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February 18, 2012

A First-Century Fragment of Mark found?

If this checks out…wow:

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)—Much of the biblical scholarly world has been buzzing since Feb. 1, when a New Testament professor made a claim during a debate that was news to most everyone who heard it—a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel may have been found.

It would be the earliest-known fragment of the New Testament, placing it in the very century of Christ and the apostles.

The claim by Dallas Theological Seminary’s Daniel B. Wallace took place during a debate with University of North Carolina professor Bart Ehrman, an author whose popular books claim the New Testament cannot be trusted because the original manuscripts aren’t in existence.

The Mark fragment has yet to be made public, but Wallace provided a few more details on his website, saying information about the fragment would be published in the form of a book in “about a year.”...more

If this is true it would change nothing with regard to our faith since we have always known the Gospels are apostolic in origin. But it would happily bring a great deal of embarrassment to the History Channel “scholars”, National Geographic “academics”, and various “useful idiots” within orthodox circles who respect and accept the “unanimous consensus of mainstream scholarship” over and above the New Testament documents themselves.

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Sweet!  Evidence around the Bible, such the care taken when it was copied, the evidence of older manuscripts, sermons from the first century, the prophecies that are proven to be true, archeological evidence from many sites, the fact is was written over 1500 years by 40 authors in 3 language without contridiction, over 20,000+ pages of sermons from the 1st century…how can you possibly doubt the Bible is the Holy Word of God?

There will be those who refuse to believe, even if the original text of every book was found.  Lord, we pray that eyes will be opened.

[1] Posted by B. Hunter on 2-18-2012 at 09:02 AM · [top]

A First Century fragment of Saint Marks Gospel?  I am tempted to say that this “immediately” changes things…. wink

[2] Posted by Stefano on 2-18-2012 at 09:27 AM · [top]

I admit that I would be tempted to take a preemptive strike on the likes of Ehrman.  But, being the moderate Presuppositionalist as I am, I myself would have let that information be thoroughly vetted before I trotted it out.  As things stand, IF the fragment doesn’t vet, then Wallace WILL find himself in the same circumstance that those cold fusion guys (what were their names?) found themselves in during the late ‘80’s.  There is no shame in vetting a good argument that supports a good conclusion;  only in not vetting a poor one while hoping for the best.

[3] Posted by J Eppinga on 2-18-2012 at 09:58 AM · [top]

Yes, I think Wallace is being wise not to release a definitive book until it has been vetted.

[4] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 2-18-2012 at 10:22 AM · [top]

[3] Moot

Moderate Presuppositionalist as I am

Moderate? Really?

Come with me to the Dark Side, Moot, and we will bring order to Apologetics.  Obi-Bahn has forseen this.


[5] Posted by carl on 2-18-2012 at 10:35 AM · [top]

Stefano - “and” wink if we had the entire perfectly perserved manuscripts straight from the apostles’ and the prophets’ own pens they would read the same as the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic copies.

[6] Posted by Milton on 2-18-2012 at 11:20 AM · [top]

Scholars do not know the difference between oral history and oral tradition. An oral tradition does not develope within the lifetime of an eye witness and change the testimony of the eye witness. . If I tell my grandchildren about life in Savannah during World War II, this is not oral tradition. They just do not get it.

[7] Posted by Pb on 2-18-2012 at 11:38 AM · [top]

I welcome this find if it proves correct, but I don’t think it will make much of a difference, since even the liberal scholars date Mark to the first century.  If the fragment were dated to the 60s or earlier, that would make a difference.

About 20 years ago, someone announced a fragment of Matthew dated from the 60s which would have been a big deal since in Matthew Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70),

[8] Posted by John Boyland on 2-18-2012 at 12:16 PM · [top]

It would be a big deal for two reasons

1. It would further affirm the accuracy of extant manuscripts against Ehrman etc

2. Mark also has Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple in Mark 13…depending on the precise dating of the fragment this could be as big as the Matthew fragment or bigger.

