This Page:
A (Not So) Brief Defense Christianity
  • Biblical Documents -New Testament

Mind Games
Survival Course Manual

Mindgames Logo
Backward Table of Contents Forward

A (Not So) Brief Defense of Christianity

Jimmy Williams


VII. The New Testament

  1. 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 different materials.

    1. 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.

    2. Examples

      1. 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.).

      2. 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, P75).

        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.

      3. 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.

      4. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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 Author's Lifespan Date of Events Date of Writing* Earliest Extant MS** Lapse: Event to Writing Lapse: Event to MS
Matthew,
Gospel
ca. 0-70? 4 BC - AD 30 50 - 65/75 ca. 200 <50 years <200 years
Mark,
Gospel
ca. 15-90? 27 - 30 65/70 ca. 225 <50 years <200 years
Luke,
Gospel
ca. 10-80? 5 BC - AD 30 60/75 ca. 200 <50 years <200 years
John,
Gospel
ca. 10-100 27-30 90-110 ca. 130 <80 years <100 years
Paul,
Letters
ca. 0-65 30 50-65 ca. 200 20-30 years <200 years
Josephus,
War
ca. 37-100 200 BC - AD 70 ca. 80 ca. 950 10-300 years 900-1200 years
Josephus,
Antiquities
ca. 37-100 200 BC - AD 65 ca. 95 ca. 1050 30-300 years 1000-1300 years
Tacitus,
Annals
ca. 56-120 AD 14-68 100-120 ca. 850 30-100 years 800-850 years
Seutonius,
Lives
ca. 69-130 50 BC - AD 95 ca. 120 ca. 850 25-170 years 750-900 years
Pliny,
Letters
ca. 60-115 97-112 110-112 ca. 850 0-3 years 725-750 years
Plutarch,
Lives
ca. 50-120 500 BC - AD 70 ca. 100 ca. 950 30-600 years 850-1500 years
Herodotus,
History
ca. 485-425 BC 546-478 BC 430-425 BC ca. 900 50-125 years 1400-1450 years
Thucydides,
History
ca. 460-400 BC 431-411 BC 410-400 BC ca. 900 0-30 years 1300-1350 years
Xenophon,
Anabasis
ca. 430-355 BC 401-399 BC 385-375 BC ca. 1350 15-25 years 1750 years
Polybius,
History
ca. 200-120 BC 220-168 BC ca. 150 BC ca. 950 20-70 years 1100-1150 years

*Where a slash occurs, the first date is conservative, and the second is liberal.
**New Testament manuscripts are fragmentary. Earliest complete manuscript is from ca. 350; lapse of event to complete manuscript is about 325 years.

  • Conclusion

    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 finally established."

    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 the variations.

    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.
    Author unknown


    2000 Probe Ministries International
    Backward Table of Contents Forward
    Return toProbe Home