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We Do *NOT* Have a First-Century Copy of the Gospel of Mark

As most of us have suspected for years now, there is in fact no first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark.  If fortune smiles upon us, maybe one will eventually be discovered.  But it hasn’t been yet.  Dan Wallace, our lone public source for the existence of such a thing (announced with some flair at a public debate I had with him in 2012) has finally provided the necessary information: his claim that such a copy existed was based on bad information.   He lays it all out here.   https://danielbwallace.com/2018/05/23/first-century-mark-fragment-update/ .   I’ve copied the post here, below.

He is gracious to apologize to me, and I understand about non-disclosure agreements.  But at the same time, I have lots of questions about the entire affair.  You may have some too.  If so, let me know.  I’ll answer the ones I can and ask the ones I can’t.

Here is Dan’s Post:




First-Century Mark Fragment Update


There has been a flurry of announcements and comments on the internet about the “First-Century Mark Fragment” (FCM) ever since Elijah Hixson posted a blog on Evangelical Textual Criticism this morning. As many know, I signed a non-disclosure agreement about this manuscript in 2012 sometime after I made an announcement about it in my third debate with Bart Ehrman at North Carolina, Chapel Hill (February 1, 2012). I was told in the non-disclosure agreement not to speak about when it would be published or whether it even exists. The termination of this agreement would come when it was published. Consequently, I am now free to speak about it.

The first thing to mention is that yes, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5345, published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83 (2018), is the same manuscript that I spoke about in the debate and blogged about afterward. In that volume the editors date it to the second or third century. And this now is what has created quite a stir.

In my debate with Bart, I mentioned that I had it on good authority that this was definitely a first-century fragment of Mark. A representative for who I understood was the owner of FCM urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral. However, the information I received and was assured to have been vetted was incorrect. It was my fault for being naïve enough to trust that the data I got was unquestionable, as it was presented to me. So, I must first apologize to Bart Ehrman, and to everyone else, for giving misleading information about this discovery. While I am sorry for publicly announcing inaccurate facts, at no time in the public statements (either in the debate or on my blogsite) did I knowingly do this. But I should have been more careful about trusting any sources without my personal verification, a lesson I have since learned.

Personal History

Prior to the Debate
Just prior to the debate, this representative discussed with me the discovery of FCM. It was my understanding that their group had purchased the papyrus; had I known otherwise, I never would have made the public announcement. I was urged—and authorized—to make the announcement at the debate. I was also told that a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM was definitely a first-century manuscript. On that basis, I made the announcement.

After the debate I posted a blog entitled, First-Century Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Found!?, which came online March 22, 2012. Hundreds of comments were made on that blog, all the way up to the end of 2017. Many of them were negative, asking me why I didn’t say more. I have been accused of dissemblage or incompetence or both. But I could not say more. The reason was simple: I was asked not to say more.

Some thought that I was the one who discovered the fragment or that I was the one editing it for publication. Whenever this was suggested, I denied both. I had not even seen the fragment!

Post-Non-disclosure Agreement
Later in 2012 I did get the opportunity to see the manuscript. I was allowed to see it only after I signed a non-disclosure agreement. From that point on, I have essentially kept my mouth shut (though I was also asked not to take the blog down, since that would only raise more questions). What struck me about the fragment especially was that in Mark 1.17 instead of αυτοις ο Ιησους the papyrus did not have ο Ιησους. I thought at the time that, if this really was a first-century fragment (which I was not prepared, with my limited knowledge of papyrology and paleography, to claim), it most likely was due to ο Ιησους existing as a nomen sacrum already in the first century. I surmised that the exemplar that the scribe was copying from most likely read αυτοιςοις (no spacing, and Ιησους written with just the first and last letters with a supralinear bar over them). The scribe of FCM then could have easily and accidentally skipped over the duplicated οις. Alternatively, it was possible that the scribe’s exemplar did not have ο Ιησους, but this seemed far less likely.

