Recently Discovered New Testament Manuscripts

The gospels and letters that make up the New Testament were authored in the latter half of the First Century, between roughly AD42-98.  Finding manuscripts like P52, a papyri fragment of the book of John containing chapter 18:31-33, is a really big deal.  It was discovered in 1920 and greatly changed the way scholars think about the book of John and the New Testament. P52 (pictured to the right), is a Second Century manuscript dated roughly to AD125-150 and  is presently considered the oldest known fragment of the New Testament--but that may be soon to change.  Dr. Dan Wallace claims to have discovered a manuscript of the book of Mark that he and others say dates to the First Century! 

Conservative biblical scholars date the authorship to Mark between the mid-AD40 and 60.  This would mean that at most, this newly discovered manuscript is no more than 60 years older than the autograph, but it may be less.  The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) located in M√ľnster, Germany has cataloged over 5,750 New Testament manuscripts.  Some of these are very close to the autographs (originals, which have yet to be found), but none as close as what Wallace is claiming of his team's discovery.

Apparently, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) was granted access to a national archive in Albania to photograph 13 manuscripts.  The country has previously denied western scholars access to these documents.  When the CSNTM team arrived, they learned that there were more manuscripts at the archive and some of them are remarkable!

Besides the manuscripts they expected to photograph, they discovered seven more manuscripts never-before seen or cataloged by western scholars.  Most notable is the Mark papyri as well as an early Second Century Luke fragment and four manuscripts from Paul (and the author of Hebrews) that date to late Second Century or early Third Century.  Details are slowly being released as the scholars are exercising caution in how they present this new find.

In the video below, Dr. Mike Licona introduces Dr. Dan Wallace who discusses this fascinating discovery in a more detail:


Buzz about these manuscripts is present, but you have to look for it.  They will have a significant impact on scholarship but it's highly unlikely that these manuscripts will change our understanding of the gospel message.  Even when more details are published, most people will hear little about this discovery (if anything) and that's okay.  For us theology geeks, it's exciting to add 7 more manuscripts to the INTF catalog, especially the really early ones.  It's also thrilling to think about the possibility of finding even earlier manuscripts and getting closer to the originals; but in the bigger picture, the gospel as we have understood it for 2,000 years will continue marching forward as we faithfully serve God toward the advancement of his Kingdom.  Indeed we must remember, the manuscript collection does not bring saving transformation--the message contained within the manuscripts is what must really excite us.


*Photo of the Rylands Papyri, also know as P52, is in the public domain.