Craig Evans, who is most certainly a careful scholar, has announced the discovery of a piece of Mark’s Gospel that may well date to 80-90 A.D. making it by far the earliest portion of any NT book yet found.
Here is the fullest background and explanation of the find:
How should we respond to something like this? I think it’s appropriate to be hopeful. As an evangelical, I believe the best historical evidence points to the New Testament gospels composed in the first century: Mark (mid- to late 50s), Matthew (50s or 60s), Luke (c. 58-60), John (mid- or late 80s or early 90s). If this discovery doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t affect our dating of the gospels because the dating of the autographs (the originals) is not dependent upon the dating of manuscripts (the copies). If it does pan out—especially if it can be dated with confidence to the 80s—it would be a major discovery, because the oldest of anything is always noteworthy.
As Christians, we should take a “wait and see” approach. It’s tempting to be either naïve (of course this is true!) or cynical (of course this isn’t true!). One of the unfortunate things about announcing a discovery apart from a published peer-reviewed process is that the church and the culture simply have to take the scholars’ word for it. Amateur sensationalistic archaeology (which this does not appear to be) follows a predictable script that almost never involves peer-review publication first. So I think the cause of truth—whatever that may be in these cases—is best served when there is rigorous scholar vetting before popular announcements and debates.