Nomina sacra are a well-known phenomenon in New Testament manuscripts from the earliest papyri, although the reasons for their creation are not altogether clear. (For a recent discussion, see Larry Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 95–134.) To find a first-century fragment whose exemplar most likely had this nomen sacrum was truly exciting! But was it really from the first century? With only a few minutes looking at the papyrus, and no permission to take pictures, I too had to wait, like everyone else, to see the publication.

In virtually every speaking engagement I have had since then, the question inevitably comes up: “What can you tell us about the first-century Mark fragment?” The answer is always the same: I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that the world-class papyrologist who dated the fragment to the first century had already, prior to my debate with Ehrman, adjusted his views. He was not so certain about the date (perhaps it was early second century). I learned that the rep knew, two weeks prior to the debate, that the papyrologist had changed his views. But I was told none of this. Regrettably, even when I made the announcement in Chapel Hill, I was giving misinformation. Even more regrettable, I have not been able to reveal the papyrologist’s uncertainty until now.

Further, I did not know that FCM was dated to the second/third century until I saw Elijah Hixson’s blog. The reasons for my silence had to do exclusively with the fact that I signed a non-disclosure agreement. Journalists, authors, newspaper editors, and many, many others have asked for information about it. But I was not allowed to say anything. Some have accused me of being silent to protect my reputation; just the opposite is the case. I was silent because I gave my word to be, even if it would hurt my reputation.

Final Reflections
One of the lessons my wife and I drilled into our four sons was that their integrity would be in question unless there were times when being honest hurt them. When they repeatedly told us they were telling the truth, but the consequences were always to their advantage, we couldn’t trust them. In short, integrity sometimes hurts. I am glad that this fragment has finally been published, so that I can get past the accusations and condemnations. To be sure, there is much to criticize me for, in particular that I did not personally verify the information I received about this manuscript before announcing it to the world. But the speculations about my character otherwise I would hope have been resolved.


What the New Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Looks like (the so-called First-Century Mark)
Back in Business!



  1. Avatar
    jogon  May 25, 2018

    The irony of an evangelical Christian being tripped up by unquestioningly and uncritically accepting sources is not lost on me

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  May 25, 2018

      There’s a scene like that in Hyam Maccoby’s play The Disputation, which is based on the written account of a 13th century disputation in Spain between Rabbi Moses Nachmanides (who wrote about the affair) and a Jewish convert to Catholicism turned Dominican friar named Pablo Christiani.

      Pablo had just excoriated Nachmanides for saying something about the Talmud that Pablo considered absurd, and nachmanidies replied, “Many stranger things than that are believed in the name of religion.” Nachmanides’ implication — that Christianity requires a leap into faith of believing in the incredible — was not lost on the shocked throngs listening to the debate.

  2. Avatar
    Silver  May 25, 2018

    Prior to this very recent publication of ‘FCM’ those who have I have seencomment on it in one way or another on the Internet (McDowell, Evans, Carroll and Wallace) tend towards the apologetic end of the spectrum. Is it possible that they were manipulated to end up with egg on their faces?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      No, I don’t think so. The source of information appears to have a person who had similar reasons for wanting to claim the ms was very old.

  3. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 25, 2018

    I took this from Hixon’s blog:

    UPDATE 5+? (25 May 2018): The Egypt Exploration Society issued a statement saying that P.Oxy. 83.5345 has always been in their collection, was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt probably in 1903, and has never been offered for sale (see also comments below). They confirm that it is indeed the claimed ‘first-century Mark’ that Dirk Obbink “showed to some visitors to Oxford in 2011/12,” which subsequently made the rounds on social media. Roberta Mazza also confirmed on Twitter that “This papyrus IS and always has been part of the EES collection stored in Oxford. And yes, I know this as a fact.”

    Scott Carroll, however, has doubled-down on his claim that Dirk Obbink was indeed selling the papyrus (see comments below for these statements in their original context): “I only learned on 23 May 2018 that D. Obbink still had the papyrus, that it was published and that he changed his view on the date. In 2013, he showed it to me again as still being available for sale with the same story.” He later added, “And for the record, both times I saw the Mark 1 papyrus were in D. Obbink’s office at Christ Church. It was in a fold of paper in a pile of other things he was trying to sell, sitting on the pool table.”