[9] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 2-18-2012 at 12:39 PM · [top]

Ehrman’s biography indicates he is an Evangelical who has lost his faith, and seems to be angry about it. We need to pray for his (re-)conversion.

[10] Posted by TomRightmyer on 2-18-2012 at 01:50 PM · [top]

Now really,everybody.  We know that Mark, as well as the rest of the Bible, was written in King James English! tongue wink

[11] Posted by onesimus on 2-18-2012 at 02:35 PM · [top]

Stefano (and Milton - together being Mssr’s Καὶ εὐθὺς),
Apparently, you were too subtle.
But, good one(s).

[12] Posted by Rob Eaton+ on 2-18-2012 at 02:43 PM · [top]

#3 Ponds and Fleischhmen   (The latter of the duo who went back to his first love of making butter taste like margarine - with unparalleled success.)

[13] Posted by anglicanlutenist on 2-18-2012 at 03:31 PM · [top]

Matt #9:  Yes, I agree.  Dating it to the 60s would be a BIG thing.

[14] Posted by John Boyland on 2-18-2012 at 04:46 PM · [top]

Actually, the most interesting thing would be if this fragment ends up including the very end of Mark.  That is, as is well known, it is virtually certain that the original form of Mark lacked anything after Mark 16:8.  The familiar long ending (Mark 16:9-20) is clearly a later addition, reflecting knowledge of the other three gospels, presumably added by later scribes in the process of copying Mark, since the (apparent) original ending seemed so abrupt and puzzling.

However, the fact is, we don’t need any additional data to show that Bart Ehrmann has badly misconstrued the state of things.  Although he is a fine textual critic when he limits himself to truly objective academic work, he is notorious for being on a crusade to try to debunk Christianity, as an embittered ex-fundamentalist.  His popular level stuff is sheer propaganda, and grossly exaggerates the problems that textual criticism supposedly creates for Christian faith.  Ehrmann attended Moody Bible Institute, and (as a Wheaton alum myself) I regret to say that he is a Wheaton College grad as well.  He got his Ph.D at Princeton under the renowned textual critic Bruce Metzger.  But he’d already lost his faith by then.

Thanks for posting this, I hadn’t heard about this.  Matt.  Good catch.

David Handy+

[15] Posted by New Reformation Advocate on 2-18-2012 at 05:24 PM · [top]

Do we know exactly where and when this fragment was found and by whom?  Is it a brand new find or something which has been sitting around for a while in some archives and only recently identified?  This is the kind of discovery that scholars dream about…quite literally.  It made my heart beat faster just to read about it.

[16] Posted by Ann Castro on 2-18-2012 at 05:59 PM · [top]

I could have sworn that there has long been a fragment with a decent claim to being from a first century gospel of Mark.  Does anyone know if my memory is playing tricks on me?

[17] Posted by rick allen on 2-18-2012 at 06:53 PM · [top]

My bible grin on textual criticism, Evangelical Textual Criticism has a post:
First century Mark fragment and extensive papyrus/i?

[18] Posted by Lars on 2-18-2012 at 07:02 PM · [top]

David, I agree that “the most interesting thing would be if this fragment ends up including the very end of Mark.” I dearly hope the complete ending of mark is there.

I think I disagree, however, if I’m hearing you correctly that is, when you say that “it is virtually certain that the original form of Mark lacked anything after Mark 16:8.”  Yes, Mark as it was written by the original author ends at verse 8. But without something after verse 8 Mark just looks to be a story without a satisfactory ending which is probably why early scribes tacked on the little bits we have at the end. On this topic, N.T. Wright has said in ‘Mark for Everyone’, “Of course there are many who think that Mark did after all intend to close the book with the women in fear and silence, but I disagree. I have become quite sure that there was more.  I think a very, very early copy of Mark was mutilated. As with many other scrolls and books in the ancient world (and sometimes even in the modern), the last page, or the last column of the scroll, was torn off, presumably by accident.” 

