Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dr. Dan Wallace blogged about a debate, round three, with Dr. Bart Ehrman. In that debate, Wallace stated that there was a 1st century "papyrus fragment" of the Gospel of Mark. He has now written more extensively on that debate and, signficantly, more directly on the papyrus fragment:
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.
What the signficance of these earlier fragments is will have to await publication, and scholarly study, but one must say that the more early texts we have of the New Testament the better. On the other hand, Larry Hurtado wisely calls for ratcheting down the rhetoric regarding the signficance of new manuscript finds for the study of early Christianity, saying,
It is entirely understandable, and yet also in some ways unfortunate, that polemicists for and against the Bible (such as the protagonists in the Wallace/Ehrman debate) have made the identification and secure dating of NT manuscripts such a controversial matter.
Hurtado goes on to make these important points:
Finally, I might add, the questions about which "readings" are best, and how close we are to the "autograph" of a text will never settle the major issues regarding the truth of the claims in the New Testament, the reliability of the historical issues with respect to Jesus, and the philosophical dispositions of those interpreting these manuscripts. Still, all in all, it is better to have more and earlier texts of the New Testament than not, so I look forward to the publication of these fragments.

John W. Martens

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