22 - New Testament - Manuscripts

December 20, 2020

22 - New Testament - Manuscripts

So what do we have with the New Testament? Do we have the original scrolls written by the original authors?

For the New Testament, we have what are called manuscripts, which are copies of the original documents.

Manuscript - Ultimate Guide to Christian Apologetics

However, the dates of some of the documents that we currently have today go back almost into the 1st century AD, when they were written, and many into the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

Keep in mind, this is before the days of type writers and computer documents.

When the New Testament documents were written, they spread quickly.  These documents were copied many times, with copies being sent off to far-away Christians who could also hear the good news.

And when those Christians received these documents, or manuscripts, they copied the good news of the documents as well, and sent them off to other churches. 

Now how could this dissemination of texts, without any central control, be uniformly controlled?

Scribe - Ultimate Guide to Christian Apologetics

It couldn't, yet if you examine how similar the manuscripts are to each other, it is clear that the copyists took great care in copying everything as accurately as possible, because these manuscripts, passed down over hundreds of years, are so similar to each other.

We have these copies of the New Testament commencing within a couple generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in other texts, maybe 5, 8 or 10 generations elapse between the writings of the originals and the earliest surviving copy.

The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing when compared with other works of antiquity.  

New Testament Manuscripts - Ultimate Guide to Christian Apologetics

There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, not to mention another 24,000-plus in other languages.  

Next to the New Testament, the oldest amount of manuscript testimony that we have is of Homer's Illiad, which was like the Bible of the ancient Greeks.

Yet there are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today.  Homer's Illiad was composed in 800 BC, yet the earliest manuscripts that we have are not until the 2nd century AD.

Compare the 2nd most amount of manuscripts (less than 650) with the most amount of manuscripts (0ver 5,000 just in Greek), and there is no comparison between the New Testament and other works of antiquity.

Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri

Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri - Ultimate Guide to Christian Apologetics

The most significant manuscript to come to light was the "Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri", discovered about 1930.

Of these Beatty biblical papyri, #1 contains portions of the 4 gospels, as well as Acts and dates to the 3rd century AD.  Papyrus #2 contains large portions of the letters of Paul and the book of Hebrews, and dates to about AD200.

And papyrus #3 has a sizable portion of the book of Revelation, and dates to about the 3rd century AD.

Rylands Papyrus P52

Then, in 1934, C.H. Roberts of St. John's college, Oxford, was sorting through the papyri at the John Rylands Library, in Manchester, England.

He immediately recognized this as a preserving portion of John's gospel.

Rylands Papyrus P52 - Ultimate Guide to Christian Apologetics

He was able to date it from the style of the script.  He concluded that it originated between AD100 and AD150.  

Many other prominent paleographers, including Sir Frederich Kenyon, Sir Harold Bill, Adolf Diessman, and others have agreed with this assessment.

In our final section on the reliability of the New Testament, we will talk about some of the most compelling evidence of their early penmanship, the evidence from the early church fathers.