    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  May 25, 2018

      Follow up comment:
      If this is the case, why didn’t the Egyptian Society say FCM belonged to them a long time ago?

      The “representative” is Obbink who made Wallace and others sign a NDA?

      • Bart
        Bart  May 25, 2018

        I don’t know. I don’t understand one thing about the NDA. It doesn’t make sense for Obbink to require it. But the people for whom it *would* make sense (e.g., Carroll), didn’t have the papyrus in their possession. So I don’t get it.

  4. Robert
    Robert  May 25, 2018

    “… I have lots of questions about the entire affair. You may have some too. If so, let me know. I’ll answer the ones I can and ask the ones I can’t.”

    Here are my questions:

    1) Did Scott Carroll and the Hobby Lobby clan ever have an interest in hyping this fragment because they still hoped to acquire it?

    2) Was another ‘representative’ of the owners hoping to hype it in an effort to raise the price?

    3) Was Dirk Obbink himself trying to sell the fragment, which he was not authorized to sell because it was owned all along by the Egypt Exploration Society (seemingly insinuated by Scott and Peter Malik, but I don’t believe).

    4) Was anyone at Brill trying to create fanfare around its upcoming publication?

    5) Was the only legitimate attempt to date this fragment to the 1st century merely a quick assessment at the time it was first cataloged when the assumptions of paleography were very different than they are today. I personally suspect this. I can only imagine Obbink perhaps saying something like … well it was first cataloged as 1st century but I’m now in the process of dating it and will be publishing it ‘soon’.

    Unless and until Dan reveals who it was that purposefully deceived him, we’re left with unjust speculations and innuendo. It would also be helpful if Dirk Obbink commented on these pool table stories.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 27, 2018

      The only one I can answer is #4, for which the answer is certainly not.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 25, 2018

    I guess I don’t understand the non-disclosure agreement. Why would a scholar not want such a finding disseminated? I don’t get it,

    • Bart
      Bart  May 27, 2018

      The idea behind these is that the person who has been slaving away on making an edition of the fragment has the right, because of his extensive labor, to publish his findings before others steal his thunder. It’s just a kind of professional courtesy, and a way to make sure correct information is disseminated before incorrect. That obviously didn’t work too well here, but it was because of what happened *before* the NDA was signed.

  6. Avatar
    Gabe  May 25, 2018

    It is interesting to read all the responses here. To me, that shows just how each of us interprets the world differently based on our experiences in life. For example, I don’t particularly like him as a scholar and even less as a evangelical Christian. But, I have no trouble forgiving him for this blunder. Sometimes we, as humans, do not act as consistently as we think. In my profession, I deal with facts. 99 times out of 100, no, make that 999 out of 1000 I will verify the information before pursuing the issue further. But sometimes (a moment of weakness?) I will opt to take somenoe’s word and even though I have had it bite me in the end. I *still* sometimes makes this mistake and take the shortcut (take someone for their word), but the stakes are not high when I do. Couple that with the fact that second hand information isn’t always wrong, which of course teaches us that shortcuts are not always bad…

    Call me stupid for still sometimes falling prey for this, but I’d prefer to say that I am human and just like all humans we are susceptible to take shortcuts, especially when the result of a bad shortcut doesn’t result in something catastrophic. The greater chance that someone is hurt, killed or massive havoc is created by a fact being wrong is, in my opinion, directly proportional to the likelihood of someone taking said shortcut. When the consequences are not dire, we will certainly be more willing to compromise on our processes and take a shortcut. When the stakes are high, it just doesn’t happen (or rarely), provided we know and understand that the stakes are high.

    The tricky part, and what makes all of us unique is that we can’t always foresee the consequences of our actions. I might see a potential consequence much more clearly than another person and, because of that, I may unfairly pass judgement on someone for being a terrible human being. But, that is faulty reasoning and is altogether arrogant. Certainly, I am not suggesting we can’t ever pass judgement, I’d just caution it with a bit more humility, I mean, we are all human, right?

    All this to say, I have more respect for Dan today than I did before reading his apology.

