Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

5 Feb 2012

1st Century Copy of the Gospel of Mark Discovered

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Dan Wallace, in reporting on his recent debate with Bart Ehrman, says that a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark that preliminarily dates from the 1st century A.D. has recently been discovered. This would make it the earliest copy of the New Testament known to exist and the only one from the 1st century. Dan reports that six other papyrus manuscripts from the 2nd century have also been found. You can read Dan’s report here. Dan is an expert in the field of textual criticism and directs the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

6 Responses

  1. jimvj

    It’s disingenuous to claim that first century “manuscripts” have been found without giving even a cursory indication of the size of the find. Are they postage stamp sized fragments? How have they been dated? Etc.

    But the elephant in the room is that none of the founders of Christianity evinced the need for a “bible”. Jesus, per the gospels themselves, never told his disciples or apostles to record for posterity the events of his life. Why did he not create a “Bible” from thin air? Wouldn’t that be more important than making wine from water?

    Paul, even as he is writing letter after letter and correcting “false” beliefs in certain churches, never realizes that it would be better to define in one place the tenets of the new religion.

    The canonical text was finally defined some 350 years after Jesus, by the sect that gained political power in the age of Rome. Martin Luther did not agree with that canon; and he had doubts about whether “Revelations” should be included. There is no universally agreed definition of a “Bible”, and millions of people have been killed over that and related doctrinal issues.

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  3. Jared Compton

    I would have liked a few more specifics from Dr. Wallace myself! In any case, thanks for your thoughtful questions. Let me pick on just one. I wonder, what should we do with the early, post-apostolic Christian testimony that suggests there was general agreement on which books were written by Jesus’ earliest followers and which were not. Or, related, what should we do with the fact that the books these early Christians claimed were apostolic actually present an essentially unified understanding of Jesus’ mission and message? These bits of evidence, at the least, call into question the oft-made claim that the New Testament contains literature that reflects the theology of only one, late brand of Christianity. All this would seem to indicate, rather, that the New Testament represents the (singular) theology of Jesus’ earliest followers.

  4. Hi Bill,

    I’ve been studying the reports about the papyrus fragment of Mark that Dr. Wallace mentioned in his debate. Odds are that it is something that was either discovered by, or analyzed by, Dr. Scott Carroll, among papyrus-remains embedded in mummy-cartonnage. Dr. Carroll’s been doing some work for the Green Collection, so it’s entirely possible that his patrons purchased such cartonnage without knowing what it contained, and then, upon examination — a fragment of Mark! Dr. Carroll recently presented an early patch from I Corinthians on CNN, so the materials are obviously real. And, if you carefully watch the promotional video for the “Passages” Exhibit (found online at various places, such as at the Gordon-Conwell Seminary site where the exhibit is being shown), at about 00:47 you can see what looks like an exceptionally early fragment from the LXX-text of First Samuel 1:1-4.

    So although the proof will be in the papyrus, I will not be surprised at all if Dr. Carroll has found a small fragment of Mark from the early 100’s. (To confidently posit a first-century date, though, there would have to be some special indicator of the date of the death of the person/mummy.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  5. Bill Combs


    I have been following the discussion (including yours) on the blogs , and I agree with all you say. I would be pleasantly surprised if the fragment could actually be dated to the first century. I am also a little surprised that Dan has reported the 1st century dating as matter-of-factly as he has. Maybe, like you say, he has been told of some special indicator. Just too bad we have to wait to have the relevant facts. But I guess a one-year wait is not as bad as the 50-year wait for the Qumran scrolls to be published.

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