Thursday, July 3, 2008

Did Constantine Give Us the Bible?

By Josh Williamson

There is much confusion and debate over the origin of the Scriptures as we know them today. Dan Brown has added to the confusion with his book “The Da Vinci Code”. This book contains the following assertion “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.”[1]

This statement has led many to believe that before Emperor Constantine we didn't have a copy of the Bible. This notion is simply false, being based on an ignorance of history.

Despite claims in the prologue to the contrary, The Da Vinci Code is a book of fiction with historians widely denouncing its claim of historical accuracy.

We will examine the historical evidence showing that the Bible existed before the days of Constantine. First, however it would be wise to look at the man at the centre of the controversy.

Emperor Constantine was born in the year 274 AD[2], in what is now Serbia and Montenegro. He was the son of the commander Constantius Chlorus (later Constantius I) and Helena (later Saint Helena). Constantius became co-emperor in 305 AD. Constantine, who had shown military talent in the East, joined his father in an invasion of the British Isles in 306 AD. He was popular with the troops, who proclaimed him emperor when Constantius died later the same year. Over the next two decades, however, Constantine had to fight his rivals for the throne, and he did not finally establish himself as sole ruler until 324 AD.[3]

Constantine served as the Roman Emperor from 306 – 337 AD[4], however, he did not experience his ‘conversion’ until 312 AD, at Milvian bridge. There is still some debate weather this was a true conversion to Christianity, or if it was merely a political move. History has shown us that from this point onwards the persecution of the Christians within the Roman Empire decreased.

Prior to his conversion in 312 AD, Constantine was a worshipper of the sun. It can be safely concluded that during this time he was opposed to Christianity, which would deem him an idolater.

Constantine was a true historical figure and appears to have converted from paganism to Christianity.

Back to the question of “Did Constantine give us the Bible?” The simple answer is no. Manuscript evidence (below) shows very clearly, that prior to the conversion of Constantine the Bible was being widely distributed.

For the purpose of this article we will focus on the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. The Old Testament was in wide circulation long before this time and even before the time of Christ, so there is little value in us exploring this avenue in regards to the question at hand.

Below are the names, and details of the many Papyri and Uncials that we have which show that we have had the Scriptures long before Constantine was even born:


Papyri refer to a manuscript that is made of papyrus. It is referring to a type of ‘paper’ and not a style of writing. Papyri itself is easily destroyed when exposed to the elements, that is why only a few manuscript fragments survive. Most of these were found in drier regions, in the deserts of Egypt and the Middle East. In most cases the papyri content contains only portion of books, the reasoning for this is because of the age and fragility of the papyri we have lost the other sections.


Uncials are manuscripts that are written in capital letters. This style of writing took a lot of work, and was normally reserved for literary works.

Name Date Location Content[5]
0162 3rd or 4th Century New York, USA John 2:11-22
0171 300 AD Florence, Italy
Berlin, Germany
Matthew 10;
Luke 22
0189 2nd or 3rd Century Berlin, Germany Acts 5:3-21
0220 3rd Century Oslo, Norway Romans 4:23-5:3, 5:8-13


