Containing part of the Gospel of John, P52 dates to the early second century. Most experts regard the fragments of P52 as the oldest extant canonical Christian text. On the front appears John 18:31–33 with 18:37–38 on the back, in which Pilate questions Jesus before the crucifixion. Written in Greek, this fragment came from a codex—not a scroll.

Discovered in Egypt, P52 was published in 1935 and is housed in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. (Its full name is John Rylands Papyrus P52, with the acquisition number John Rylands Greek 457.) The fragment measures 3.4 by 2.5 inches.

Authorities Kurt and Barbara Aland date the fragment to “about 125” A.D., allowing for a margin of error of 25 years on either side. However, other scholars prefer to give P52 a more conservative date of 140 A.D.

While it is believed that at least the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were written in the first century, we do not have any surviving manuscripts from that century and only a handful of canonical gospel manuscripts from the second century, with the earliest being P52. Most of the early Christian manuscripts come from the third century or later.a