Correctly Dating The P64 Magdalen Papyrus

In 1901, Charles Bousfield Huleatt (1863–1908), purchased the “Magdalen” papyrus in Luxor, Egypt. These three small fragments of papyrus from upper Egypt—found at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1901—contained twenty four lines from the gospel of Matthew 26:23, 31. Mr. Huleatt gifted these Greek fragments to Magdalen College at Oxford. They were cataloged as P64.[1]

In 1953, Colin H. Roberts published a photograph of the papyrus, which was described as a likely precursor to the Biblical Uncial that was seen early in the second century. Written on both sides of the papyrus, P64 came from a codex and not a scroll. The Christian church used the book method or codex almost exclusively, prior to the end of the first century. This would indicate that these fragments of Matthew’s gospel were written earlier than any previously discovered fragments of Jesus’ Gospel.

A Recent Discovery Dates P64 Near 60 A.D.

The Jesus Papyrus [3]

One of the most stunning discoveries in the field of New Testament criticism comes from Dr. Carsten Peter Thiede, director of the Institute of Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany. Using a scanning laser microscope to carefully examine these fragments, this technique can differentiate between a twenty-micrometer (millionth of a meter) layer of papyrus. This allows for the measuring of height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe.[1]

Dr. Thiede compared the fragments with four other known manuscripts: one came from the caves of Qumran, dated to 58 A.D.; one from the Herculaneum, dated prior to 79 A.D.; one from Masada, dated between 73-74 A.D.; and one from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus, dated 65-66 A.D.

This basis for determining the correct date of Matthew’s gospel used physical evidence rather than the conventional method of literary theory or historical suppositions. For this reason, many critics have written in disagreement over the date of this portion of Matthew’s gospel. Not because the evidence does not support this earlier date of composition, but because the method used—evaluating the manuscript by physical evidence instead of theory or supposition—is outside of the normal methods of evaluating ancient manuscripts.

Based on the physical evidence, Dr. Thiede concluded that these portions of Matthew’s gospel were likely written by him personally, about 60 A.D. This is just 28 years after Jesus was crucified and risen from the dead in 32 A.D.

This provides the world with empirical evidence that the records of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection preserved for us in Matthew’s gospel today are accurate, reliable, and truthful. The objection that the four gospels of Jesus Christ were written at too great a distance from the time when they actually took place is impeached by this new evidence. These fragments show every indication of being actually written by Matthew while he was still alive.[2] This makes his narrative of Jesus a firsthand eyewitness account.

At the time I wrote this article in 2017, I returned to investigate any further information regarding these fragments. I have found that although the basic premise of the discovery is using physical evidence rather than theory, it is still disputed by many experts who believe that conventional methods of theory and supposition are valid. If the reader will consider this premise, that evidence is disqualified over theories, then it is clear that Dr. Thiede’s scholarly and scientific work in determining the correct age of these fragments of Matthew’s gospel is far superior to older techniques with actually “guess” at the age of ancient Biblical text, rather than rely upon scientific techniques.

I find it particularly interesting that the one Apostle of Jesus who was adamant in declaring that He is the promised Messiah is the same author we have text from, which is dated during the time he wrote these narratives. The reader should be very careful in accepting the critical analysis of those who try to discredit Dr. Thiede’s findings regarding Matthew’s gospel, understanding that literary theory and long-held historical suppositions are the real reasons why Dr. Thiede’s conclusions are disputed. The bottom line is, the scientific evidence concludes that these fragments of Matthew’s gospel were written during the time when Matthew was still alive, not during the second or third century.

Matthew told the truth about who Jesus is and what He accomplished in His death for our sins and resurrection from the dead.

The First Material Evidence Of Matthew As An Eyewitness

On December 24, 1994, the Times of London reported, on the front page of their newspaper, that a German Biblical Scholar had discovered what was believed to be the oldest extant fragment of the New Testament ever found.

“It provides the first material evidence that the Gospel according to St. Matthew is an eyewitness account written by contemporaries of Christ.”[4]

“What separates Thiede from his academic predecessors, is that he has identified an artifact—albeit a tiny one—which seems to prove his point…”[5]

This discovery, considered by many as the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, proves that the Gospel of Matthew that we have in our possession today was written by firsthand accounts of a person who witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Papyrus was likely handled by some of the 500 eyewitnesses, whom Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:6, who saw, with their own eyes, Jesus risen from the dead.

The gospels that are recorded in the New Testament are certainly no more tendentious than any other ancient documents in their declaration of facts of history. It is ludicrous to insist that because the New Testament is a religious book, that it should not be taken seriously as an equally-important historical document, which contains facts of history. This was the very reason why the writers of the gospels and the Book of Acts set out to record these events. These men felt that the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were of such extraordinary value, that the whole world should know about them. For this reason, these men made an accurate and honest accounting of what really took place.

Based on Dr. Thiede’s conclusions that the Jesus Papyrus dates Matthew’s gospel as written during the time these events occurred, this revelation brings a grand confirmation for the authenticity of Jesus’ Resurrection.

  • Jesus was crucified on April 14, 32 A.D.
  • Matthew’s gospel is confirmed at the latest, 60 A.D.

This means that Matthews’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ death and resurrection was written within 28 years after the events took place. The critical disqualification of the gospels, as written at too great a distance from the actual events, has been impeached by Paleographical evidence. Matthew wrote and recorded—for all posterity—events of such profound magnitude, that they have changed the entire course of human history. We know today that Matthew penned his narrative of Jesus, or he dictated them to a scribe, on documents that we now have in our possession.

See the chapter, David’s Son, for detailed information that further validates the writing of Matthew’s gospel in 28 A.D.

This is compelling evidence for the historical reliability of Matthew’s gospel, revealing a true and accurate account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There remains no further speculation as to whether Matthew’s narrative is genuine. This disciple of Jesus lived in close relationship with Him during the three and one-half years of His public ministry here on earth. Matthew was present during the time Jesus was unjustly arrested at Gethsemane. He was present during Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion. Matthew repeatedly stated, in his gospel, that all of the actions and words of Jesus were direct fulfillments of the ancient Hebrew prophecies of the Old Testament.

[1] Thiede, Carsten Peter & D’Ancona, Matthew, The Jesus Papyrus, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996.
[2] ibid
[3] “P064-Mat-26.7-8-26.10-26.14-15-II” by unknown writer in 3rd century – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
[4] The Times of London, December 24, 1994
[5] Ibid