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The Earliest Gospel of Mark Has NOT Been Found

I’m trying to correct some headlines. OK, my headline is wrong also, intentionally so. Here’s what happened: Dan Wallace said in a debate that a fragment of Mark has been found which one paleographer dated to the 1st century. There has been a good deal of discussion of this on the biblioblogs, for example, John Byron comments (accurately) here.

Today in my Google Reader I find the headline Gospel of Mark found dating from 1st century. The first line of the post attributes this to Christianity Today: “Christianity Today has just published news that the earliest copy of the Gospel of Mark has been found.” The link, however, goes to Christian Today (India), (not Christianity Today) where the headline is the not quite yet accurate “Earliest manuscript of Gospel of Mark reportedly found.”

Note that the TEXT of both the post and of the Christian Today article is largely accurate. It’s the headlines I’m complaining about.

Now I’m not trying to beat up on the blogger who posted this, but I do want to correct some false impressions. First, this is not “the gospel of Mark.” It is a fragment, a tiny piece. Finding an early fragment is extremely exciting, but it is not the same as finding a whole manuscript. I think this is important because very often when speakers tell Christian audiences that there are thousands of Greek manuscripts, people assume that these are all complete copies of the various Bible books, or even complete copies of the New Testament. In fact, they vary from fragments containing portions of a couple of verses up to complete copies of the New Testament. Not surprisingly, the complete copies tend to be later.

Second, this fragment of Mark has not yet been published. The claim is simply that one paleographer has dated it to the 1st century. We need to wait for publication and study by other scholars before we jump on the dating of this manuscript.

It’s important to keep all this in mind, because misinformation lives forever once it makes it onto the Christian circuit. There will be claims years from now that there is a copy of Mark that comes from the first century even if further study shows that the fragment is not from the 1st century.

Since I write this blog primarily for non-scholarly readers, I want to make these things clear. Please don’t believe every sensational headline about the Bible. Let these things be tested.

 

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