Friday, February 10, 2012

More on the First Century Gospel of Mark Manuscript

Earlier this week I posted about the possible discovery of a first century copy of Mark's Gospel. This was first reported by Pete Williams over at Evangelical Text Criticism. Dan Wallace announced the discovery of this manuscript during a debate with Barth Ehrman.

Dan Wallace has since clarified what has been discovered and what it might mean for New Testament Studies. Here is what he said on the Dallas Theological Seminary website.

On 1 February 2012, I debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today. This was our third such debate, and it was before a crowd of more than 1000 people. I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.
These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.
Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.
How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmed various readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introduced new authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time. These new papyri will no doubt continue that trend. But, if this Mark fragment is confirmed as from the first century, what a thrill it will be to have a manuscript that is dated within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection!

As I said in my previous post, it is important that this be handled with caution. The fact that Dan and others have not put this fragment on display prior to publishing it is a good sign that it will be handled correctly. I would also point once again to Larry Hurtado's cautions about how to handle this new discovery. In any case, it is still exciting to learn of the potential discovery of more ancient New Testament manuscripts.

Friday Book Giveaway

This week's giveaway is John J. Collins' A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Fortress, 2007). Here is the blurb.

John J. Collins's Introduction to the Hebrew Bible with CD-ROM is a leading textbook in Old Testament studies. With this new, well- tailored abridgement of that larger work, Collins's erudition is now available to general readers and professors and students who prefer a shorter, more concise introduction to the Hebrew scriptures.

New features, especially designed for the college student, include maps, images, and study questions. A companion web site includes special resources for both teachers and students including: PowerPoint presentations, chapter by chapter test banks, study questions, suggestions for further reading, and web site links.

So put your name below and I will select and announce a winner on Sunday. Remember, once selected the winner has five days to claim the prize. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whose Coffee Does Jesus Drink?

You may have heard recently that the state of Washington approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriages. Washington becomes the seventh state in the union to legally recognize marriage between gay couples.

You may also have heard that a pastor in California is calling for Christians to boycott Starbucks because the Seattle based company came out in support of the law. The pastor has accused Starbucks of hating God because of the company’s support. His “biblical basis” for this is a brief statement in Romans 1:30 that has nothing to do with homosexuality or even coffee for that matter.

The pastor is the head of an organization called USA Christian Ministries which as far as I can tell seems to exist for the sole purpose of making the USA a Christian nation. In an article on his website in which he calls for the boycott he claims that laws such as the one passed in Washington state “remove American’s Christian freedoms.” He thinks that Starbucks has chosen to follow Satan.

There are so many directions in which I could take this and I am sure that what I have to say will satisfy no one. And the nature of a blog is that you only post short pieces. But I want to express a little bit of my thoughts on this topic.

First, with all due respect to the good pastor, he has taken the passage out of context. True in Romans 1:24-27 Paul does mention homosexual sex. But Paul is NOT connecting these individuals to the God-haters. In fact, what Paul has done in this chapter is to detail what happens when God releases his wrath against “all godlessness” (1:18). Paul’s basic point is that when God decides to let humanity have its own way it becomes quite a mess. Paul describes lots of different types of people in this chapter and they are all people who refused to give glory to God. Among the other things Paul details in his vice list here are greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, arrogance, boastfulness, and the disobedience towards parents (1:29-30). The “God haters” statement is tucked in the middle of these other labels and is just one type of person Paul is taking aim at. It certainly is not a label for anyone who acts contrary to God. If that was the case then I would be one of those “haters” since I am guilty of all those things. So it is wrong to simply rip two words from a list and apply it to Starbucks or anyone else for that matter. Paul’s list is much more encompassing and it has something for all of us to feel guilty about.

Second, I am unsure why this pastor seems to feel the need to issue judgment on Starbucks which, to the best of my knowledge, is not a church and does not claim to be a Christian organization. If the pastor is concerned with the sex lives of those outside of the church I suggest that he reread what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians 5. There Paul deals with a situation in the church in which a man is apparently sleeping with his step-mother. Paul tells the church to deal with the problem and put the man out. But then he makes an interesting statement in 5:12. He tells the Corinthians that they should worry about those inside the church and not those outside. The church needs to take care of its own business and let God take care of the rest. I would suggest that a boycott of Starbucks is an attempt to do usurp God’s job. We should deal with our own issues in the church and when we see the world acting in a way that is contrary to scripture we should not be surprised.

