Earliest fragment of Mark’s gospel found

One of seven recently discovered Christian papyri may date from the century in which Jesus lived. Photo: Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta
One of seven recently discovered Christian papyri may date from the century in which Jesus lived. Photo: Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta
Published February 22, 2012

A New Testament expert says that seven recently discovered papyri may contain the earliest known version of the Gospel of Mark-dating to the first century, the same in which Jesus and his disciples lived.

Prof. Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, discussed the fragments during a debate earlier this month at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The debate focused on whether today we are reading the original wording of the New Testament.

“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!” Wallace wrote on the seminary’s website. “Not only this, but this manuscript would have been written before the New Testament was completed.”

During the debate, Wallace said that of the seven new papyri, six likely dated from the second century, but the Mark fragment was probably from the first.

Noting that the Mark fragment has been dated by one of the world’s leading (but unnamed) paleographers, Wallace said it would predate the oldest extant Mark manuscript by 100 to 150 years.

According to Wallace, the oldest extant manuscript of the New Testament per se is a small fragment from John, dated to the first half of the second century.

Researchers are trying to determine whether the new fragment contains the original wording of the Gospel of Mark or offers a possible different version.

“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,” writes Wallace.

By way of illustration, Wallace offers these examples. Suppose a papyrus had “Lord” in one passage, while all other manuscripts had “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt such a reading as authentic, precisely because there is 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.

The texts and details of their discovery will not be published until next year.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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