A Christian Post article entitled “New Testament Scholar: Chasing Biblical Manuscripts Is Nothing Like ‘Indiana Jones” tells of the ministry of Dan Wallace, Dallas Theological Seminary professor and New Testament scholar:
Although CP [Christian Post] was told that the team at CSNTM [Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts] does indeed “love the Indiana Jones myth,” Wallace says his team’s expositions to document valuable texts are nothing like Indiana Jones’ wild adventures.
First of all, they don’t steal.
“The problem with Indiana Jones, he was actually an American imperialist thief. He goes into a country and goes ‘this artifact belongs in a museum. It doesn’t belong with you people,’” Wallace clarified. “What we do is, our first task is always to protect the manuscript at all costs. We treat these manuscripts like they are our own children. Consequently, the libraries, they absolutely love what we’re doing. So we’re not stealing anything at all.” (source)
On February 1, 2012, Wallace announced that seven New Testament papyri were discovered, six of them he said were probably from the second century, and one of them, the Gospel of Mark, probably from the first. While news will be forthcoming about these manuscripts, Wallace is currently under a nondisclosure agreement. This Gospel of Mark manuscript is believed to be the earliest known fragment to date.
Wallace explained that the fragment was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. The oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was Papyrus 45 (P45), from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate P45 by 100 to 150 years, almost certainly placing it in the first century and making it the oldest of its kind, according to the professor. The other oldest known manuscript of the New Testament has been P52 (discovered in 1934), a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. (source)
Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition interviewed Dan Wallace on the topic of New Testament manuscripts and textual criticism. The question was asked, “How many NT manuscripts do we know of?” Wallace replied:
As far as Greek manuscripts, over 5800 have been catalogued. The New Testament was translated early on into several other languages as well, such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, etc. The total number of these versional witnesses has not been counted yet, but it certainly numbers in the tens of thousands.
At the same time, it should be pointed out that most of our manuscripts come from the second millennium AD, and most of our manuscripts do not include the whole New Testament. A fragment of just a verse or two still counts as a manuscript. And yet, theaverage size for a NT manuscript is more than 450 pages.
At the other end of the data pool are the quotations of the NT by church fathers. To date, more than one million quotations of the NT by the church fathers have been tabulated. These fathers come from as early as the late first century all the way to the middle ages. (source)
Besides Wallace’s recent discovery of possibly the earliest known manuscript being the Gospel of Mark manuscript announced last year, Wallace also mentioned the Rylands papyrus fragment.
A papyrus fragment that had been sitting in unprocessed ancient documents at the John Rylands Library of Manchester University, England, is most likely the earliest NT document known today. Known as P52 or Papyrus 52, this scrap of papyrus has John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other.
It was discovered in 1934 by C. H. Roberts. He sent photographs of it to the three leading papyrologists in Europe and got their assessment of the date—each said that it was no later than AD 150 and as early as AD 100. A fourth papyrologist thought it could be from the 90s. Since the discovery of this manuscript, as many as eleven NT papyri from the second century have been discovered. (source)
In comparison, copies for Homer, the best classical author in terms of extant manuscript copies, is less than 2,400, compared to the New Testament manuscripts that are approximately ten times that amount. Also, we have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the New Testament than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Wallace’s ministry and work proves to be much more adventurous and exciting than Indiana Jones!