Mormon Scriptures and the Bible
The Mormon church accepts the Bible as one of its four standard works. The Book of Mormon quotes large portions of the King James Version of the Bible, and Joseph Smith's other revelations are filled with material from the Bible. Since the King James Version was printed about 200 years before Joseph Smith was even born, it is in no way dependent upon Mormon Scriptures. Joseph Smith's works, on the other hand, could not stand if the Bible were proven false, for many of his revelations are built upon the historical accuracy of the Bible, even though they may differ in doctrinal content. Nevertheless, many Mormons, seemingly ignorant of the fact that they are undermining the whole foundation of their own church, have made some vicious attacks on the Bible. Most of these attacks are not based upon sound historical evidence or methods. In fact, they reveal a lack of knowledge concerning Bible history and problems. Heber C. Snell, a former LDS institute director, has observed regarding the status of the Bible in the Mormon church:
In 1830, when the Church was organized, it had two sacred books, the Bible and the Book of Mormon....
From occupying the status of the first of two books of scripture in the Church the Bible became, in the course of about two decades, one of four. There are indications that it has now declined to the position of third or even fourth place among the Church's sacred books....
This change of status of the Bible seems to be well attested by the relatively little attention given it by Church speakers and writers.... An examination of the Improvement Era Master Index.... gave thirty-six titles under Bible, or 137 pages as compared with 124 titles and 725 pages under Book of Mormon.... My work, as a teacher of the Bible in L.D.S. collegiate institutions over a period of a quarter of a century, has failed to convince me that our people have made much advancement in biblical knowledge
(Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1967, pp. 56-57).
Davis Bitton, who is now an assistant church historian, had this to say concerning Mormonism of the nineteenth century:
For the Mormons the Bible was only one among several scriptures; its message was often discribed as applicable to a certain time and place in the past, with modern problems requiring new revelation; it was seen as having been corrupted, distorted, and inaccurately translated.... The Mormons could scarcely be charged with Bibliolatry, and it is perhaps understandable that Protestant ministers saw Mormon criticism of the Bible to be essentially the same as that of the rationalists (Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 113).
In a footnote on the same page, Davis Bitton states: "J. B. Turner... argues rather convincingly that Mormons were so convinced of the inadequacy of the Bible and the apostate condition of Christianity that, if they ever abandoned Mormonism, they were almost inevitably agnostic toward all religion." Although Davis Bitton does not feel that Mormons were as radical in their criticism of the Bible as some others, he does feel that "rationalists such as Thomas Paine had furnished valuable ammunition" for the Mormon attack on the accuracy of the Bible.
Thomas Paine's book The Age of Reason, undoubtedly had an influence on Mormon thinking. This book, written in the 1790s, caused a great deal of controversy and was therefore well known in Joseph Smith's time. In fact, a copy has been traced to Joseph Smith's father. While Paine was a brilliant man and raised a number of important questions in his book, he wrote with such sarcasm that his work was very offensive to a Christian. In one place he talks of "the stupid Bible of the church, that teacheth man nothing" (The Age of Reason, reprinted by the Thomas Paine Foundation, New York, p. 189).
Thomas Paine felt that the Bible could not be trusted as "the word of God" because of the problems involved in translation: "... as to translations, every man who knows anything of languages knows that it is impossible to translate from one language to another, not only without losing a great part of the original, but frequently of mistaking the sense... " (The Age of Reason, p. 32).
It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith also cast doubt upon the translation of the Bible, for in "The Articles of Faith," he wrote: "8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far
as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God" (Pearl of Great Price, p. 59).
In his pamphlet, "Spiritual Gifts," Apostle Orson Pratt used arguments which resemble the ideas of Thomas Paine:
God gave many revelations to Hebrew Prophets, in the Hebrew language.... The same revelations have been translated many times by different authors: ... These clashing translations are circulated among the people, as the words of God, when, in reality they are the words of translators; ... the Bible in ... all the languages of the earth, except the original in which it was given, is not the word of God, but the word of uninspired translators ... so far as the uninspired translators and the people are concerned, no part of the Bible can, with certainty, be known by them to be the word of God.
