(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Dave Bullock)
Dallas Theological Seminary professor Daniel B. Wallace has said that newly discovered fragments from the Gospel of Mark could be the oldest New Testament artifacts ever found and date from the first century A.D., or during the time of eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection.
Wallace announced his findings at UNC Chapel Hill on Feb. 1, 2012, during a debate in front of 1,000 people, where he unveiled that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered – six of them he said were probably from the second century, and one of them, the Gospel of Mark, probably from the first. The records will only be published next year, however.
The professor of New Testament Studies identified a fragment from the Gospel of Mark, the second book of the New Testament that chronicles the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as perhaps the most interesting find among the new discoveries.
Wallace explained that the fragment was dated by one of the world's leading paleographers. The oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was Papyrus 45 (P45), from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate P45 by 100 to 150 years, almost certainly placing it in the first century and making it the oldest of its kind, according to the professor. The other oldest known manuscript of the New Testament has been P52 (discovered in 1934), a small fragment from John's Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century.
The professor explained that research is still being done to find out if or what new perspectives on the Bible the new fragment might add, and whether it offers original wording or the possibility of an alternate reading to the Gospel of Mark. Details of how, where and when this new fragment was discovered are not yet known – as the official report on the fragments comes out next year.
The most remarkable aspect about this find, if it is indeed confirmed to be from the first century, is that it will be the first ever manuscript discovered dated within the lifetime of some of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection, according to Wallace.
Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, shared with The Christian Post that this find may indeed be of very great importance.
"If authenticity and early date are confirmed, this fragment of the Gospel of Mark could be very significant and show how well preserved the text of the New Testament really is. We all await its publication," Evans stated.