The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, fund what may be the largest private Biblical studies artifacts venture (http://www.greenscholarsinitiative.org/). In recent years their scholars discovered a mummy mask in which a papyri fragment of the Gospel of Mark is reported to have been found. This news was first made public by Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament and Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary (http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dwallace/) and the founder of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (http://www.csntm.org/) on October 1, 2001 during a debate with Bart Ehrman. On March 21, 2012 Justin Taylor posted an interview with Wallace in which he again noted the newly discovered fragment of Mark (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/).
Earlier this month Craig A. Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity School (http://www.acadiadiv.ca/craig-evans/) mentioned this fragment, and this time a wide audience took notice (http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html). Within Christian circles many posted about Evans’ announcement, and Justin Taylor’s blog on the Gospel Coalition website may be the clearest analysis I have seen (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/20/how-should-we-respond-to-reports-that-a-fragment-of-mark-dates-to-the-first-century/). Even the secular press, including CNN, has reported of Evans’ announcements (http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/living/gospel-mummy-mask/).
As Daniel Wallace, Justin Taylor, and Peter Williams, Warden at Tyndale House, Cambridge (http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/?page=peter-williams ) (see Taylor’s 2015 blog noted above) notes, this is both something to get excited about and to be cautious about. But in the end, it might not matter much. In Justin Taylor’s 2012 post cited above, Wallace underscores the quantity and quality of manuscripts already used in the formation of the Greek New Testament and most modern translations. Even something like a first century fragment would not ‘tip the scales’ that much regarding the the wording of the New Testament. While the fragment might be older, it might not yield anything new. There is already roughly 90% agreement among the most well-preserved manuscripts—a fact that needs to be heralded when something new or questionable is reported. I want to cite just three here, all of which are widely available for viewing. These, as I noted Sunday, preserve part of what the author of Hebrews called the message of great salvation ‘first spoken by the Lord and confirmed through those who heard Him.’ That confirmation comes to us today through, among others, Papyri no. 46, and Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.
1. Papryi 46 dates to the third century and its 104 leaves contain portions of most of the Paulines (save Pastorals), including Hebrews, in the following order: Romans, Hebrews, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. This order may accord grouping of larger epistles before the shorter ones. It can be analyzed from the University of Michigan Website (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/apis back=back1322772796;size=20;sort=apis_inv;type=boolean;view=thumbnail;rgn1=ic_all;select1=all;q1=6238).
2. Codex Sinaiticus dates to the fourth century and contains the entire New Testament. It is on display at the British Library in London, and can be viewed online (http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/).
3. Codex Vaticanus also dates to the fourth century and contains all four Gospels, Acts, and most of Paul’s letters. It is housed at the Vatican but is publicly available for viewing by purchasing BibleWorks 9 (http://www.bibleworks.com/).
These are just a few of the manuscripts committees of scholars use to compile the Greek New Testament and modern translations. And these are widely available. No mystery, no secrets, no drama. Much more could be said but the purpose of this blog post is to underscore the stability of the wording of the New Testament. Research organizations like the Green Scholars Initiative play an important role in New Testament studies and scholars must be robust in analyzing the best texts and newest discoveries (as I argue in this review of Stanley E. Porter’s How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation [http://www.mbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Fall_Journal_2014_Online.pdf]), but these will likely prove supplementary. Even the forthcoming (hopefully!) early fragment of Mark may not matter much.