Can I Trust The Bible? (Part 11)
The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is massive, especially when compared with other historical writings. Greek New Testament copies number in the thousands (5,686). Greek copies for other historical writings number anywhere from two copies to several hundred. The earliest copies for other historical copies are often 750 to 1,600 years from the original. The earliest Greek copies for the New Testament are less than 100 years from the original. The accuracy of the copies of most ancient writings is difficult to assess. Homer’s Iliad has 643 Greek copies with the earliest believed to be about 500 years from the original. It’s estimated that the accuracy of the Iliad copies is about 95%. The accuracy of the 5,686 copies of the Greek New Testament, with many being made within a hundred years of the original, has an accuracy estimated to be 99.5%. If you also count the more than 19,000 copies of the New Testament in Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic, you see one the most remarkable textual evidence in the world of ancient literature.
The oldest known Greek copy of the New Testament is the John Ryland MSS. It’s a small fragment of John’s Gospel (Chapter 18) believed to date from about 125 AD. That’s about 30 years from John’s original writing. The Chester Beatty Papyrus dates from about 200 AD and includes portions of the Books of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. That’s less than 150 years from original to copy. The Bodmer Papyrus II dates from about 200 AD and includes portions of John’s Gospel – a little more than 100 years from original to copy.
Other ancient Greek copies contain almost all of the New Testament writings and date from the 4th century AD. They include Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus. Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi are dated from the 5th century AD. Codex Bezae and Codex Washingtonensis also date from the 5th century AD, but contain fewer Books of the New Testament. Codex Claromontanus contains Paul’s Epistles and dates from the 6th century AD.
Remember the Syriac, Coptic and Latin copies of the New Testament? The Syriac Peshitta dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD. The Palestinian Syriac dates from the 5th century AD. The Coptic Sahidic version dates from the beginning of the 3rd century AD. The Bahairic version dates from the 4th century AD. Codex Vercellensis dates from the middle of the 4th century AD. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate dates from the end of the 4th century AD. The African Old Latin version dates from the beginning of the 5th century AD. Codex Palatinus also dates from the 5th century AD.
Another important aspect of the trustworthiness of the New Testament is what early Church leaders wrote about it – and write about it they did. Early Christian writers quoted from the New Testament so much that most of it could be reconstructed from their writings without using the New Testament manuscripts. Clement of Rome wrote at the end of the 1st century and beginning of the 2nd century AD and quoted from eight Books of the New Testament. Ignatius of Antioch wrote during the early part of the 2nd century AD and quoted from 15 Books of the New Testament. Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of the Apostle John and quoted from much of the New Testament. Researchers have found more than 30,000 New Testament quotes included in letters of the Church fathers from before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Adding the more than 5,000 quotes from Eusebius in the 4th century AD brings that total to more than 36,000 New Testament quotes. That is strong evidence that supports the authenticity of the New Testament we read today.
The textual evidence for the trustworthiness of the Bible is powerful, but is there anything else we can look to for physical support in our declaration that we hold the Word of God in our hands? Evidence from archaeology in our next study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”