23. — The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible from which translations have been made, are evidently very much corrupted, ... the learned are under the necessity of translating from such mutilated, imperfect, and, in very many instances, contradictory copies as still exist. This uncertainty, combined with the imperfections of uninspired translators, renders the Bibles of all languages, at the present day, emphatically the words of men, instead of the pure word of God (Pamphlets by Orson Pratt, pp. 70-71).
In a pamphlet published in the 1850's, Apostle Pratt further commented:
Many Protestants say they take the Bible as their only rule of faith ... What evidence have they that the book of Matthew was inspired of God, or any other of the books of the New Testament? The only evidence they have is tradition.... If it could be demonstrated by tradition, that every part of each book of the Old and New Testament, was, in its original, actually written by inspiration, still it cannot be determined that there is one single true copy of those originals now in existence.... What shall we say then, concerning the Bible's being a sufficient guide? Can we rely upon it in its present known corrupted state, as being a faithful record of God's word? We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times, which few quote the names of some twenty other books which are lost.... What few have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed, and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons; and even we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know, were wrote by inspiration. Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose the Bible in its present
form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original? ... There can be no certainty as to the contents of the inspired writings until God shall inspire some one to rewrite all those books over again.... No reflecting man can deny the necessity of such a new revelation (Orson Pratt's Works, "The Bible Alone An Insufficient Guide," pp. 44-47).
While we would expect an open enemy of Christianity like Thomas Paine to make the statements he did about the Bible, it is quite shocking to find a man who professed to be a Christian making such an attack upon the Bible. Even Brigham Young felt that Apostle Pratt went too far in his attack on the Bible (see Journal of Discourses, vol.3, p. 116). Apostle Pratt's statement that the Bible may have been changed so much that we can't even rely upon one verse sounds very strange in light of the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes hundred of verses from the Bible. In almost all cases these verses carry the same meaning as they do in the Bible. This alone should be sufficient evidence to show Mormons that Orson Pratt was wrong in implying that we don't know "that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now" as it did in the original. Thus it is plain to see that the Bible cannot be discredited without casting doubt on the Book of Mormon also. If the Bible is all wrong, then the Book of Mormon is also.
Mormon Apostle Mark E. Petersen is more tactful than Pratt in his criticism of the Bible. Although he claims that portions were removed from the Bible, the identical wording of Scriptures found in the King James Version and the Book of Mormon has forced him to believe that "the Lord did have a hand in the translation of the King James version": "The Book of Mormon gives many detailed quotations from the records of Laban, incidentally, giving irrefutable evidence of the accuracy of the King James version, even though much of the scripture as given originally is now missing" (As Translated Correctly, 1966, p. 45).
Apostle Petersen feels that the quotations from Isaiah found in the Book of Mormon are "no doubt the only truly accurate quotations in existence today" (p. 54). He even goes so far as to judge the text of the Bible by the text found in the Book of Mormon:
A direct reference to baptism was plainly deleted from Isaiah 48:1.
In the Old Testament this reference reads:
"Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which sware by the name of the Lord...."
And now note this same passage from the brass plates [the Book of Mormon]: "Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, OR OUT OF THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, who sware by the name of the Lord (1 Nephi 20:1).
How many similar deletions were made, no one knows, because we have only fragments from the brass plates.
But the Bible as we know it is a different volume from what it was—and would have been—had it not been changed so much by those with selfish interests (As Translated Correctly, p. 67).
Apostle Petersen certainly picked a poor example to try to prove his charge, for there is definite proof that the change was made in the text of the Book of Mormon rather than in the text of the Bible. The text of the original 1830 printing of the Book of Mormon did not have the phrase concerning baptism in it. It followed the text of the Bible: "Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord,..." (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed. p. 52).
