Last week we looked at the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament in terms of the early Church’s canonization. We also looked at reasons why Christians reject the Apocrypha and gnostic gospels with an emphasis on the dating of those writings. With that in mind it is important to look at what scholars consider when reviewing ancient documents:
Some basic literary terminology in considering the validity of ancient documents:
- Autographs are the original physical writings of the document by the author.
- Manuscripts are copies of the autographs and are in a first class category of witness texts.
- Primary sources are writings that come directly from the event(s) through eyewitnesses and participants.
- Secondary sources are written further away in time from the event(s) and come from second hand information that can no longer be disputed by those who were present or alive at the time.
- Literary works are considered primary sources if written within a generation or century of the event.
- The closer the writing is to the event(s) the more reliable the writing becomes.
- The more manuscripts you have, even those with errors, the better chance you have of reconstructing the autograph.
How does the Bible compared to other ancient literature that is considered reliable today?
Number of manuscript copies: (Note: These numbers increase with ongoing discoveries in archeology)
- In the discipline of philosophy:
- Aristotle’s work has 5 manuscripts dated 1400 years from the events.
- In the discipline of history:
- Pliny the younger’s work has 7 manuscripts dated 750 years from the events.
- Herodotus’ work has 8 manuscripts dated 1300 years from the events.
- Caesar’s firsthand account of the Gallic Wars has 10 manuscripts, dated 1000 years from the events.
- Tacitus’ Greek history has 20 manuscripts, dated 1000 years from the events.
- In second place is Homer’s Iliad, the history of the Trojan War, has 900 (and growing) manuscripts, dated 950 years from the events.
- In first place is the Bible’s New Testament! The total count for early New Testament Manuscripts available today is over 24,600! Josh McDowell recently claimed that we have closer to 66,000 with the advent of many new discoveries in artifacts that contain manuscript fragments.
- We have over 5,800 (and counting) Greek Manuscripts dated 30 to 150 years from the events.
- Over 9,300 manuscripts in other languages dated early second century and on (100-150 years)
- Over 10,000 manuscripts in the Latin Vulgate dated from the third century and on (300-350 years)
The Bible, and the New Testament in particular, has only primary sources:
- The autographs for the New Testament are dated between A.D. 49 and 70 with the exception of the three letters of John and Revelation that are dated A.D. 70 to 95, this means that the New Testament was complete by the end of the first century A.D.
- The Bible was written within the lifetime of witnesses to the events of Jesus Christ and less than 30 years after His death and resurrection.
- The Bible has surviving New Testament Manuscripts that are within 25 to 150 years of the events.
Examples of some significant manuscripts and fragments on display today:
- John Ryland Fragment
Dated: c. A.D. 117-138
Housed: John Ryland’s Library, Manchester, England
Contents: John 18:31-33, 37-38 (P 52)
Value: Earliest New Testament Manuscript
- Bodmer Papyri
Dated: c. A.D. 200
Contents: Luke, John (P 66, P 75) 1 & 2 Peter & Jude (P 72)
Value: Earliest copy of an Epistle and a Gospel
- Chester Beatty Papyri
Dated: c. A.D. 250
Housed: Dublin, Ireland
Contents: Most of New Testament (P 45, P46, P47)
Value: Earliest copy of most of the New Testament
- Codex Vaticanus
Dated: A. D. 325-350
Contents: Most of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament (B)
Value: Most of the New Testament along with the Greek Old Testament Septuagint (LXX)
- Codex Sinaiticus
Dated: A. D. 340
Housed: Leipzig, Germany
Contents: Half of Old Testament and almost all of New Testament (א – Aleph)
Value: One of the oldest and most accurate manuscripts
- Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus
Dated: A.D. 345
Housed: Paris, France
Contents: Part of the Old Testament and most of New Testament (C)
- Codex Alexandrinus
Dated: A.D. 450
Housed: British Museum
Contents: Almost all of Old Testament and most of New Testament, plus some Apocrypha (A)
Manuscripts like these are available for viewing in museums, libraries and churches around the world and some are personally owned like those Josh McDowell recently purchased. Watch Josh, in this 12 minute interview segment, as he explains the continued archeological finds that support the Bible’s historicity and reliability:
Can we trust the translations we have today? YES!
