More the First Century Gospel of Mark

Rylands Library Papyrus P52 (From John's Gospel)—This is the oldest extant fragment from the New Testament (though dating is still debatable)

In a previous post I mentioned that Dr. Daniel Wallace referred to a hitherto unknown first century manuscript (now fragment) of Mark in a debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman. As I noted before, the blogosphere sparked with suspicions regarding  Wallace’s claim. We are currently lacking any announcement as to its discovery, the so-called world renown paleographer who has dated the fragment remains anonymous, and the Brill publication is still, according to Wallace, about a year away. Unfortunately, Wallace’s new post on this has not alleviated any of these concerns. Texts that remain “hidden” texts are regarded with a significant degree of hesitation, especially when the information is disseminated through one person (a bit gnostic if you ask me). If the long history of the Dead Sea Scroll publications is any indication, when texts remain privately held and controlled for so long, some crazy things begin to leak out or are simply invented. Hopefully, the identification of this text is not based on the conjunction “kai” a la initial claims of the some scholars who thought gospel manuscripts were found in the caves. In any event, see the post quoted below (again, hopefully this text will be released shortly for other scholars to chime in)”

“On 1 February 2012, I debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today. This was our third such debate, and it was before a crowd of more than 1000 people. I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.

How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmedvarious readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introducednew authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time.

These new papyri will no doubt continue that trend. But, if this Mark fragment is confirmed as from the first century, what a thrill it will be to have a manuscript that is dated within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection!”

See blog here


5 thoughts on “More the First Century Gospel of Mark

  1. Pingback: The Uncertain Gospel | Morning Meditations

  2. Greetings JG.
    I suspect that the papyrus fragment of Mark mentioned by Dr. Wallace is something that was found by Dr. Scott Carroll, who has been collecting and studying ancient artifacts, manuscripts, etc., for the Green Collection. My hope and expectation is that in about a year we are going to see a post-card-sized fragment of Mark from the early 100’s. The Green Collection has shown that at least one of their researchers has access to very early materials, apparently gathered from cartonnage. See for example the fragment of First Samuel 1:1-4 that appears at about 00:47 in the video promoting the “Passages” Exhibit, which can easily be found online.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Indiana (USA)

    • Thanks for the update. By the early 100’s do you mean second century CE? The claim by Dr. Wallace was regarding a first century ms. A copy of Mark from the second century would of course still be exceptional but it would stand with p52’s John. But part of the confusion between years is part of the problem with this material remaining in private hands. In terms dating, there would be several questions that need to be asked by others. What does paleography tell us? Can we carbon date the papyrus? What do the contents tell us about Mark if anything? What text appears? Is it in fact Mark?

      While these questions are many (not exhaustive), I think it exhibits the concerns of a claim that was made without significant substantiation. Hopefully, we will hear more soon.

      Thank you for your comment.


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