Manuscript Evidence For The Superior New Testament Reliability

Guest Writer

MANUSCRIPT EVIDENCE FOR SUPERIOR 
NEW TESTAMENT RELIABILITY

 

     The New Testament is constantly under attack and its reliability and accuracy are often contested by critics.  But, if the critics want to disregard the New Testament, then they must also disregard other ancient writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.  This is because the New Testament documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writing.  Because the copies are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy.  This process has determined that the biblical documents are extremely consistent and accurate.

   There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament.1  If we were to compare the number of New Testament manuscripts to other ancient writings, we find that the New Testament manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity.  

Author2

Date
Written

Earliest Copy

Approximate Time Span between  original & copy

Number of Copies

Accuracy of Copies

 Lucretius

died 55 or 53 B.C.

 

1100 yrs

2

—-

 Pliny

61-113 A.D.

850 A.D.

750 yrs

7

—-

 Plato

427-347 B.C.

900 A.D.

1200 yrs

7

—-

 Demosthenes

4th Cent. B.C.

1100 A.D.

800 yrs

8

—-

 Herodotus

480-425 B.C.

900 A.D.

1300 yrs

8

—-

 Suetonius

75-160 A.D.

950 A.D.

800 yrs

8

—-

 Thucydides

460-400 B.C.

900 A.D.

1300 yrs

8

—-

 Euripides

480-406 B.C.

1100 A.D.

1300 yrs

9

—-

 Aristophanes

450-385 B.C.

900 A.D.

1200

10

—-

 Caesar

100-44 B.C.

900 A.D.

1000

10

—-

 Livy

59 BC-AD 17

—-

???

20

—-

 Tacitus

circa 100 A.D.

1100 A.D.

1000 yrs

20

—-

 Aristotle

384-322 B.C.

1100 A.D.

1400

49

—-

 Sophocles

496-406 B.C.

1000 A.D.

1400 yrs

193

—-

 Homer (Iliad)

900 B.C.

400 B.C.

500 yrs

643

95%

 New
 Testament

1st Cent. A.D. (50-100 A.D.

2nd Cent. A.D.
 (c. 130 A.D. f.)

less than 100 years

5600

99.5%

      As you can see, there are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing.  The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure.  That is an amazing accuracy.  In addition there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages.  The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.  

      Almost all biblical scholars agree that the New Testament documents were all written before the close of the first century.  If Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D., then that means that the entire New Testament was completed within 70 years.  This is important because it means there were plenty of people around when the New Testament documents were penned who could have contested the writings.  In other words, those who wrote the documents knew that if they were inaccurate, plenty of people would have pointed it out.  But, we have absolutely no ancient documents contemporary with the first century that contest the New Testament texts.

     Furthermore, another important aspect of this discussion is the fact that we have a fragment of the gospel of John that dates back to around 29 years from the original writing.  This is extremely close to the original writing date. This is simply unheard of in any other ancient writing and it demonstrates that the Gospel of John is a first century document. 

     Below is a chart with some of the oldest extant New Testament manuscripts compared to when they were originally penned.  Compare these time spans with the next closest which is Homer’s Iliad where the closest copy from the original is 500 years later.  Undoubtedly, that period of time allows for more textual corruption in its transmission.  How much less so for the New Testament documents?

Important
Manuscript
Papyri

Contents

Date
Original Written

MSS
Date

Approx.
Time Span

Location

p52
(John Rylands
Fragment)3

John 18:31-33,37-38

circa
96 A.D.

circa
125
A.D.

29 yrs

John Rylands Library, Manchester, England

P46 
(Chester Beatty Papyrus)

Rom. 5:176:3,5-14; 8:15-25, 27-35, 379:32; 10:1-11, 22, 24-33, 3514:8,915:9, 11-33; 16:1-23, 25-27; Heb.; 1 & 2 Cor., Eph., Gal., Phil., Col.; 1 Thess. 1:1,9-10; 2:1-3; 5:5-9, 23-28

50’s-70’s

circa
200
A.D.

Approx.
150 yrs

Chester Beatty Museum, Dublin & Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan library

P66 
(Bodmer Papyrus)

John 1:16:11,3514:26; fragment of 14:29-21:9

70’s

circa
200
A.D.

Approx.
130 yrs

Cologne, Geneva

P67 

Matt. 3:9,15; 5:20-22, 25-28

 

circa
200
A.D.

Approx.
130 yrs

Barcelona, Fundacion San Lucas Evangelista, P. Barc.1

    

If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer, and the other authors mentioned in the chart at the beginning of the paper.  On the other hand, if the critics acknowledge the historicity and writings of those other individuals, then they must also retain the historicity and writings of the New Testament authors; after all, the evidence for the New Testament’s reliability is far greater than the others.  The Christian has substantially superior criteria for affirming the New Testament documents than he does for any other ancient writing.  It is good evidence on which to base the trust in the reliability of the New Testament.

______________________
1. Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001) p. 256.
2. This chart was adapted from three sources:  1) Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler, 1976, p. 307; 2) the article “Archaeology and History attest to the Reliability of the Bible,” by Richard M. Fales, Ph.D., in The Evidence Bible, Compiled by Ray Comfort, Bridge-Logos Publishers, Gainesville, FL, 2001, p. 163; and 3) A Ready Defense, by Josh Mcdowell, 1993, p. 45.
3.”Deissmann was convinced that p52 was written well within the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117-38) and perhaps even during the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117)” (Footnote #2 found on pg. 39 of The Text of the New Testament, by Bruce M. Metzger, 2nd Ed.  1968, Oxford University Press, NY, NY).  Bruce Metzger has authored more than 50 books.  He holds two Masters Degrees, a Ph.D. and has been awarded several honorary doctorates.  “He is past president of the Society of Biblical Literature, the International Society fo New Testament Studies, an the North American Patristic Society.” — From, The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel, Zondervan Publishers, 1998, Grand Rapids, MI:  pg. 57.

 

http://www.carm.org/evidence/textualevidence.htm

 

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