The phrase "or out of the waters of baptism" was added in later editions. It did not appear in the original handwritten manuscript, and even Dr. Nibley has to admit that it is an interpolation: "It is said that Parley P. Pratt suggested the phrase,... Isaiah did not have to tell his ancient hearers that he had the waters of baptism in mind, but it is necessary to tell it to the modern reader ..." (Since Cumorah, p. 151).
Apostle Petersen made a serious mistake when he tried to condemn the text of the Bible on the basis of this verse from the Book of Mormon.
Orson Pratt once claimed: "This generation have more than one thousand times the amount of evidence to demonstrate and for ever establish the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon than they have in favor of the Bible!" In a discourse delivered in the Tabernacle on January 2, 1859, Orson Pratt expanded his comments:
... I will endeavor to bring forth some few of the evidences which establish the Divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
I shall compare this evidence with the evidence for the Divine authenticity of the Bible....
The oldest manuscripts of any of the books of the Old Testament at the present day date from the twelfth century of the Christian era.... The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament which this age are in possession of are supposed to date from the sixth century of the Christian era.... We have five manuscripts in existence that were supposed to have been written as early as the sixth or seventh century after Christ....
The Book of Mormon ... was translated from the original plates themselves.... We defy the world to produce a true copy of the original of any book of the Bible.... Where is there a man who has heard the voice of God testifying concerning the truth of King James' translation? ... the testimony establishing the truth of the Book of Mormon is far superior to that establishing the Bible in its present form ... any person who will carefully examine this subject will be obliged in their own hearts to say there is a hundredfold more evidence to prove the Divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon than what we have to prove the Palestine records (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 23, 26, 29, 30, 36, 37).
Apostle Pratt's statement that there is "more than one thousand times" the amount of evidence to prove the Book of Mormon than to prove the Bible is certainly a misrepresentation. We have already shown that the only evidence for the Book of Mormon is the testimony of the witnesses and that this testimony cannot be relied upon.
As far as historical and manuscript evidence is concerned Joseph Smith's scriptures have absolutely no foundation. The "records of the Nephites," for instance, were never cited by any ancient writer, nor are there any known manuscripts or even fragments of manuscripts in existence older than the ones dictated by Joseph Smith in the late 1820s.
Joseph Smith's "Book of Moses" is likewise without documentary support. The only handwritten manuscripts for the "Book of Moses" are those dictated by Joseph Smith in the early 1830s.
Since Joseph Smith's revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants do not purport to be translations of ancient records, we would not expect to find any ancient manuscript evidence concerning them. There is one revelation, however, which purports to be a translation of a "record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself." This revelation, found in the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 7, has no documentary support for its claims.
The "Book of Abraham" purports to be a translation of an ancient Egyptian papyrus. However, the original papyrus is in
reality the Egyptian "Book of Breathings" and has nothing to do with Abraham or his religion. Therefore, we have no evidence for the "Book of Abraham" prior to the handwritten manuscripts dictated by Joseph Smith in the 1830s. It would appear, then, that there is no documentary evidence for any of Joseph Smith's works that dates back prior to the late 1820s.
When we turn to the Bible, however, we find a great deal of historical evidence—some of which dates back more than 2,000 years—showing that the Bible was known and used in early times. While this in itself does not prove that the Bible is divinely inspired, it does give a person a basis for faith.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The reader will remember that Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the "oldest manuscripts of any of the books of the Old Testament at the present day date from the twelfth century of the Christian Era." While this statement may have been true in Orson Pratt's time, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has changed the entire picture. We now have some manuscripts that date back prior to the time of Christ.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 when a boy threw a rock into a cave near the Dead Sea. He was startled by the sound of something breaking and later came back to find jars with ancient manuscripts in them. This was only the beginning, for further search by a number of people led to the discovery of many important manuscripts. In Compton's Encyclopedia, we read: "The Biblical manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls have been called by scholars 'the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times.' They include Old Testament books and non-Biblical texts dating from 100 B.C. to A.D. 68" (vol. 6, p. 41a).
