Friday, April 10, 2009

New Testament Manuscripts

There are more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament than any other ancient text. There are 5,700 handwritten Greek copies of the New Testament with another ten to fifteen thousand manuscripts in other languages including Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian. In addition to that there are approximately 10,000 more written in Latin. While some of these manuscripts are certain books or compilation of books from the New Testament there are 60 full Greek New Testament manuscripts.


However, if all of these manuscripts were lost we could still reconstruct an accurate New Testament from the writings of the Church fathers. According to Dr. Daniel Wallace, who is a renowned expert of New Testament criticism the world over, there are more than one million quotations of the New Testament in the early church fathers’ writings dating from the 1st century all the way until the 13th century.


Therefore, there is an overwhelming amount of documentation to sufficiently render a New Testament that accurately reflects the original versions. This is an amazing collection of historical documents which is not found with any other ancient texts. All of which have been well preserved.


Dr. Wallace relayed to Lee Strobel in an interview that, “The quantity and quality of the New Testament manuscripts are unequalled in the ancient Greco-Roman world. The average Greek author has fewer than twenty copies of his works still in existence, and they come from no sooner than five hundred to a thousand years later. If you stacked the copies of his works on top of each other, they would be about four feet tall. Stack up copies of the New Testament and they would reach more than a mile high—and, again, that doesn’t include quotations from the church fathers.”


In comparison, the Illiad and Odyssey together have less than 2,400 copies surviving. These books are the second most abundant to the New Testament while not coming close to the number of manuscripts still in existence. Dr. Wallace commented “At bottom, textual criticism for virtually all other ancient literature relies on creative conjectures, or imaginative guesses, at reconstruction the wording of the original. Not so with the New Testament.”


Furthermore, fragments of papyrus have surfaced dating back to within at least one hundred years of the original manuscripts and match up succinctly with the later handwritten manuscripts. There are at least 117 of such documents and some of the “fragments” are quiet long, as one is nearly the complete Gospel of John.


Thus we have a very good historical record of the events of the life of Jesus that far surpasses any other historical records of antiquity.

9 comments:

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Thus we have a very good historical record of the events of the life of Jesus that far surpasses any other historical records of antiquity.

A conclusion that *clearly* does not follow on from your previous statements. All that you have 'proven' is that many ancient copies of a document exist - which says nothing about its underlying truth, just that the modern survivors are fairly accurate copies of the originals.

The question I would ask at this point is: So What?

Kevin DeGraaf said...

Based on your history, I suspect that most of that is nonsense, but I don't feel like looking up specific rebuttal evidence at the moment because that's beside the point.

Even if we grant for the sake of argument that the New Testament we have today is a faithful copy of what was originally written, how does that demonstrate that it was an accurate representation of what actually occurred, and that its incredible claims are actually true?

Imagine that someone today were to write a manuscript saying that he/she saw leprechauns and unicorns. Suppose that, for some strange reason, thousands of copies of this manuscript were made, and persisted for thousands of years.

If someone in the future came across all these copies and tried to use them as proof that leprechauns and unicorns existed (both in our time and in the future), would you find that claim to be reasonable? Obviously not.

Karla said...

The answer to both of your questions is if these documents are accurate representations of the original they are indeed eyewitness accounts of the events and are not later legend or fabrication. They are separate testimonies of eyewitnesses of what happened.

Anonymous said...

"The answer to both of your questions is if these documents are accurate representations of the original they are indeed eyewitness accounts of the events and are not later legend or fabrication. They are separate testimonies of eyewitnesses of what happened."

This is utterly absurd and non sequitor to boot. Using Kevin's example, you would have to conclude (using your logic) that leprechauns and unicorns did exist and were seen by eye-witnesses.

In reality, what matters in relation to whether there were eye witnesses that wrote this stuff is when the original was written, not how many copies were made or how accurate those copies were. And, the fact is that the gospels were not eye witness accounts. They were written well after the fact. This is the stance of the vast majority of Biblical scholars. It's charlatans like Strobel that continually lie (maybe by ommission) to the rank and file that allows for people like you to be duped and continue to pass on these errors.

Also, as Bart Ehrman points out, those copies aren't so accurate as you may think. There are hundreds of thousands (I believe it's on that order) of changes that have been identified in the manuscripts. The story of Jesus saying, "Let you who is without sin cast the first stone" is completely fabricated and added late to the story, for instance. IOW, we know it didn't happen. The KJV Bible is a great example of how this can go wrong. Since it was published, we've found many older manuscripts that show that the KJV is a bad translation, with many errors (yet many Xians still hold that it is infallible - do you use it?)

