The early New Testament papyri are, for many visitors, the greatest Christian treasures to be seen at the Library.
These incredible discoveries were first made public in The Times (19 November 1931). Before this find, the earliest and most important manuscripts of the Greek New Testament were parchment codices from the fourth and fifth centuries, all dating from the period after Constantine had granted toleration to Christianity.
Only a few small fragments of papyrus with portions of the New Testament from an earlier date were known, and most of these were too small to be of much significance.
The discovery of the Chester Beatty New Testament papyri caused a sensation; they were at least 100 years older than the most important parchment codices at that time.
The papyri not only contained much larger portions of the New Testament than any previously known papyri, but also provided a unique witness to the biblical text at a time when Christianity was experiencing extensive persecution and destruction of its scriptures.
By acquiring these early Christian texts, including the earliest surviving codex of the gospels and acts, the earliest copy of Saint Paul's Letters and the earliest copy of the Book of Revelation, as well as many other early or unique versions of homilies, epistles or pseudo-canonical texts, Chester Beatty's Library became one of the major centres in the world for the study of the Christian Bible.