| A (Not So) Brief Defense Christianity |
- Biblical Documents -New Testament
Survival Course Manual
A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity
VII. The New Testament
- The Greek Manuscript Evidence
There are more than 4,000 different
ancient Greek manuscripts containing all or portions of the New
Testament that have survived to our time. These are written on
- Papyrus and Parchment.
During the early Christian era, the
writing material most commonly used was papyrus. This highly
durable reed from the Nile Valley was glued together much like
plywood and then allowed to dry in the sun. In the twentieth
century many remains of documents (both biblical and non-biblical)
on papyrus have been discovered, especially in the dry, arid lands
of North Africa and the Middle East.
Another material used was
parchment. This was made from the skin of sheep or goats,
and was in wide use until the late Middle Ages when paper began to
replace it. It was scarce and more expensive; hence, it was used
almost exclusively for important documents.
- Codex Vaticanus and Codex Siniaticus
These are two excellent
parchment copies of the entire New Testament which date from the
4th century (325-450 A.D.).
- Older Papyrii
Earlier still, fragments and
papyrus copies of portions of the New Testament date from 100 to
200 years (180-225 A.D.) before Vaticanus and Siniaticus. The
outstanding ones are the Chester Beatty Papyrus (P45, P46,
P47) and the Bodmer Papyrus II, XIV, XV (P46,
From these five manuscripts
alone, we can construct all of Luke, John, Romans, 1 and 2
Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and
2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, and portions of Matthew, Mark, Acts, and
Revelation. Only the Pastoral Epistles Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy) and
the General Epistles (James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2, and 3 John)
and Philemon are excluded.
- Oldest Fragment.
Perhaps the earliest piece of
Scripture surviving is a fragment of a papyrus codex containing
John 18:31-33, and 37. It is called the Rylands Papyrus
(P52) and dates from 130 A.D., having been found in Egypt. The
Rylands Papyrus has forced the critics to place the fourth gospel
back into the first century, abandoning their earlier assertion
that it could not have been written then by the Apostle John.
- This manuscript evidence
creates a bridge of extant papyrus and parchment fragments and
copies of the New Testament stretching back to almost the end of
the first century.
- Versions (Translations)
In addition to the actual Greek
manuscripts, there are more than 1,000 copies and fragments of the
New Testament in Syria, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, and Ethiopic, as
well as 8,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate, some of which date back
almost to Jerome's original translation in 384-400 A.D.
- Church Fathers
A further witness to the New Testament
text is sourced in the thousands of quotations found throughout the
writings of the Church Fathers (the early Christian clergy (100-450
A.D) who followed the Apostles and gave leadership to the fledgling
church, beginning with Clement of Rome (96 A.D.).
It has been observed that if all of the
New Testament manuscripts and Versions mentioned above were to
disappear overnight, it would still be possible to reconstruct the
entire New Testament with quotes from the Church Fathers, with the
exception of fifteen to twenty verses!
- A Comparison
The evidence for the early existence of
the New Testament writings is clear. The wealth of materials for
the New Testament becomes even more significant when we compare it
with other ancient documents which have been accepted without
question. Consider the following chart:
|Author and Work
||Date of Events
||Date of Writing*
||Earliest Extant MS**
||Lapse: Event to Writing
||Lapse: Event to MS
||4 BC - AD 30
||50 - 65/75
||27 - 30
||5 BC - AD 30
||200 BC - AD 70
||200 BC - AD 65
||50 BC - AD 95
||500 BC - AD 70
|ca. 485-425 BC
|ca. 460-400 BC
|ca. 430-355 BC
|ca. 200-120 BC
||ca. 150 BC
*Where a slash occurs, the first date is conservative, and the second
**New Testament manuscripts are fragmentary. Earliest complete manuscript
is from ca. 350; lapse of event to complete manuscript is about 325 years.
In his book, The Bible and
Archeology, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, former director and
principal librarian of the British Museum, stated about the New
Testament, "The interval, then, between the dates of original
composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to
be in fact, negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that
the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were
written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general
integrity of the books of the New testament may be regarded as
To be skeptical of the 27 documents in
the New Testament, and to say they are unreliable is to allow all
of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of
the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as these
in the New Testament.
B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, the
creators of The New Testament in Original Greek, also
commented: "If comparative trivialities such as changes of order,
the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the
like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt
can hardly mount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New
Testament." In other words, the small changes and variations in
manuscripts change no major doctrine: they do not affect
Christianity in the least. The message is the same with or without
We have the Word of God.
The Anvil -- God's Word
Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith's door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime:
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
"How many anvils have you had," said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one," said he, and then, with twinkling eye,
"The anvil wears the hammers out, you know."
And so, thought I, the anvil of God's word,
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed . . . the hammer's gone.