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1st-century N.T. fragment: more details emerge

DALLAS (BP) — The seminary professor who surprised the academic world by saying a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel had been found has released new information along with two new claims — an early sermon on Hebrews and the earliest-known manuscripts of Paul’s letters also have been discovered.

Details about the finds will be published in an academic book in 2013, says Dallas Theological Seminary’s Daniel B. Wallace, a New Testament professor. Wallace started the buzz on Feb. 1 when, during a debate with author and skeptic Bart Ehrman, he made the claim about the Mark fragment, which would be the earliest-known fragment of the New Testament.

Wallace provided a few more details on his website and then a few more during a Feb. 24 interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, saying the fragments and manuscripts were found in Egypt.

The significance of all the manuscripts, Wallace said, would be on par with the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Mark fragment is “a very small fragment, not too many verses, but it’s definitely from Mark,” Wallace said. “… To have a fragment from one of the Gospels that’s written during the lifetime of some of the eyewitnesses to the resurrection is just astounding.”

To date, the earliest-known fragment of the New Testament is from John’s Gospel and dates from around 125 A.D.

The Mark fragment, Wallace said, will affirm what is already written in that portion of Mark’s Gospel.

The paleographer who dated it, Wallace said, is “one of the world’s leading paleographers.” Wallace previously said the paleographer is certain it’s from the first century. Still, Wallace told Hewitt, several more paleographers will look at the Mark fragment before the book is published.

The Mark fragment will be published in a book along with six other manuscripts, Wallace said. One of those will be a second-century sermon on Hebrews 11. The significance: It shows Hebrews — whose author is unknown — was accepted early by the church as Scripture.

“What makes that so interesting is the ancient church understood by about A.D. 180 in what’s called … the Muratorian Canon, that the only books that could be read in churches must be those that are authoritative,” Wallace said. “To have a homily or a sermon on Hebrews means that whoever wrote that sermon considered Hebrews to be authoritative, and therefore, it could be read in the churches.”

Also among the finds are second-century fragments from Luke and from Paul’s letters. Wallace did not state which letters were found.

“Up until now, our oldest manuscript for Paul’s letters dates about AD 200, [known as] P-46,” Wallace said. “Now we have as many as four more manuscripts that predate that.”

Read the transcript of the interview online at http://bit.ly/w7s2qe.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. To read Baptist Press’ initial story about the Mark fragment, which includes a Q&A with a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37197. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Michael Foust