Manuscript Evidence for the Bible: An Outline

Reliability of the New Testament as Historical Documents

  • "Astounding" number of ancient manuscripts extant: 5,000 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin and 9,000 other--totaling over 24,000 manuscript copies or portions of the New Testament. These are dated from 100 to 300 years after the originals. (There are no original manuscripts ["autographs"] extant, but the number and similarity of copies allows scholars to reconstruct the originals.)
  • Early fragments: John Ryland manuscript 130 A.D. in Egypt; Bodmer manuscript containing most of John's gospel 150-200 A.D.; Magdalen fragment from Mat. 26 believed by some to be within a few years of Jesus' death; Gospel fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls dated as early as 50 A.D.
  • Comparison with other ancient documents (available copies versus the originals):

                Caesar—10 copies—1000 year gap

                Tacitus—20 copies—1000 year gap 

                 Plato—7 copies—1200 year gap

  • F. F. Bruce: "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good attestation as the New Testament."
  • William F. Albright: "Thanks to the Qumran discoveries, the New Testament proves to be in fact what it was formerly believed to be: the teaching of Christ and his immediate followers circa.25 and circa. 80 AD."

Quotations from Early Church Fathers:

  • Clement of Rome (a disciple of the apostles) cited Matthew, John, and 1 Corinthians in 95 to 97 A.D. Ignatius (who knew the apostles well) referred to six Pauline Epistles in about 110. Polycarp (disciple of the apostle John) quoted from all four Gospels, Acts, and most of Paul's Epistles from 110 to 150. Taitian's harmony of the Four Gospels completed in 160 A.D. Irenaeus (who apparently heard the apostles) quoted from Matthew, John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians in 160 A.D.
  • Of the four Gospels alone, there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. Even if we had no manuscripts, virtually the entire New Testament could be reconstructed from these quotations. This argues powerfully that the Gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive. See Can We Construct?

Primary Source Value

  • Testimony of the New Testament authors themselves: Luke 1:1-3, 3:1, John 21:24, Acts 26:24-26,  2 Peter 1:16,  1 John 1:3.
  • Both liberal and conservative scholars in recent years have moved to the view that ALL of the New Testament was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (Liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson's book Redating the New Testament. Conservative scholar Kenneth Gentry's book Before Jesusalem Fell). One reason for their argument for the early date of the New Testament is because there is no mention in the past tense of the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the temple anywhere in the New Testament, and there is consistent mention of it still standing (even in the book of Revelation). Though the Gospels include prophecies of such a destruction, they are prophetic stock-in-trade. These prophesies lack any details that certainly would have been added if written after this important historical event.
  • Substantial other evidences of the New Testament being written between 40 and 60 A.D. See Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.

Reliability of the Old Testament

  • Jewish scholars performed "unbelievable" care in copying and preserving Scripture.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 are dated from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. These manuscripts predate by 1000 years the previous oldest manuscripts. They represent every Old Testament book except Esther (as well as non-biblical writings). There is word for word identity in more than 95% of the cases, and the 5% variation consists mostly of slips of the pen and spelling.