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I don't mean the approximate time when a certain book in the bible was probably written but the age of the oldest copy of a book in the new testament, or other corroborating literature.

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How would "a scroll with biblical inscriptions" be "real evidence" of Christianity's age? Are you sure you aren't conflating Christianity with Judaism? –  Semaphore Jul 11 at 21:00
    
@Flimzy why do I ignore what christianity is? I claims to be roughly 2000 years old and I wanted to know what the confirmed age is. –  Armin Jul 11 at 21:46
    
@Semaphore a scroll would indeed proof that christianity is at least as old as the scroll itself... –  Armin Jul 11 at 21:47
    
well, the thing is that for your original question, we do not actually need any such scroll to determine that Christianity is older then P52's 125 A.D. –  Semaphore Jul 11 at 22:17

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The oldest Biblical manuscript is Papyrus P52 containing a fragment of the Gospel According to John. It dates to around 100-150 A.D., and is usually cited as from 125 AD.

It has been alleged that a fragment of the Gospels According to Mark dates to the first century, but as far as I know this has not been authenticated officially.


(Since the question was changed as I posted my answer, the original is preserved below)

A bit under 2000 years.

The question of "proven age" is not really answerable to a very high precision, because it is difficult to say when exactly Christianity became a distinct religion separate from Judaism. Apart from the veil of history, you'd also have to draw a line between offshoot religions and mere sects. And there doesn't seem to be any real consensus on where that line should be.

So, the best we can do is come up with a range of years when Christianity formed. The time frame points to some time in the 1st Century A.D.

26 (29) A.D. / 1,988 (1,991) Years Old: We can establish the absolute upper limit to Christianity's age as the start of the Ministry of Jesus. Obviously, there could be no Christianity at least until Jesus introduced the seeds for that religion. The start of Jesus' ministry can be dated to 26 or 29 A.D.; during this time, it would have been at most a sect of Judaism. By the loosest possible interpretation, therefore, Christianity would be 1988 years old.

30 (33) A.D. / 1,984 (1987) Years Old: It is far more convincing to say Christianity began after Jesus had been crucified. The earliest of this position dates Christianity to the Great Commission of Christianity after Jesus died. In biblical canon, after "resurrecting", Jesus told his apostles to spread the gospel to all corners of the world - and this became a central tenet of the Christian faith. Of course, the historical evidence for this event is sketchy at best.

50 A.D. / 1,964 Years Old: More convincingly than the previous two upper limits, we can dates Christianity from the Apostolic Conference in Jerusalem, 50 AD. At that council, the nascent Christian faith ceased requiring circumcision - a noted departure from Judaism. Although Christianity was still seen as a Judaism sect before and after, this doctrinal difference could be interpreted as the start of Christianity as a separate religion.

70 A.D. / 1,944 Years Old: This is the traditional date, and tracks Christianity's separation from Judaism to the destruction of the Second Temple. Up until this point, the Classical World at large (including the Roman government, Jews, and the proto-Christians themselves) still considered Christianity to be a sect of Judaism. In the aftermath of the Second Temple Period's end, however, Rome instituted the Jewish Tax. This led to the early Christians began petitioning Rome for legal recognition as a separate religion from Judaism. This is a persuasive marker for the start of Christianity as distinct from Judaism, although the two remained interlocked and linked for centuries to come.

96 A.D. / 1,918 Years Old: the Roman Emperor Nerva exempted Christians from the Jewish Tax.

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thanks, that is what i wanted to know –  Armin Jul 11 at 22:19
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While I understand the satisfaction from proving that one can still perform mental subtraction, the NNNN Years Ago calculations will age poorly through the years. Are you volunteering to maintain these annually in perpetuity, or should we edit them out now? –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 12 at 12:40
    
@PieterGeerkens The question had asked about age so I supplied the ages. Didn't think that was such a big deal. If doing some subtraction offends you that much I'm sure you are able to edit them out too. –  Semaphore Jul 12 at 19:13
    
It's your content - I won't edit them out unless I stumble on the question after next January and they are then incorrect. ;-) –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 12 at 19:19

The earliest confirmed date of written evidence for Christianity is probably the book of 1 Thessalonians, which is dated around 50 AD. Wikipedia has a list of the various books of the new testament (the portion of the Christian Bible which is specific to Christianity), and their dates of authorship.

The oldest known, existing manuscript from the New Testament is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, and is a fragment of the Gospel of John, and is dated around 125-160 CE.

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is there also a list for the apocrypha? –  Armin Jul 11 at 22:01
    
@Armin: That's right above the 'New Testament' section of the same wikipedia page. But those books pre-date Christianity. –  Flimzy Jul 11 at 22:03

I think this is a perfectly legitimate question. The first real (that is: datable and tangible) evidence for Christianity is the report of the Roman pagan historian Tacitus about Christians in Rome at the time of Nero. Tacitus wrote his history around the year 116.

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Many of the books of the Christian Bible predate 116. –  Flimzy Jul 11 at 21:43
    
@Flimzy is there a copy from a date before 116? if not then that does not proof the age of christianity... –  Armin Jul 11 at 21:48
    
The oldest fragment of a manuscript of any part of the New Testament has been ascribed to about 125. –  fdb Jul 11 at 21:52
    
@Armin: Age of the written manuscript isn't the only way to determine authenticity. But if that's the sort of evidence you're specifically looking for, it would be good to spell that out a bit more explicitly in your question. –  Flimzy Jul 11 at 21:52
    
"The proven age of Christianity" is approximately the day that Christ was (claimed to have been) resurrected. But if your question is specifically what is the oldest known existing manuscript to mention Christianity, that's a slightly different (although still interesting) question. –  Flimzy Jul 11 at 21:54

Since you have changed your question I will reply directly to the question you have posed. The oldest fragments of manuscripts of parts of the New Testament are not older than the first quarter of the second century.

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apocrypha included? –  Armin Jul 11 at 22:02
    
Fragments of a few of the "intertestamental" books have been found in Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls). –  fdb Jul 11 at 22:07

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