Have you ever heard anybody question the reliability of the Bible? By that I mean have your every heard anyone confidently assert that we can't be sure that we have the original words of the Scriptures, that we just can't be sure that the text is reliable? It has always amazed me that such comments are usually made by fairly well educated people who use such reasoning to defend their rejection of the authority of the Word of God. I say it amazes me because these are often the same people who have studied the works of Aristotle and Plato in philosophy classes. or labored over the works of Pliny the Younger or Caesar's Gallic War in History of Western Civilization courses.
The Bible is a work of antiquity. Even its most noted and vehement critics assign it a place of prominence among other ancient writings. It seems to me that when we are talking about something as fundamental as textual reliability, all words of antiquity must be judged by the same criteria. Let's see how the textual reliability of the Bible stacks up against other famouse works of antiquity when the same standard is used.
This is a test used by scholars when dealing with ancient writings that is meant to determine the reliability and thevalidity of the text of such writings. It is called the Bibliographical Test. This test is an examination of the way the original documents we now have has reached us. In other words, since the original documents no longer exist, or at least haven't been found, how realible are the copies that we do have in regards to the number of manuscripts we now possess and the time between the original writing and the earliest copy in our possession?
There are over 13,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. Now that is not to say that they are all complete, but at least 13,000 manuscript copies of at least portions of the New Testament do exist. There are approximately 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate translation and close to 1,000 manuscripts for the other early versions. Add to that 5,000 Greek manuscripts and that is how we arrived at the figure of over 13,000. Besides all of these partial and full manuscripts, almost all of the New Testament can be found in quotations of early Christian writers from the second and third centuries.
Here is how the Bibliographical Test works. Let us consider the famous Gallic War of Caesar. It was written between 58 and 50 B.C. The earliest copy still existing was written in approximately A.D. 900, making a time span of 1,000 years from the original to our earliest copy. There are ten copies that are any good at all in existence today.
Consider Plato's famous Tetralogies. Plato lived from 427 to 347 B.C. The earliest copy we have of his work is dated from around A.D. 900, making a time span of 1,200 years from the date of writing to the earliest copy. There are seven ancient manuscripts of this work. Philosophy students have been studying Plato for years, and the professors don't seem to worry about or question the "textual reliability" of this work.
How about Pliny the Younger's History? It was written between A.D. 61 and 113. The earliest known copy is from A.D. 850, making a time span of 750 years. There are seven manusctipts total of this work.
Now, what about the New Testament? It was written between A.D. 50 and 95. The earliest manuscript that we have is the John Ryland MSS, dating A.D. 130. It is a portion of the Gospel of John. That is a time span of 40 to 50 years.
There is the Chester Beatty Papyri, dating A.D. 200. It contains major portions of the New Testament. Here is a time span of 110 years.
On and on we could go, from A.D. 150 to 500, including the Codex Sinaiticus of A.D. 350, containing almost all of the New Testament and over half of the Old Testament. There is the Codex Vaticanus, dated A.D. 325 to 350. It is currently in the Vatican Library and contains nearly the entire Bible. Also existing is the Codex Alexandrinus from A.D. 400. It is in the British Museum and contains almost the whole Bible. When it is all put together, with time spans ranging from 50 years to 410 years, there are over 13,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. To deny the textual reliability of the New Testament is to reject every single work of antiquity, because there is nto one that comes even close to beingb as well attested to as the New Testament text. Even sceptics must be honest as to what is found in testing the texts of antiquity.
By Greg Litmer in That You May Grow Thereby.
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