Finally, I wonder how boycotting Starbucks is showing the love of God to the barista behind the counter. I suspect that most people at Starbucks don’t make a lot of money and I also suspect that they had no say in the company’s decision to support the Washington law. Most of them are trying to make ends meet. How would a successful boycott impact these people? The pastor aims to make Starbucks lose 80% of their customer base. But what about the people who depend upon their job? What are they learning about a Christianity that would seek to prevent innocent people from paying their bills? And what about love toward gays and lesbians some of whom are Christians? Where is the love of Christ from the church for them? It is ironic that among the vices Paul lists in Romans 1 is the lack of love and mercy (1:31). I find it interesting that the some are choosing to call Starbucks “God Haters” when they themselves have no love or mercy towards those outside of the church.

So where does this leave me? Well I don’t know if Jesus drinks coffee, but if he does I think he would probably drink it in Starbucks. Jesus seems to have had a reputation for hanging around with the wrong kind of people. But he also showed much love and mercy towards those people. It was for those who were on the inside that he had some rather harsh things to say. I think I will continue to drink Starbucks. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jesus Doesn't Care About Football

I found this humorous in light of all the controversy surrounding Tebow this year. Please accept it in the humor it is given.

HT: Scotteriology

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Earliest Copy of Mark Found?

This is not the fragment
The blogosphere is buzzing  (here, here, here, and here) about the possible discovery of the oldest copy of the Gospel of Mark. Apparently the discovery was announced by Dan Wallace as part of a debate with Bart Ehrman. Here is what Dan said.

We have as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts (six of which were recently discovered and not yet catalogued) and a first-century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel! Altogether, more than 43% of the 8000 or so verses in the NT are found in these papyri. Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the first century. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data. (In the Q & A, Bart questioned the validity of the first-century Mark fragment. I noted that a world-class paleographer, a man who had no religious affiliation and thus was not biased toward an early date, was my source. Daniel Wallace adds in the comments section:Friends, let me clarify a couple of things. First, the Mark manuscript is just a small fragment. Second, I didn’t discover it; I make no claims whatsoever for having done so. Third, exact news of the fragment will have to await its publication about a year from now.

The origin of this latest fragment is not yet known. And it will be a least a year until we learn anything more about it. The possibility that we now have a first century copy of Mark is quite exciting, but I think it is wise to handle this with caution. As we have seen many, many times before, artifacts and manuscripts that surface with fantastic claims tend to be much less than they are claimed to be. I am confident that Dan Wallace would not mention this fragment unless he truly thought it was of significance. Once it has been published and can be properly studied by a number of scholars we should know more about what this fragment can teach us.

Larry Hurtado has also weighed in on this possible discovery and makes the following points:

  • The identification and palaeographical dating of manuscripts requires huge expertise specific to the period and texts in question. Let’s wait and see whose judgement lies behind the claims.
  • Palaeographical dating can ever only be approximate, perhaps as narrow as 50 yrs plus or minus. Expert palaeographers often disagree over a given item by as much as a century or more. It’s never wise to rest much upon one judgement, and confidence will be enhanced only when various experts have been given full access to the items.
  • It is particularly difficult to make a palaeographical dating of a fragment, the smaller it is the more difficult. For such dating requires as many characters of the alphabet as possible and as many instances of them in the copy as possible to form a good judgement about the “hand”.
  • Although it ratchets up potential sales of a publication to make large claims and posit sensational inferences about items, it doesn't help the sober scholarly work involved. It also doesn't actually accrue any credit or greater credibility for the items or those involved in handling them.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. Until then . . .

Monday, February 6, 2012

Six Reasons to Stop Going to Church

The church in America is losing the young. And they are not necessarily coming back. According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, Six in ten young adults will leave the church for an extended period of time and some will never return. While there is probably a plethora of reasons why people leave church, six reasons seem to come to the top. According to Leadership Journal they are:

Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.
Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.
Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.
Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.
Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multi-cultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.
Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.

What do you think? Why else are the young leaving church? Have you left the church and if so why?

Update: Some of the information above is covered in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. One of my former students has done a podcast review of the book on his blog Theology & Backgammon. Perhaps you will enjoy hearing Scott's review.