I was re-watching a presentation given by Dan Wallace, the CEO of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, on the reliability of the New Testament. Every time I look at this topic I am increasingly more amazed by the truth the data presents. (Note: the information in this post comes mostly from the presentation linked below, but some of the numbers have been updated according to the CSNTM website’s most recent information).
Let me drop a few numbers here:
-We have just around 5,900 hand-written Greek Manuscripts (the language the NT was written in) containing the New Testament, either in part or in whole.
-We have over 10,000 Latin Manuscripts, one of the 1st languages the NT was translated into.
-We also have somewhere between 5-10 thousand manuscripts of varies other ancient translations such as Syriac, Coptic, etc. That may seem like a large disparity (between 5 and 10 thousand) but the truth is we just are not sure how many there actually are. We do know that it is no less than 5,000.
Why is this impressive? Because for the average ancient work, we have no more than 20 manuscripts. That is not a typo- 20, a two and a zero, and this is being generous. Homer is the only exception but even Homer’s 600 is a far cry from the 20,000-25,0000. Oh, and that 20+thousand doesn’t even include the quotations from earlier church fathers. We could reproduce the NT several times over just off of their quotes alone.
Oh, and there is one more thing- time.
The earliest, again being generous, copy of any other ancient work comes from over 500 years after the document was originally written, this time including Homer.
For the New Testament we have a fragment, P52 (pictured above) of John from no later than 150 AD, and some papyrologists have dated it as early as 90 AD. That is a mere several decades after the events described took place! We have quite a few manuscripts from the first several centuries as well, some being entire copies of the NT.
This is an unprecedented amount of textual evidence that is entirely unmatched in historical academia.
There is nothing in all of the ancient world that comes even close to having the historical veracity of the New Testament. If you believe that Julius Caesar existed, than there is no historical grounds for denying the events of the NT. If you believe anything you learned in history about Egypt, Babylon, Rome, or Greece; than it is intellectually obtuse to disbelieve the accounts in the NT. I am not trying to name-call, I am simply stating that if someone denies that the NT, as we have it today, contains what the original authors wrote; they are either ignorant of the information, or coming at the information with a strong bias.
Remember, because of the way the texts were copied-by anyone who could write, and from all over the place geographically-there was never one group in control of the text to make wholesale edits. If someone would have tried to insert a doctrine, or take a doctrine out, it would have been immediately discovered because it wold be the only one of its kind, and when compared to the rest of the manuscripts, it would stand out like the Pope at a cowboy church (I would love to see the expression on the Pope’s face when he sees them baptizing in a water trough filled from the garden hose attached to the stage).
It has been cleverly said that we have a 10,000 piece puzzle with 10,001 pieces. Nothing has been lost from the original autographs so, even though we do not posses the original manuscripts, we can with the utmost confidence trust that we have the word of God as written by the followers of Christ.
This is just the tip of the iceberg because there are textual variants and differences, but again, we have more information than needed, not less.
All this to say: Christian, trust the Bible; non-Christian, trust the Bible.
It contains the Words of Life. No man comes to the Father except by Him who is declared through out all of its pages, that is Jesus Christ; who died and rose so that we may have eternal life and fellowship with God. Something not possible without Him, for He forged in blood the way for the defiled to commune with the Holy.
The words contained inside the Bible our true and this is what these words are for:
“Now Jesus did many other sign in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31
Here are some additional resources for those interested in going deeper. As always, feel free to ask questions.
Also check out Daniel Wallace’s short videos on iTunes U about textual criticism.