P46 the Earliest Extant Witness to the Corpus Paulinum


The earliest papyrus manuscript containing most of the epistles of Paul, less the pastoral epistles, along with the book of Hebrews is from the Chester Beatty Papyri Collection known as P46. This papyrus was discovered along with P45 and P47 in the Fayum of Egypt in the ruins of an early Church. The manuscript traveled 130km north to Cairo and was broken up in two portions by a dealer. Presently, part of the papyrus is in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. The other portion of the papyrus was acquired by the University of Michigan, where it is presently housed. As stated previously, this is the earliest Pauline manuscript and along with the prestige has come much scholarly debate concerning the date of the papyrus. F. G. Kenyon first suggested a third century CE date. Subsequently, Ulrich Wilcken dated the document to ca. 200 CE. More recently, Young Kyu Kim suggested a provocatively early date to the reign of Domitian in 81–96 CE. His argument was predicated upon six premises: (1) comparative literary papyri of such an early date, (2) comparative documentary papyri of an early date, (3) several unique features of the handwriting, (4) and (5) other morphologically early components, and (6) a corrector’s hand which was thought to be in several documents of the early period cumulatively convinced Kim.

However, most have not found Kim’s case compelling. Comfort and Barrett are more sober in their judgment, yet still rather early dating the papyrus to the middle of the second century. Bruce Griffin, in a detailed response to Kim’s dating, has offered what seems the most probable suggestion of ca. 175–225 CE. Metzger concurs offering “about 200.”

Furthermore, with respect to the textual character, this papyrus has a close affinity with Codex Vaticanus (B), locating it within the genealogical tradition of the Alexandrian family. Thus, P46 is a very important witness to the Pauline tradition and when taken together with other early witnesses (e.g., Aleph, B) may well touch the earliest transmission stream of the Pauline tradition. The desert sands of Egypt may not make for comfortable living, but we should be grateful that they preserved this ancient treasure as few other regions could.