But regardless of whether or not it contains the ending, I nonetheless wait with eager anticipation to read what the fragment contains.

[19] Posted by Ross Gill on 2-18-2012 at 07:34 PM · [top]

Well, I will be fascinated to see what we actually have and dispense with the speculation.  I suspect that it will confirm what we already have.

[20] Posted by Br. Michael on 2-18-2012 at 08:32 PM · [top]

I agree Br Michael.  But speculation is just something we humans like to do.  For better or worse it comes with being blessed with an imagination.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful if something was discovered that not only confirms what we already have but which returns to the canon of scripture that which was lost but now is found?

[21] Posted by Ross Gill on 2-18-2012 at 09:06 PM · [top]

#12 Not knowing Greek, I admit I had to copy and paste into Google.  I suppose that makes me Msgr. And and Stefano Msgr. Immediately. wink

[22] Posted by Milton on 2-18-2012 at 10:34 PM · [top]

Ann Castro at #16,

“Do we know exactly where and when this fragment was found and by whom?  Is it a brand new find or something which has been sitting around for a while in some archives and only recently identified?”

Unfortunately, we probably won’t know the full story on such details for some time - months if not years. Independent academics will review the evidence and give their opinions privately first.  Archeology is rife with both forgeries and over-enthusiastic claims, and everyone has learned to be cautious.

[23] Posted by MichaelA on 2-19-2012 at 05:20 AM · [top]

An adaptation of my post on the same topic at T19:

To put this in context, we do not have the original manuscript of ANY ancient document.  In fact, for the vast majority of ancient documents, we do not have a copy made within several hundred years of the original.  Yet the authenticity of these works is accepted without question by historians.  By contrast, we have far older copies of the New Testament scriptures, and far more of them, than for any other ancient document. It would be fair to say that the Bible is *hundreds of times* better attested than any other ancient work.

For example:

* Julius Caesar’s works - we have less than a dozen copies, the oldest of which was made about 1,000 years after Caesar wrote them.

* The Histories of Herodotus - we have less than 10 copies, the oldest of which was made more than 1200 years after Herodotus wrote them.

* The plays of Euripides - we have less than 10 copies, the oldest of which was made about 1500 years after Euripides wrote the plays.

These are not exceptions, rather they are typical.  Yet historians do not query the authenticity and historicity of each of these works.

By contrast, we have many thousands of copies of the New Testament. Our oldest complete copy of all 29 books dates back to about 200 years after they were all written, and copies of individual books are even older. For example, the oldest complete copy of the Gospel of John was made only about 40 years after John wrote it!

The reason for this incredible number of old manuscripts is simple - people wanted the scriptures.  Even ‘common’ people hungered for them in a way that they did not hunger for the works of Herodotus or Caesar, and hence they made thousands of copies.  These were circulating throughout the Roman Empire by the early 2nd century AD and probably earlier. 

This fragment of the Gospel of Mark, if pronounced genuine after careful academic investigation, will be very useful. But the authenticity and historicity of the New Testament scriptures do not depend on this fragment, because those things were already well established.

[24] Posted by MichaelA on 2-19-2012 at 05:30 AM · [top]

24, does that mean that my entire collection of NT autographs might not be real?  They are even signed by the author and came with certificates of authenticity!

[25] Posted by Br. Michael on 2-19-2012 at 05:56 AM · [top]

Dr. Wallace may be referring to this:


I remember this when it came out in the late 1970’s, have the book referred to, was and is very encouraging.

[26] Posted by vulcanhammer on 2-19-2012 at 08:41 AM · [top]

I would not get too excited about this, for several reasons:

The announcement was made in a debate, rather than through a publication. I’m not quite sure what to make of that. Was Daniel B. Wallace unwisely led into making an announcement in the heat of the debating moment which he was not ready to make?