In his book, The Ancient Library of Qumran, Frank Moore Cross, Jr., describes the scrolls:
A sketch of the contents of Cave IV may be helpful.... At the end of four years' labor 382 manuscripts have been identified from this cave.... Of the manuscripts identified thus far, about one hundred, slightly more than one fourth of the total, are biblical. All of the books of the Hebrew canon are now extant, with the exception of the Book of Esther....
Three very old documents have been found in Cave IV.... They include an old copy of Samuel, preserved in only a handful of fragments; a patched and worn section of Jeremiah,... and a copy of Exodus ... of which only a column and a few tatters are extant....
The archaic Samuel scroll can date scarcely later than 200 B.C.
A date in the last quarter of the third century is preferable. The Jeremiah is probably slightly later. The archaic Exodus ... appears to be no later than the old Samuel fragments and probably is earlier.
One copy of Daniel is inscribed in the script of the late second century B.C....
The biblical scrolls from Qumran span in date about three centuries. A few archaic specimens carry us back to the end of the third century, as we have seen. The heavy majority, however, date in the first century B.C. and in the first Christian century ... (The Ancient Library of Qumran, by Frank Moore Cross, Jr., New York, 1961, pp. 39, 40, 42, 43).
Mormon scholars accept the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, although they have not come to grips with the serious problems that these manuscripts create for the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible.
Werner Keller summarized the situation concerning the Isaiah scroll:
The text of Isaiah from the cave at Qumran had actually been copied about 100 B.C., as Professor Albright had been first to recognize ... with the discovery of the Dead Sea scroll of Isaiah we have a Hebrew text of the Bible.... And the remarkable and wonderful fact is that ancient scroll of Isaiah, just like the book of the prophet in any printed Bible, whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, or any other language,... agrees with our present-day text.
Seventeen sheets of leather sewn together into a length of almost twenty-three feet—this must have been what the roll of the prophet looked like as it was handed to Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth so that he might read from it to the congregation. "And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias [Isaiah]." (Luke 4:16,17) "Every movement of Jesus' hands is brought closer to us," writes Professor Andre Parrot, "for we can still see on the reverse side of the leather the marks of the readers' fingers" (The Bible as History, by Werner Keller, William Neil, trans., New York, 1957, pp. 423-24).
Dr. Gleason L. Archer points out about the Isaiah scrolls that "even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 per cent of the text. The 5 per cent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling" (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 19).
Bible scholars have reason to rejoice over the discovery of manuscripts of Isaiah dating back to ancient times. Mormon scholars, however, are faced with a dilemma, for although these manuscripts support the text of the Bible, they could turn out to be one of the strongest evidences against Joseph Smith's "inspired revision" of the Bible and his "translation" of the text of Isaiah found in the Book of Mormon. For years Mormon scholars have labored to prove that the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is actually a translation of an ancient copy of Isaiah and is therefore superior to the translation found in the Bible. They have attempted to show parallels between the text of Isaiah found in the Book of Mormon and that found in some ancient manuscripts. We have shown, however, that these parallels are of little value because the manuscripts were known and studied in Joseph Smith's time (See Mormon Scriptures and the Bible, pp. 9-10).
If Mormon scholars could find similarities between the text of the Book of Mormon and documents that were not known in Joseph Smith's day, this type of evidence would be impressive. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, should provide a great deal of evidence for the Book of Mormon if it is really an ancient record. The Isaiah scroll found at Qumran Cave 1 should have caused a great deal of joy among Mormon scholars, for here is a manuscript of Isaiah which is hundreds of years older than any manuscript previously known. Surely, if the Book of Mormon were true, this manuscript would be filled with evidence to support the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and thus prove that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Instead of proving the Book of Mormon, however, it has turned out to be a great disappointment to Mormon scholars.
