What were your favorite subjects in school? I have always loved languages, both "living" and "dead." The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a few chapters in Aramaic.) This interesting language, revived in the modern state of Israel, is written right to left. Although I studied two years of Hebrew in my Masters Degree work, I never felt I really "mastered" it! My expertise lies rather in Latin and Greek. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The concise, somewhat lyrical Greek language is a joy to study! (If you're interested, I recommend two years of college level Greek.) So imagine my excitement when, three years ago, I had the chance to see the oldest biblical manuscript in the world!
In Manchester, England, an ancient papyrus from Egypt is housed in the John Rylands Library. This is recognized by nearly all New Testament scholars and paleographers (experts in ancient handwriting, if you will), to be the oldest surviving New Testament manuscript, dating from as early as 110 AD. In technical terms this important manuscript is called p52.* It is acknowledged by scholars to be the manuscript closest to an original. John was written only one generation earlier! My friend Malcolm Cox made the appointment, and the two of us eagerly ascended the stone steps into the library.
p52 contains part of John 18. I had one of my Greek Bibles in hand, and two things on my mind. First, I wanted to make sure this was the genuine article. I imagined the curator handing me the ancient text, spinning some yarn, then laughing as he explained it was really a medieval comedy excerpt. I carefully compared p52 with the corresponding section of John's Gospel in the original language