Name Date Location Contents[6]
P1 3rd Century Philadelphia, USA Matthew 1
P4 3rd Century Paris, France Luke 1 - 6
P5 3rd Century London, UK John 1, 16, 20
P7 3rd or 4th Century Kiev, Ukraine Luke 4
P9 3rd Century Cambridge, USA 1 John 4
P12 3rd Century New York, USA Hebrews 1
P13 3rd or 4th Century London, UK
Cairo, Egypt
Hebrews 2-5, 10-12
P15 3rd Century Cairo, Egypt 1 Corinthians 7-8
P16 3rd or 4th Century Cairo, Egypt Philippians 3-4
P18 3rd or 4th Century London, UK Revelation 1
P20 3rd Century Princeton, USA James 2-3
P22 3rd Century Glasgow, UK John 15-16
P23 3rd Century Urbana, USA James 1
P27 3rd Century Cambridge, UK Romans 8-9
P28 3rd Century Berkley, USA John 6
P29 3rd Century Oxford, UK Acts 26
P30 3rd Century Ghent, Belgium 1 Thessalonians 4-5 2 Thessalonians 1
P32 200 AD Manchester, UK Titus 1-2
P37 3rd or 4th Century Ann Arbor, USA Matthew 26
P38 300 AD Ann Arbor, USA Acts 18-19
P39 3rd Century Rochester, USA John 8
P40 3rd Century Heidelberg, Germany Romans 1-4, 6, 9
P45 3rd Century Dublin, Ireland
Vienna, Austria
Matthew 20-21, 25-26; Mark 4-9, 11-12; Luke 6-7, 9-14; John 4-5, 10-11; Acts 4-17
  P46   200 AD   Dublin, Ireland
Ann Arbor, USA
  Romans 5-6;
1 Corinthians;
2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians;
1 Thessalonians; Hebrews
P47 3rd Century Dublin, Ireland Revelation 9-17
P48 3rd Century Florence, Italy Acts 23
P49 3rd Century New Haven, USA Ephesians 4-5
P52 125 AD Manchester, UK John 18
P53 3rd Century Ann Arbor, USA Matthew 26;
Acts 9-10
P64 [+67] 200 AD Oxford, UK
Barcelona, Spain
Matthew 3, 5, 26
P65 3rd Century Florence, Italy 1 Thessalonians 1-2
P66 200 AD Cologny, Switzerland
Dublin, Ireland
Cologne, Germany
P69 3rd Century Oxford, UK Luke 22
P70 3rd Century Oxford, UK Matthew 2-3, 11-12, 24
P72 3rd or 4th Century Oxford, UK 1 Peter; 2 Peter; Jude
P75 3rd Century Cologny, Switzerland Luke 3-18, 22-4; John 1-15
P77 2nd or 3rd Century Oxford, UK Matthew 23
P78 3rd or 4th Century Oxford, UK Jude
P80 3rd Century Barcelona, Spain John 3
P87 3rd Century Cologne, Germany Philemon
P90 2nd Century Oxford, UK John 18-19
P91 3rd Century Sydney, Australia Acts 2-3
P95 3rd Century Florence, Italy John 5
P98 2nd Century Cairo, Egypt Revelation 1
P101 3rd Century Oxford, UK Matthew 3-4
P102 3rd or 4th Century Oxford, UK Matthew 4
P103 2nd or 3rd Century Oxford, UK Matthew 13-14
P104 2nd Century Oxford, UK Matthew 21
P106 3rd Century Oxford, UK John 1
P107 3rd Century Oxford, UK John 17
P108 3rd Century Oxford, UK John 17-18
P109 3rd Century Oxford, UK John 21
P111 3rd Century Oxford, UK Luke 17
P113 3rd Century Oxford, UK Romans 2
P114 3rd Century Oxford, UK Hebrews 1
P115 3rd or 4th Century Oxford, UK Revelation 2-3, 5-6, 8-15

Note that where the dates are recorded as 2nd century, this equates with years 100 AD-199 AD, and so for the 3rd 200 AD -299 AD and the 4th for 300 AD-399 AD. Thus, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the manuscripts we have predate Constantine. History shows clearly that all the Scriptures existed for over 200 years before the birth of Constantine. This easily dismisses the claims of those who state that Constantine gave us the Holy Bible.

The Bible is the most tested book in all of history, and many would try and discredit it by giving it a late writing date. God however, in His Sovereign protection has preserved His word, so that we today are able to read the Scriptures and know that contained within them are the words of eternal life.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

  1. [1] Dan Brown, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, Corgi Books (2004): 313
  2. [2] (Cited: 8 December, 2007)
  3. [3] Ibid: (Cited: 8 December, 2007)
  4. [4] Ibid: (Cited: 8 December, 2007)
  5. [5] (Cited: 3 December, 2007)
  6. [6] (Cited: 3 December, 2007)


  1. Fair enough - nice bit of historical work.

    Dan Brown is a dopey bugger anyways, he almost deserved the copyright infringement proceedings in the High Court in England for copying the theme of Holy Blood Holy Grail. Silly, silly.

    Nevertheless, from what I can see, the earliest actual text is from about 125 AD? How was it dated? I just want to know for my own information.

  2. The dating of the early papyri is done by examining the style of writing, the spelling of words, and how the Greek letters look.

  3. Interesting post, but you completely missed the point. You start out by quoting Brown's novel, "The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great." Then, you move on to tackle the idea and conclude that "this easily dismisses the claims of those who state that Constantine gave us the Holy Bible."

    Right... it does prove that Constantine didn't give us the Bible - but that wasn't the premise. The original statement was that the Bible "was collated by" Constantine. There's a huge difference between collection and creation!

    The idea that Constantine issued the collection of books in the Bible should rightly lead people "to believe that before Emperor Constantine we didn't have a copy of the Bible." Before Constantine, we DIDN'T have a copy of the Bible!

    Prior to that, multiple copies of different texts existed. These included the currently accepted books as well as a few that didn't make the cut. Books were written at different times, including a few that were written after the sanctioned texts were collected (thus they would not be eligible as canon).

    However, of the books that existed, only specific ones were selected based on human decision. Works that certain communities had considered valid scripture were labeled heresy by the authorities. If you're still of the opinion that the Bible existed before Constantine, I'd like to see your proof of a collection of the Bible as-is before his conversion.

    And while you believe that "God [...] in His Sovereign protection has preserved His word," He still managed to NOT preserve the originals and only later copies post-150 CE. Oh, and you forgot to mention that scholars also use radiocarbon dating on papyrus, although you probably avoided that since it might undermine your creationist stance.

    Also, it's my favorite factoid that Constantine was baptized by a Unitarian!


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