The Gospel Coalition

The Story: "There's nothing more likely to get the blogs all talking than a rumor about a newly discovered manuscript fragment." That line is just begging for a qualification. Nevertheless, Mark Goodacre, at NT Blog, meant it, and the rumor has indeed caused a stir among the biblioblogs.

The Background: It all started at a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on the reliability and authenticity of the New Testament text. In the debate, Wallace made the following claim:

Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It's from the first century. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data.


According to a tweet by Andreas Kostenberger, who was live-tweeting the event, Ehrman questioned Wallace about the manuscript, and Wallace responded that he's unable to provide additional details. Ehrman was skeptical.



Wallace reflected later  on the exchange about Ehrman's skepticism:
In the Q & A, Bart questioned the validity of the first-century Mark fragment. I noted that a world-class paleographer, whose qualifications are unimpeachable, was my source. Bart said that even so, we don't have thousands of manuscripts from the first century! That kind of skepticism is incomprehensible to me.

Why It Matters: Bart Ehrman has made a career out of writing best-selling books that question the reliability of the Bible, arguing that since we do not have the original manuscripts and what manuscripts we have contain thousands of variants, we can have little faith in their accuracy.

I asked Andreas Kostenberger about the potential significance of such a discovery. He replied:

To some extent, the impact of the find, if confirmed, depends on the size of the fragment and on the likely date. Given that currently the earliest known fragment dates from around AD 125, any certified find of a first-century Gospel fragment would certainly be critically important, especially if the fragment agrees in wording with the currently available texts. If so, this would confirm the stability of the manuscript tradition, significantly reducing the time between the earliest extant text and the original publication of Mark. Such a discovery would have the potential of undermining the argument by Bart Ehrman and others that significant changes were introduced between the original documents and the first available copies. The effect that the Qumran discoveries had in confirming the reliability of the transmission of the OT text comes to mind in this regard (though the parallel is not exact).


Compared to any other ancient document, the New Testament already carries the most compelling evidence for reliability. This chart* (below) shows the overwhelming evidence, as far as the number of manuscripts and the time span between the original and copy, that we can trust that what we have of the New Testament is what the authors wrote. Any further corroboration from possible earlier manuscript fragments of Mark is simply piling on top of what is already convincing evidence.



*Adapted from a chart by Daniel B. Wallace, published in his chapter, "The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts," in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning, ed. Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner, ©2012, p. 114. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,www.crossway.org.

 


Comments:

Assorted Links | MichaelRussell.co

September 29, 2012 at 06:57 AM

[...] 3. First century fragment of Mark rumoured to be found here [...]

King Roman

September 19, 2013 at 09:21 PM

Is it not true that the gospels are only extant in the 4th century codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, that there are none earlier?

The Bible Has Errors «

May 31, 2012 at 04:26 AM

[...] 99 manuscripts that date before 400AD means that the gap between the original inerrant manuscripts and these are pretty slim. (see comparison of the number of NT manuscripts with other notable historical documents here) [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the New Testament has far more copies than any [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the New Testament has far more copies than any [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the New Testament has far more copies than any [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

[...] A First Century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark? Wallace will be on the Stand to Reason radio program, Sunday March 4th, 2 - 5 pm PST. This entry is filed under Atheism, Culture, Healthcare, Links, Rusty. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Leave a Reply [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the New Testament has far more copies than any [...]

John Dyer

February 9, 2012 at 04:22 PM

Dr. Wallace wrote an update here: http://www.dts.edu/read/wallace-new-testament-manscript-first-century/

Rob

February 8, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Mmmm, reminds me of many atheists and skeptics -- no amount of evidence would convince them. This is a heart problem, not a head problem.

Mike Warren

February 8, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, UK, has pretty much demolished Ehrman's arguments http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/advanced/bart-ehrmansmisquoting-jesus-an-analysis.htm

Commenter

February 8, 2012 at 10:20 AM

I have heard Ehrman state that's correct in debate. It is to my understanding that Bart Ehrman is agnostic not on the basis of any textual uncertainty or primary theological contradiction in scripture but has stated that he rejects the Christian faith primarily based upon the problem of suffering.

CG

February 8, 2012 at 09:14 AM

Not necessarily. The hypothesis is that Matthew & Luke relied on Mark & a hypothetical "Q" document to organize their own gospels, so an older fragment of Mark wouldn't have any direct bearing on the theory.

Of course, the main difficulty for the Q theory all along has been that there are thousands of manuscripts (and fragments) of the other gospels, but zero "Q" fragments, and that there are no early church references to any such document.

Reg Schofield

February 8, 2012 at 07:21 AM

Ehrman is a radical apostate and would not believe the Bible was reliable even if a complete copy was found of any letter. I'm sure if a fragment was found that dated to the exact time of the writing of say ,the book of Romans , Ehrman would say , well its still a copy . Unless the Holy Spirit opens his dead heart , he will not believe no matter how overwhelming the evidence becomes.

Ryan Peter

February 8, 2012 at 07:19 AM

Would be pretty stoked if this is true!

Tyler

February 8, 2012 at 07:09 AM

How would this affect the theory of the Q document? Wouldn't it make the idea seem redundant?

[...] had recently in North Carolina. The post focuses on an assertion made by Wallace in the debate that a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark has been found. Dr. Wallace, through his Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, travels frequently to [...]

Josh

February 21, 2012 at 02:54 PM

From the post by Mark Goodacre cited in the first paragraph here:

"I would also add at this point that it is always good on these occasions to begin with a healthy scepticism. ... As with manuscripts, we should wait for the physical evidence before we get our hopes up."

It sounds as if it would be premature for Ehrman or anyone else for that matter, to be anything but skeptical at this point. Being skeptical does not mean one is not open to changing their opinion if and when new information comes to light. "Skeptical" is not a synonym for "stubborn."

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

Does the Bible Have Errors? | City Life Church

February 2, 2013 at 05:35 PM

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

James Snapp, Jr.

February 13, 2012 at 07:18 PM

John Starke,

The fragment in question is probably something discovered, or analyzed, by Dr. Scott Carroll, who has been researching and examining things for the Green Collection. Apparently one of the things acquired was a bunch of papyrus mummy-cartonnage. For an example of the sort of thing that can be found in such materials, see the fragment of First Samuel 1:1-4 that is featured at about 00:47 in the video promoting the "Passages" Exhibit of the Green Collection, which can be easily found online.

Although some unfounded claims of gold-striking have perhaps left some bystanders a bit skeptical about claims of gold-striking, and although the proof will be in the papyrus, I strongly suspect that a small but clearly identifiable fragment of Mark from the second century has been found. (The only way to guarantee a first-century date from something extracted from face-wrappings, istm, would be if something else found with the fragment contained a distinct date, or if the corpse's decease-date could be precisely ascertained somehow.)

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

[...] Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered? Note: Several websites (NT Blog, Gospel Coalition, Andreas Köstenberger,Evangelical Textual Criticism, Hypotyposeis, etc.) have been writing [...]

[...] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, [...]

[…] is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the New Testament has far more copies than any […]