Also, take into account that the original "authors" may not have been able to read and write and would have been dictating to other Xians who did know, but maybe not as well as their paid Roman counterparts. The original manuscript might not have faithfully recorded what was dictated due to scribe error.

All in all, this post is an epic fail.

Karla said...

Ah, it's interesting you bring up Ehrman. In fact, the "changes" he cites are not actual changes but textual variants. Every time a word is spelled differently, or say the word "Lord" is used instead of "Jesus" in a manuscript that counts as a variant. And that happens many times. But the meaning of the text remains the same. 70 -80% of the 200,000 to 400,000 variants Ehrman refers to are spelling differences many times one letter being different. None of these variants really change anything in the meaning of the verse and furthermore none of them change the bare bones info about Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Only about 1% change the meaning and only in the slightest for instance Romans 5:1 it is uncertain weather Paul wrote "we have peace" or "let us have peace" and when this occurs the translators put the other possible meaning in the footnote or some like the Amplified version put it along side in the text. This info Ehrman put forth wasn't new to scholars, it wasn't shocking, it wasn't meaningful to his point that we can't trust all of Scripture. He was trying to throw it all about because of some spelling errors. Quiet dishonest scholarship if you ask me. My source is Dr. Daniel Wallace one of the world's foremost scholars in biblical criticism.

Karla said...

Also every time a word order is different from one manuscript to the next it is counted as a variant. And the low number of them with the plethora of manuscripts is amazing. One would expect many more since there is so many copies available but their consistency is phenomenally accurate.

Anonymous said...

"Ehrman. In fact, the "changes" he cites are not actual changes but textual variants. Every time a word is spelled differently, or say the word "Lord" is used instead of "Jesus" in a manuscript that counts as a variant."

Um, that's a change.

"But the meaning of the text remains the same."

Sometimes. It also shows that the scribes weren't always as meticulous as you would like...what other "variants" that do change the meaning are there?

"70 -80% of the 200,000 to 400,000 variants Ehrman refers to are spelling differences many times one letter being different. None of these variants really change anything in the meaning of the verse and furthermore none of them change the bare bones info about Jesus life, death, and resurrection."

Incorrect. "Born of a virgin" instead of "Born of a young woman" may well be a spelling error that changes quite a bit. There are other examples too IIRC.

"This info Ehrman put forth wasn't new to scholars, it wasn't shocking, it wasn't meaningful to his point that we can't trust all of Scripture."

It wasn't shocking to scholars, but it should be shocking to you and others that seem to be ignorant of the textual history. He was aiming at the lay audience with his books. Nor was his meaning that we can't trust the scriptures, per se. Who gave you that idea?

"He was trying to throw it all about because of some spelling errors. Quiet dishonest scholarship if you ask me. My source is Dr. Daniel Wallace one of the world's foremost scholars in biblical criticism."

I'd say that Dr. Wallace is the one guilty of dishonest scholarship. If you actually read Ehrman's book, he plainly says that he was not doing what Dr. Wallace is accusing him of, nor that he was forming those conclusions. Why is it that no apologists actually deal with what he says and instead make up strawmen when it comes to Ehrman.

"Also every time a word order is different from one manuscript to the next it is counted as a variant. And the low number of them with the plethora of manuscripts is amazing. One would expect many more since there is so many copies available but their consistency is phenomenally accurate."

Um yeah. "Variations" on the order of an order to 2 orders of magnitude compared to the number of manuscripts is a "low number." Please.

Nevertheless, I don't want to argue about Ehrman, because it's only part of the issue, which is what I previously laid out. Your assertions are non sequitors. You need to deal with that.

cl said...

I felt Karla's main point was that the NT of today is reliable and consistent with the NT of history. I think that claim is more or less true. At least in this post, I didn't get the impression that Karla was offering this consistency to prove God, and I felt Kevin's and Cyber's comments, in spite of their relevancy, were a bit of a flanking in the wrong direction. But Cyber, I agree, even if we grant Karla's argument, so what? That the stories are consistent doesn't make them any more intrinsically credible, and I think that's what you were getting at, right?

Also, Anon makes a point I partially agree with, but needs clarification: "what matters in relation to whether there were eye witnesses that wrote this stuff is when the original was written, not how many copies were made or how accurate those copies were." This is true, but also lends well to the misconception that only eyewitness can write an eyewitness account.

Anon also conflates all textual variants with the general word "changes," but you already tried to make that point.

CyberKitten said...

cl said: But Cyber, I agree, even if we grant Karla's argument, so what? That the stories are consistent doesn't make them any more intrinsically credible, and I think that's what you were getting at, right?

In a nutshell, yes.