Courtesy Bruce M. Metzger. Manuscripts of The Greek Bible. Oxford Univ. Press

Papyrus 52, with both front and back shown here, contains parts of five verses from John 18. Paleographers—experts in the evolution of the shapes and stances of letters—date papyrus 52 to no later than 125 C.E. and perhaps even as early as 100 C.E. This fragment is thus the earliest known manuscript of any identifiable portion of the New Testament.

A crucial feature of papyrus 52 is that it was part of a codex—a bound book. Scholars conclude that it came from a book of the Gospel of John, most probably in final form. The Fourth Gospel is now widely dated to about 100 C.E., give or take a decade.