Lewis M. Rogers, who was assistant professor of religion at Brigham Young University, wrote a paper entitled, "The Significance of the Scrolls and a Word of Caution." In this article he stated:
Latter-day Saints have cause to rejoice with other Christians and Jews for the new light and fresh perspective brought to them by the Dead Sea Scrolls, but occasionally they need to be reminded that their hopes and emotions make them vulnerable. It is quite possible that claims for the Book of Mormon and for L.D.S. theology will not be greatly advanced as a consequence of this discovery (Progress in Archaeology, Brigham Young University, 1963, pp. 46-47).
Wayne Ham wrote his M.A. thesis for the department of biblical languages at Brigham Young University in 1961. His thesis compared the Isaiah scroll with the Book of Mormon and
is titled, "A Textual Comparison of the Isaiah Passages in the Book of Mormon with the Same Passages in the St. Mark's Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Community." After making this study, Mr. Ham was forced to the conclusion that the Isaiah scroll does not support the text in the Book of Mormon. In an article published in Courage in 1970, he stated:
Latter Day Saints were hopeful that these Isaiah scrolls would bring some supportive evidence for the Book of Mormon. The Dead Sea Isaiah scroll, which dates probably from the second century B.C., predates by one thousand years what was previously considered to be the oldest surviving text of the Old Testament.
After a thorough investigation of the matter... this writer found no noteworthy instances of support for the Book of Mormon claims (Courage, vol. 1, no. 1, September 1970, p. 20).
Mormon apologist Dr. Sidney B. Sperry, of Brigham Young University, had to admit that the Dead Sea Scrolls do not help the case for the Book of Mormon:
After reading the Scrolls very carefully, I come to the conclusion that there is not a line in them that suggests that their writers knew the Gospel as understood by Latter-day Saints. In fact, there are a few passages that seem to prove the contrary....
We should be especially interested in the light the Isaiah scroll throws on the problem of the Isaiah text in the Book of Mormon. I have compared in some detail the text of the scroll with its parallels in the Book of Mormon text. This tedious task has revealed that the scroll seldom agrees with the departures of the Book of Mormon text from that of the conventional Masoretic text of Isaiah and consequently the Authorized Version.... The Isaiah scroll is of relatively little use to Latter-day Saints as showing the antiquity of the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.... The Scrolls undoubtedly contribute much to the history of Judaism and Christianity, and specialists of the Old and New Testaments are properly much concerned with them....
But aside from their technical value to scholars, I believe that the importance of the Scrolls in a religious sense has been highly overrated by certain scholars. Their practical importance to Latter-day Saints is relatively small (Progress in Archaeology, pp. 52-54).
Evidence for New Testament
The reader will remember that in his attack upon the Bible, Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the "oldest manuscripts of the New Testament which this age are in possession of are supposed to date from the sixth century of the Christian era." He mentions both the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Alexandrinus.
Scholars now feel that the Codex Vaticanus "was written about the middle of the fourth century and contained both Testaments as well as the books of the Apocrypha...." (The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, by Bruce M. Metzger [New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1964] p. 47).
Dr. Gleason L. Archer regards the Codex Vaticanus as "a magnificent" manuscript and states that it was written about "A.D. 325-350" (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Chicago: Moody Press, 1973, p. 40).
The Codex Alexandrinus was probably written in the fifth century. Bruce M. Metzger states: "This handsome codex, dating from about the fifth century, contains the Old Testament, except for several mutilations, and most of the New Testament.... Today it rests along with codex Sinaiticus in one of the prominent showcases in the Department of Manuscripts of the British Museum" (The Text of the New Testament, p. 46).