    • Avatar
      turbopro  May 27, 2018

      >> When the stakes are high …

      If I may: I would agree we all err, and err a lot. Nonetheless, when the stakes are high, we should proceed cautiously, right.

      One should think that as a biblical scholar, perhaps a claim that there exists a copy of the Gospel of Mark that dates to the first century mandates due diligence in 1) accepting the claim, and 2) repeating the claim.

  7. Robert
    Robert  May 25, 2018

    For those who are interested in seeing a high quality photograph of the fragment and the now published 4 pages of analysis by Dirk Obbink and Daniela Colomo, the Egypt Exploration Society has very graciously made this available on their website:


    The EES has also said they will address the remaining questions that have been raised. This is the way responsible scholarship is done.

  8. Avatar
    Franz Liszt  May 25, 2018

    I’m curious about your relationship to your interlocutors such as Wallace. Have you struck up friendships with any of your debate partners? It seems like you get along well with Mike Licona and Michael Bird seemed like a very likable guy as well. Do you ever see these people outside of your debates and just talk about life?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 27, 2018

      Dan and I have known each other for some 35 years. I don’t really know Michael very well, and am friendly with Mike, but we don’t pal around at all.

  9. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 27, 2018

    Why didn’t the Greens just say they never owned this fragment? What’s their reasoning for staying silent all these years?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 27, 2018

      We have more questions than answers! I don’t know why the people who know are unwilling simply to tell us.

  10. Avatar
    JoshuaJ  May 27, 2018

    I almost feel sorry for the guy, but then I remember all the times he wrongfully accused you of “misleading” the public.

    The sloppiness in which all of this was handled is really quite shocking. It is unbelievable to me that a scholar like Wallace would not have confirmed the first century claim for himself before going public in what can now only be viewed as a publicity stunt. Dr. Wallace has made a fool of himself, I’m afraid.

    For the record, I still feel there is more to the story than what we’re getting.

    Also, has Craig Evans made any comments? And idea whether or not he knew the story was bogus?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2018

      I’d be highly interested in knowing if Craig has made any comments — if anyone knows, tell us! He went public with some very bold claims that appear to be completely wrong. More excitement generated by hearsay I’m afraid.

      • Avatar
        JoshuaJ  May 29, 2018

        It’s like Craig was talking about a completely different fragment, with all the mummy mask stuff. And he spoke of the dissolving of the mask so authoritatively, as though he were intimately involved in the process. Seems like somebody in the know (Wallace included) could have at least thrown him a bone and said, “Hey dummy, it’s not in a mummy mask!”

        The whole thing is truly bizarre!

  11. Avatar
    cchen326  June 7, 2018

    Dan Wallace did an interview last week and some of it pertains to you starting from about 11 minutes – 20 minutes.
    A few key points I got out of it.
    1 – Dan admits he should not have believed something without personal verification regarding FCM. *Odd statement for a Christian*
    2- During your 2nd debate with him at southern methodist he mentions that during the QA his good friend asked you a question that would lead into Dan bringing up FCM. Guess you were set up?
    3- When you dismissed his claims 6 years ago and compared donald duck to the papyrologist that he couldn’t name it was not appropriate on your part.


    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2018

      Yes I know he was offended by my “Donald Duck” comment. It was maybe a bit brash, but what I was saying is that anyone who thinks they can date a manuscript of Mark that precisely (within thirty years of the book being written) is a “quack.” (You can’t date a manuscript palaeographically within a thirty year period, from 70-100 CE). It’s striking that Dan would not identify who this alleged expert was. And still won’t say! Why is that??

      • Avatar
        cchen326  June 8, 2018

        I think Dan has already suffered professional embarrassment on this so I don’t think we will get a name or who the papyrologist was.

        Ever since the 2012 assertion from Dan to you during the debate I have been following other Christians latching on to this. Josh Mcdowell, Gary Habermas, Craig Evans and quite a few others all made bold assertions relating to this claim Dan made to you.

        Maybe you can do a blog post on dating manuscripts?
        Even though this is not your specialty i’m sure some knowledge of it can be shared about it from you.


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