- Since the birth of Christ the transmission of the Bible has come from translations of the original Hebrew and Greek (and a few parts of Daniel and Ezra in Aramaic).
- Most English Bibles you read from today have only been translated once from the original languages—these are called Versions.
- Besides the multitude manuscript versions we have more than 15,000 existing early copies of the various versions translated into Latin and Syriac.
- The Christian faith was a missionary faith from its very inception (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Scriptures and witness documents were immediately transported (Acts 8) and then translated into the known languages of those regions—ruling out any possibility of change from the original because changes would have had to be made across continents.
Even if we did not have any of the early manuscripts, could we reconstruct the autographs from other sources? YES
- This practice of reading passages of Scripture (lectionaries) from the New Testament books—began in the sixth century.
- We have 2,135 lectionaries that have been catalogued. If there had been any forgeries or changes to the New Testament writings all of these would have had to be changed as well.
Early Church Father’s Letters
The greatest attestation for the authority of the New Testament is the masses of quotations taken from its early pages by the Church Fathers:
- There are 86,000 quotes from the early Church Fathers.
- There are 36,000 quotations from the New Testament books found in writing before the council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
- Even the deniers of the faith quoted from the New Testament books never realizing they were helping to verify authenticity in the future!
- Overall there are estimated to be over one million quotes from early Christians directly from the New Testament. The same books we read today!
J. Warner Wallace, former Cold-Case Homicide Detective and Author of “Cold Case Christianity” shows us the Chain of Custody connections from the Apostles in multiples:
The Testimony of the Scrolls
“The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or the other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other book in the world”
Sir Frederick Kenyon, Archeologist, “Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts”, 55
Are there errors in these early manuscripts?
Skeptics will claim that there are so many errors from the manuscripts being copied over the centuries that they are not reliable, but is that true?
- All of the known manuscripts are 98% in agreement. Only 2% of the texts have errors.
- When literary scholars looked at these so-called errors (2%) they found only the following:
Variations in the texts stem from differences in spelling, word order or the relationship between noun and definite articles—slight variants that are easily recognizable.
- After factoring out minor spelling errors and light variations in word order, there is more than 95% agreement between all of the known manuscripts of the Bible.
- Of the remaining variants (0.5%) none affects any crucial element or teaching of the Christian faith.
- With the continued manuscript discoveries we that are reaching the 66,000 mark as Josh McDowell says, we can now confidently say that we have 100% of what the autographs contained.
Let’s use this example to try to understand the variants:
What would you do if you received this text message from someone you know?
“Y#U HAVE ENHERITED TEN MILL##N DOLLROS”
Would you go collect the money? If you compared your message with the same messages received by others who had already received an inheritance would you ignore it because your text seems to have mistakes in it? No, you would go and collect the money because you would have no doubt about the meaning!
Watch J. Warner Wallace, explain it a little better in this 3 minutes video clip…
- Even with mistakes 100% of the message comes through.
- The more errors to compare in a multitude of manuscripts the more sure you are of the message—AND WE HAVE HAD 24,600 AND GROWING!
- The New Testament has: More manuscripts, earlier manuscripts and more accurately copied manuscripts than any other book from the ancient world!
- If you can’t trust the New Testament then you can’t trust any ancient book.
“The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established”
Sir Frederick Kenyon, Bible and Archaeology, 288
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
You will not find this material in the public school curriculum even though it is based on solid evidence and grounded in research. It is ironic that following the evidence to where it leads stops at the door of our public schools as they will not let a “Divine footprint” in! Join us this year as we examine evidence for Christianity and learn how to become a thoughtful defender and ambassador of your faith.
Click into the resource page of this website to view many of the top Christian thinkers and apologists along with some of their work; connecting to these types of resources is essential in your Christian growth.
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