The same year (1859) that Orson Pratt was making one of his most vicious attacks on the Bible, Constantinus Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, which has turned out to be one of the most important manuscripts of the Bible. Scholars feel that this manuscript was written in the fourth century. George E. Ladd briefly reviews the information concerning this manuscript: "After the Russian revolution, the U.S.S.R. sold the manuscript to the British Museum in London for $500,000—a sale which attracted world-wide attention. This manuscript, called Codex Sinaiticus, dates from the early fourth century, and has proved to be one of the best texts we possess of the New Testament" (New Testament and Criticism [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967], p. 62).
These three ancient manuscripts are very important as far as the text of the New Testament is concerned. Even some of the most zealous enemies of Christianity concede that they are authentic.
F. F. Bruce, a Christian writer from the University of Manchester and a New Testament authority, surveys the documentary evidence for the New Testament:
The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning....
There are in existence about 4,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part. The best and most important of these go back to somewhere about AD 350....
Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in
manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar's Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 BC) there are several extant mss, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar's day. Of the 142 books of the Roman history of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty-five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. AD 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant MSS of his minor works (Dialogus de Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century. The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to c. AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 480-425 BC). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest mss of their works which are of any use are over 1,300 years later than the originals.
But how different is the situation of the New Testament in this respect! In addition to the two excellent MSS of the fourth century mentioned above, which are the earliest of some thousands known to us. considerable fragments remain of papyrus copies of books of the New Testament dated from 100 to 200 years earlier still (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967 (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960) pp. 15-17, used by permission).
Floyd V. Filson provides further details concerning the papyrus manuscripts:
... it is in Egypt that the overwhelming majority of papyri have survived.... it is the papyri which give us manuscripts that go further back than the fourth century. However, papyrus suffers from a serious drawback. It is fragile, and decays easily or becomes brittle and breaks in pieces; and so up to this time we have found only very limited fragments of papyrus manuscripts of New Testament books. Papyrus Bodmer II is outstanding in that so much of John is preserved in full page form (The Biblical Archaeologist, September 1957, p. 55).
In Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? (p. 379), we included a photograph from The Biblical Archaeologist, September 1957, p. 61. This photograph shows "Rylands Greek Papyrus 457, dated about 125-130 A.D., the oldest known fragment of a New
Testament manuscript. It contains John 18:31-33 on one side and 18:37-38 on the other." J. A. Thompson writes concerning the Rylands Fragment of John:
The style of writing enabled it to be assigned to the first half of the second century... the fact that it was not only written in Egypt but that it had been used in a provincial town in Egypt at this early date points to the fact that John's Gospel, far from being a late second-century production as some had maintained, was in fact far earlier, and more likely to have been written in the first century, or at least very early in the second (The Bible and Archaeology, p. 437).
F. F. Bruce adds this interesting information about the papyrus manuscripts:
In addition to the two excellent mss of the fourth century mentioned above, which are the earliest of some thousands known to us, considerable fragments remain of papyrus copies of books of the new Testament dated 100 to 200 years earlier still. The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri ... consists of portions of eleven papyrus codices, three of which contained most of the New Testament writings. One of these, containing the four Gospels with Acts, belongs to the first half of the third century; another, containing Paul's letters to churches and the Epistle to the Hebrews, was copied at the beginning of the third century; the third, containing Revelation, belongs to the second half of the same century...
Earlier still is a fragment of a papyrus codex containing John xviii. 31-33, 37f., now in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, dated on palaeographical grounds around AD 130....
A more recently discovered papyrus manuscript of the same Gospel, while not so early as the Rylands papyrus, is incomparably better preserved; this is the Papyrus Bodmer 11, whose discovery was announced by the Bodmer Library of Geneva in 1956; it was written about AD 200, and contains the first fourteen chapters of the Gospel of John with one lacuna (of twenty-two verses), and considerable portions of the last seven chapters (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? pp. 17-18).
Besides the thousands of Greek manuscripts, there is additional evidence for the text of the New Testament found in early translations into other languages and in quotations found in the writings of early Christians.