The Thrill of an Old, Dried Leaf

P52_rectoP52_versoThe recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John.  Papyrus: 2nd Century CE. Author: Papyrologist Bernard Grenfell (1920), as preserved at the John Rylands Library. Photos courtesy of JRUL.  Public domain: published anywhere before 1924 and public domain in the U.S.



A lump in the throat.

All over one little piece of very old remnant of a dried leaf that’s been written on – on both sides.

But this isn’t just any old dried leaf.  This is a fragment of papyrus – thick ancient paper made from Cyperus papyrus, an African water plant whose leaves were dried and sewn together to form the world’s first page-turning books.

And on this papyrus fragment (known as Rylands Library Papyrus P52), is written, in beautiful Koine Greek, John 18:31-33 and 37-38:

31 Pilate said to them (the Jews gathered at Jesus’ trial), “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him”. – John 18:31-38 [ESV] [passages from P52 papyrus in bold type]

What causes me to theologically geek out over this 3-1/2″x2-1/3″ piece of ancient Scripture is simply:

  1. It’s age.  There is much debate amongst scholars about the age of P52.  However, most scholars agree it was written between 125-175 AD – roughly 25-75 years after the Apostle John died.  That’s close – real close.  It means this copy isn’t made derived from some hundreds years old original, but is much closer to the original.
  2. It’s accuracy.  Our translation today is spot on to what is written on P52.  In other words, we got it right.  P52 lends a bit of legitimacy to those who might have trouble accepting the inerrancy of Scripture.
  3. It’s message.  Truth.  We accept so much of what we see and hear and sense as “truth” when, in all honesty, real truth is found only in God through Jesus Christ.

So, why am I sharing this today?  Quite simply, I hope it brings you comfort.  Comfort in knowing what the Bible says is true and accurate.  Comfort in knowing you can trust in Jesus no matter what because He is truth.  Comfort in knowing that, shortly after He spoke these words to Pontius Pilate, He was crucified and  rose again – putting pay to all He said and taught, as accurately recorded in the books assembled to form our Bible.

God is peace.  God is truth.  God is love.

And the LORD loves you far more than you can imagine.  How do I know that?  It says so in His word:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 [ESV]


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