Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Reliable Are the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible?

Many young people I work with wonder how reliable the ancient manuscripts of the Bible really are. After all, the Bible was written a long time ago in a different language and in a different cultural context. Though sometimes these young people are just trying to be hard to get along with, most of them genuinely want to know the answer to this question. Recently I found the following helpful information about the reliability of the ancient manuscripts and I thought I would share it with my readers.

The Bible is unquestionably the world's all-time bestseller with an estimated 2 billion copies in print. The Bible was completed in its entirety nearly 2,000 years ago and stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity. There are over 24,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts discovered so far. Compare this with the second best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, Homer's Iliad, which only 643 preserved manuscripts discovered thus far. The printing press wasn't invented until the 1450's, but we have hand-written copies of the Old Testament dating back to the 200's BC. Remarkably, these ancient manuscripts are nearly identical to the Bible we read today.

As far as the New Testament, the Bodmer Papyrus II contains most of the Gospel of John and dates from around 150-200 AD. The Chester Beatty Papyri contains major portions of the New Testament and dates back to about 200 AD. The Codex Vaticanus, the oldest complete New Testament manuscript we've discovered so far, dates from 325-350 AD. The apostle John, who lived with Jesus and learned from Jesus, penned five New Testament books and died in 100 AD. We have fragments of John's Gospel that date from 110-130 AD, within 30 years of his death. When compared to other ancient works such as Plato, Homer or Tacitus, that short time period between the original and the most recent copy is dramatic!

Clement of Rome was martyred in 100 AD. In his writings, he quoted from Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Titus. Clement's quotes totally correspond with the Bible we read today. In fact, even if we lost all of the 5,300 early Greek manuscripts, all of the 10,000 Latin vulgates, and all of the 9,300 other ancient manuscripts, we would be able to reconstruct all but 11 verses of the New Testament from the writings of the early Church leaders who quoted from them extensively. We have over 36,000 preserved quotes from the New Testament. In a nutshell, the Bible stands today as the best-preserved literary work of all antiquity and its overall reliability is without question! (This material was adapted from:

Honest questions deserve honest answers and I hope this material will help my readers who are struggling with this issue.