answer: our earliest manuscript of Paul’s writings is called P46 – named this because it is the 46th New Testament papyrus (hence the P in the P46) to be discovered and catalogued.   It is usually dated to around 200 CE (plus or minus 25 years).  It contains portions of most of the Pauline epistles (including parts of 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians), but the section containing 2 Thessalonians and Philemon is missing.  It appears not to have had the Pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – which is very interesting indeed.

Now for what *might* be the question behind the question:  if our earliest manuscript of Paul is from around 200 CE, and this is the earliest description of the resurrection, doesn’t that mean that Christians weren’t talking about the resurrection for nearly 200 years?   The answer to that is,

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