Monday, October 24, 2016

Mark and the Papyri

Image:  Fragment from p45 with Mark 8:18-26.

While listening to a recent podcast from a well known apologist who has embraced the modern critical text I heard him say something like, “I love the papyri.” No doubt his professed infatuation with these early NT mss. comes from the fact that he believes the papyri support the critical text.  This is not, however, necessarily the case.

For one thing, contrary to the theory of Westcott and Hort, Harry A. Sturz demonstrated in his book The Byzantine Text Type & New Testament Textual Criticism (Thomas Nelson, 1984) that the witnesses in the papyri are not uniformly Alexandrian but mixed, with all major “text types” represented, including the supposedly late Byzantine.

For another, the number of extant papyri is limited.  When there is a papyri witness to a book it is often only partial.  Many controversial texts are neither supported nor denied by the papyri, because no papyri witnesses for the text have (yet) been found.

My recent podcast series on the Ending of Mark (see WM # 60 and WM # 61), got me interested in the papyri evidence for Mark and especially for Mark 16:9-20.

A review of the papyri as listed in the NA 28 (2012) reveals that the evidence for Mark is meager (only three papyri) and for the ending non-existent.  Here is the papyri evidence for Mark:

Text of Mark
p45 (Chester Beatty Papyrus)
3rd century
Mark 4:36-40; 5:15-26; 5:38-6:3, 16-26, 36-50; 7:3-15; 7:25-8:1, 10-26; 8:34-9:9, 18-31; 11:27-12:1, , 5-8, 13-19, 24-28.
6th century
Mark 2:2-5, 8-9; 6:30-31, 33-34, 36-37, 39-41
4th century
Mark 2:1-26

In his analysis of the papyri evidence for Mark, Peter M. Head notes that the resources are “relatively thin” [see his chapter “The Early Text of Mark” in C. E. Hill and M. J. Kruger, Eds., The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012):  108].  He adds that the “paucity of manuscripts, alongside the relative absence of information about the text of Mark in the early period, is something that distinguishes it from that of the other three canonical gospels” (p. 108).

When it comes to the ending of Mark, the earliest witnesses are not the papyri but the Church Fathers.  As noted in WM 61 second century men like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian clearly know the traditional ending of Mark.  Still, those who embrace the modern critical text prefer the authority of the two fourth century uncials (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) which omit the ending, despite apparent knowledge of it, and end at 16:8.

One more thought on the papyri evidence for Mark:  Does the fact that so few papyri exist for Mark and the fact that it was apparently so seldom commented upon or preached from in the early church undermine the Markan Priority solution to the so-called Synoptic Problem?  This theory gained prominence in the nineteenth century when the papyri evidence was largely undiscovered.  Does the current papyri evidence undermine any confidence in this theory?


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