We ought to be clear that none of the 'New Testament Papyri' about which we are thinking actually ever were manuscripts of the whole New Testament – papyrus based technology seems to preclude that - although in some cases groups of separate manuscripts could have functioned as something like a ‘New Testament’.[i]
The ‘New Testament Papyri’ of which we speak are the extant remains of manuscripts of the constituent parts of the New Testament – as later defined - many of the most important and interesting of which were written precisely during the period when ‘the New Testament’ was still in the process of taking definitive shape.[ii] There is, however, a definite technological shift involved in the movement from papyrus to parchment, which enabled the production and binding of more substantial volumes and which enabled the production of not only whole New Testaments, but also whole Greek Bibles in the fourth and fifth centuries.[iii]
[i] For example, the Chester Beatty collection, P45 (four gospels and Acts), P46 (Pauline epistles), P47 (Revelation), could have functioned as something like a ‘New Testament’ collection. P74 (Acts and the Catholic Epistles), from a later period, reflects a standard portion of the New Testament as canonically arranged.
[ii] We should note, however, that evidence from early Christian papyri is important in considerations of the reception, acceptance and influence of the separate books, and can be of importance in relation to issues relating to the NT canon. The most popular non-canonical document, the Shepherd of Hermas, is extant in large numbers of papyrus manuscripts, reflecting its undoubted popularity (and probably some acceptance of its authority and even ‘inspiration’ among its readers); while the worst attested of the larger New Testament documents is the Gospel of Mark, with relatively few manuscripts, and relatively few other indications of its influence.
[iii] Neither of these large formats had substantial longevity, and the vast majority of NT manuscripts of the later period reflect separate bindings for the four gospels, the Pauline epistles, and Acts and the Catholic Epistles.