The Bibliographical Test Updated
by Clay Jones
For more than forty years Christians have appealed to what is called the “bibliographical test” as a means of establishing the New Testament’s (NT) transmissional accuracy. The bibliographical test examines the overall number of extant manuscripts (sometimes abbreviated to MSS or MS for the singular) and the difference between the date of the original writing, called the autograph, and the date of the earliest surviving, or extant, manuscript. Since we do not possess the autograph of even one ancient document, this test best determines transmissional accuracy for any ancient document.
Christians argue that if historians will consider an ancient document to have been accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are few and far between the date the autograph was penned and its earliest extant copy, then they should accept documents as accurately transmitted whose manuscripts are comparatively many and comparatively near their autographs. For many years Christian apologists have employed the bibliographical test to argue that since the NT surpasses all other ancient documents in sheer number of manuscripts and the nearness of the date between the autographs and extant manuscripts that the NT has been accurately transmitted.
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However, some of the numbers that apologists appeal to are woefully out of date. For this post I will provide just on example. Those who wish to see the updated numbers for others ancient authors and the updated numbers for the New Testament’s translations into other languages can find the fuller research in my article in the Christian Research Journal. You can listen to a radio interview here.
Homer authored the Iliad and the Odyssey and for years apologists have claimed that while there are over 5,500 manuscripts of the Greek NT, there are, by comparison, only 643 manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad…
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