As others have said, there have been similar claims before. One thinks of Carsten Thiede and Jose O’Callaghan announcing a fragment of Mark from Qumran . . . evangelicals jumped on it as confirmation of an early date for Mark. But the the claim didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The likelihood that the fragment (if it really is an early fragment of Mark) includes the ending is pretty small. Surviving early fragments are usually just parts of a few lines.

If the very odd ending of Mark is due to mutilation, it would have had to happen to a copy from which all other copies were made. Old papyri get worn out and if in book form could lose a page. But if there was once a grandaddy of all copies of Mark, and it was so old as to be falling to pieces, why were no copies made from it during the long period when it had all its pages? And if it was a scroll, the end is the least likely part to be damaged, as it is safely tucked deep inside the scroll when stored.

But even though caution is the sensible course, I can’t help feeling a sense of anticipation that this might, just might, turn out to be what it is claimed to be.

[27] Posted by William S on 2-19-2012 at 03:06 PM · [top]

I also hope it turns out to be real. But for me it would only be interesting if there are important textual variants. Which I think is unlikely.

We are fortunate to live in an era with what we believe are very reliable sources for the NT. what a shame it is that we don’t read it as carefully as our forbears who had fewer source documents.

[28] Posted by Ralph on 2-19-2012 at 03:43 PM · [top]

Br. Michael,

That’s nothing. I have a mint-condition gold coin from the year Julius Caesar died. It even has the date “44 BC” stamped on it!

[29] Posted by MichaelA on 2-19-2012 at 04:48 PM · [top]

I saw this a little while ago. The (more or less) original source, which is reputable and certainly seems confident. This contains some information concerning the source of Wallace’s claims.



Like others, my feeling is that we should wait until it is published before getting excited. We have seen claims like this before which have later been shown to be false, and the secure evidence is strong enough already without relying on views which haven’t been verified; and if we do make a big fuss over this and it turns out not to be correct it undermines our credibility in those areas where we are credible. It looks likely that next year we will have something interesting; but not yet.

[30] Posted by Boring Bloke on 2-19-2012 at 07:46 PM · [top]

#27. I think #8 was referring to Carsten Thiede’s Work and I think it was a Matthew fragment, and it is held by the British Museum.  I have a video on it.  Very interesting.  I think Thiede dated that fragment to the early 60s, and I believe it was in Aramaic, not Greek, but not sure about that.

[31] Posted by ann r on 2-19-2012 at 09:43 PM · [top]

ann r at #30, I suspect you are both referring to Papyrus 64, which is a fragment of the Gospel of Matthew held in Magdalen College Oxford. It is in Greek.

According to Dr Peter Head of Tyndale House, Thiede did not actually claim that P64 should be dated to prior AD 70.  Rather, he said this was *possible*, and the media seized on this and blew it up into a big story.  But Thiede’s actual thesis was that P64 should be dated between 70 AD to 100 AD. Dr Head disagreed with Thiede (he said 200 AD +/-50), but he acknowledged the way Thiede’s argument had been distorted by the media.

[32] Posted by MichaelA on 2-20-2012 at 05:43 AM · [top]

An online copy of Dr Head’s paper can be found here: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Head/P64TB.htm

Another critique of Thiede on P64 by j. K. Elliott can be found here: http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/thiede.htm. This is an atheist site, but they have printed Elliott’s paper in full, and note the last two sentences of his penultimate paragraph:

“...In any case, there is nowadays no dispute among Biblical scholars that all the four New Testament gospels were composed in the first century although the precise dates and relative sequence of the compositions are open questions. It is improbable that we have any extant copy of any part of any of them earlier than the second quarter of the second century.”

All four gospels composed in the first century - I can live with that.

[33] Posted by MichaelA on 2-20-2012 at 06:07 AM · [top]

I just hope it contains Jesus speaking to the prostitute:

Go and sin no more!

That in itself will blow up many, many universalist take on Jesus the God and Man.

Would be so cool!


[34] Posted by Mike Bertaut on 2-20-2012 at 02:33 PM · [top]

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