A Case for the Bible: Part 4, Manuscript evidence
(This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?)
We have abundant and accurate copies of the original New Testament documents. The New Testament Documents are early and contain even earlier source material. –Norm Geisler and Frank Turek
I. External Physical Evidence from 3) the Manuscripts:
We have previously examined some of the external physical evidence for the reliability of Bible from the 1) historical literary view and, 2) Jewish history and Scribal transmission. This evidence shows me that the Bible is a document that has historical validity and that the people responsible for transmitting it over the centuries were very serious about getting it right. But do we have any original works from say, the New Testament, or have they been lost? Would it affect the reliability of the whole Bible if we did not have any of the originals? I don’t think so. What if the originals had been preserved immediately and in enough copies? For example, when you read a book are you reading the actual paper the author penned it on (or in today’s case from the computer the author used), or is it a copy? When you listen to a recording of your favorite music are you listening to the original real time recording or is it a copy? How can we decide if it having the originals matter?
Literary terminology and guidelines:
- Autographs are the original physical writings of the document(s) by the author(s).
- Manuscripts are copies of the autographs and are in a first class category of witness texts, the more you have the better.
- Primary sources are writings that come directly from the event through eyewitnesses and/or participants.
- Secondary sources are written further in time away from the event and come from second hand information that can no longer be disputed by eyewitnesses.
- Literary works can be considered primary sources if they are written within a generation or century of the event.
- Secondary sources are usually not as reliable because eyewitnesses are no longer available to dispute any false claims.
- The closer the writing is to the event the more reliable the writing becomes.
How does the Bible fair when it comes to its manuscript evidence as compared to other ancient historical document?
Number of manuscript copies:
- Since manuscripts are the first copies of the autographs how many do you need to validate the original and how many years away from the event should the copies be?
- The following are some examples of widely accepted historical documents that are not disputed in their reliability and historical accuracy. Please note that these numbers are approximate and increase regularly with new archeological discoveries:
In the discipline of philosophy:
- Aristotle’s work has 5 manuscripts dated 1400 years from the events.
In the discipline of history:
- Pliny’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, that has about 1000 manuscripts, dated 950 years from the events.
- In first place is the Bible’s New Testament! The total count for early New Testament Manuscripts is now approximately 25,000!
- 5,800 +/- Greek Manuscripts and fragments dated 30 to 150 years from the events.
- 9,300 +/- manuscripts and fragments in other languages dated early second century and on (100-150 years)
- 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 50 and 70 A.D. with the exception of the three letters of John and Revelation that are dated at 70 to 95 A.D.
- The Bible has surviving New Testament Manuscripts and fragments that are within 30 to 150 years of the events.
- The New Testament, was written by eyewitnesses or eyewitness sources within the lifetime of the people alive during the events of Jesus Christ and less than 30 years after His death and resurrection.
- Luke, who is celebrated by Christian and non-Christian scholars alike as a great historian, has a manuscript dated late first century/early second century stored in Paris, France.
- Manuscripts are available for viewing in museums, libraries and churches around the world in places like Cairo, Egypt; Jerusalem; The Vatican in Rome; Manchester, England; The Smithsonian, U.S. etc.
A few examples of early manuscripts and fragments:
- John Ryland Fragment (P 52); Earliest NT Ms. (A.D. 117-138)
- Bodmer Papyri Dated: c. 200 A.D.; Housed: Geneva Contents: Luke, John (P 66, P 75, 1 & 2 Peter & Jude P 72); Value: Earliest copy of an Epistle and a Gospel (only a little over 100 years from the original Gospel)
- Chester Beatty Papyri Dated: c. 250 A.D.; Housed: Dublin; Contents: Most of NT; Value: Earliest copy of most of the NT; Symbols: P 45, P 46, P 47
- Codex Vaticanus Date: A. D. 325-350; Contents: Most of the OT and most of the NT; Value: Has NT and Greek OT (LXX); Housed: Rome; Symbol: B
- Codex Sinaiticus Date: A. D. 340; Contents: Half of OT and almost all of NT; Value: One of the oldest and most accurate mss.; Housed: Leipzig, Germany; Symbol: א (Aleph)
- Codex Alexandrinus Date: A.D. 450; Contents: Almost all of OT and most of NT (plus some Apocrypha); Housed: British Museum; Symbol: A
- Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus Date: A.D. 345; Contents: Part of OT and most of NT; Housed: Paris; Symbol: C
The Bible is the only historical document that is put under the microscope of skepticism yet it far exceeds the industry’s standards. Is this due to lack of evidence, or is there something else going on here? If we examine closely what the Apostle Peter had to say in one of the last books of the New Testament, it seems as if he is speaking not only to the people of his day but to our day when there would be so much skepticism of what he was an eyewitness to. He wanted to be sure that what we read in his writings, as well as the rest of the Bible, would be understood, like testimony in a court of law, as truth beyond a reasonable doubt:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:12-21
Most of this information was gathered during the time I spent in Biola’s Christian Apologetics Graduate Program, specifically in the classes taught by Professors Kevin Alan Lewis and Joshua Lingel. I also recommended the following books on this topic: Cold Case Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace; From God to Us, How We Got Our Bible, by Norman L. Geisler and William Nix; and Searching for the Original Bible, by Randall Price.
Join us next week as we continue to examine the historical literary evidence for the reliability of the Bible in the manuscripts. Are there errors in the Manuscripts?
Let me know what you think: Does this information give you confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible? What other evidence would you need to trust that the Bible is indeed the Word of God?
Over the next several blogs I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15