The Significance of Papyrus 66
Finding New Testament papyri is important as it gives us an insight into these early communities and which problems that they may have faced. This aids scholars and Christians in understanding how these papyri should be understood in today’s society. These papyri therefore have theological significance. Further to this, the papyri that have been found from a range of centuries can be extremely significant within the sphere of textual criticism.
Textual criticism is the study of the valuable body of New Testament data, which includes papyri, minuscules, uncials and lectionaries, in order to deduce which readings are original and which can be attributed to later editors. Recent studies of these manuscripts have required modifications of some traditional principles of textual criticism. For example James Royse’s study of all the earliest substantially preserved NT papyri shows persuasively that copyists more often produced shorter, not longer readings. Thus the traditional principle of preferring shorter readings does not carry the force it once did. Royse has also shown that harmonization to immediate context was common. This means that similar wording or style of writing could in some cases be due to geographical location, rather than because one author knew of, and used another source
P66 is an important papyrus within the sphere of textual criticism as it does not contain the story of the sinful adulterous woman in John 7:52-8:11. The external evidence for the story is weak, with most major texts missing this story out. The first text that this story is found in is Codex Bezae, which is dated to the 5th century. The internal evidence for the originality of the story is also fairly weak. This story has been seen to be an interruption to Jesus’ tabernacles discourse, and therefore not necessarily original to John. Furthermore, some have said that the grammar, theme and vocabulary are closer to Luke’s usage than to John’s. In this way, p66 is important for the continued debate over whether John 7:52-8:11 is original, or whether it is a later addition.
Furthermore, finding New Testament papyri is highly important as it enables scholars to understand, and gain evidence about the way that different scribes write. The scribe of P66 seems to have been plagued by carelessness, as the papyri contains about 400 corrections written in the margins, between lines, and over erased text. Metzger stated that most of these appear to be from the scribe correcting his work, and that the 440 alterations “appear to be the scribes correction of his own hasty blunders”.
P66’s quantity of corrections, has received a good deal of scholarly attention, most recently and extensively by Royse, suggesting that it has Alexandrian and Western readings. These corrections reveal much about the copyist, including his many initial failures in copying correctly and his following efforts to make things right. In P66, as perhaps in no early other manuscript, we have a fascinating glimpse into one copyist’s efforts to produce an accurate copy of his exemplar, and also additional evidence of early variant readings to be considered in establishing the text of John.