New Testament among the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Written by Claire Pfann

August 24, 2008

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) published an interview that they made with me last winter. The fact that only snippets were actually aired and published has led to some misunderstandings. There was one snippet, in particular, which could lead the audience to believe that I was stating that New Testament manuscripts were found at Qumran. The quote goes like this:

“We asked why the Dead Sea Scrolls were so important to us today. Pfann said, ‘because they confirm the Bible that we have. There’s variants, but basically it’s [that] you can barely tell the difference between the two texts, [the one] that we have in Qumran and in our Bibles.’ ”

This quote is correct but lacks the full context for that statement. And I do see how it can be easily misunderstood. I was asked by Chris Mitchell of CBN if the New Testament was found at Qumran. I replied “No”. The posited Gospel of Mark fragment from cave 7 remains unconvincing. There are manuscripts that have similar language to the New Testament (such as the so-called “Son of God text”) which confirm that parallels to certain unusual titles and statements did in fact exist. However, there are no quotes from the New Testament among the scrolls.

At least three Old Testament text traditions were discovered among the caves at Qumran. One of these is called “Proto-Masoretic”, and is understood to be the tradition that lies behind our present Hebrew Bibles, and is amazingly close from a textual standpoint.

The (Hebrew) Bible at it was widely quoted in the New Testament (aside from the Septuagint) has generally proven to be quite similar to the Proto-Masoretic line of manuscripts. In this way the New Testament itself, in most cases, was relying upon the same textual traditon that led to the text we use in our Bibles today.

This is all that was intended in the interview. Sorry, no New Testament books from the first century have been discovered so far among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Just the same we should never give up hope that some other books of the Bible might be discovered some time in the future. For example, another book of the Hebrew Bible has recently been identified, presumably from Qumran. At the time of this interview last winter, I stated that Esther, Nehemiah and 1 Chronicles were the only books of the Old Testament that were not found at Qumran, which was true at the time. Since then Prof. Charlesworth, while attending the July Conference at the Shrine of the Book, revealed a photograph of a fragment of the book of Nehemiah, that was from a private collection.

There is little doubt that there is still more out there somewhere.

S. Pfann 

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