Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics Chapter 7:
Is the New Testament Reliable
guest post by David Stoecker*
Until the 1450 when Johannes Gutenberg made the practice obsolete, all books were handwritten. So for 1400 years the New Testament was vulnerable to corruption. The New Testament was written by the church. Not all churches had all of the books. When a church received a document from an apostle, they wrote copies of it and sent it to other churches, who in turn did the same thing. They also highly valued the books, so great care was made to transmit them word for word. With that said, mistakes were still made.
There were two general ways to copy books. One way had a scribe who would take the book he wanted to copy, sit it in front of him, then copy it word for word. The other way used a text with several scribes writing while someone read aloud the text. This way was much quicker, but there was a problem with the second method that the first method did not have. Some words sound very similar yet contain different meanings, such as to and too or pare, pair and pear.
To deal with the issues of differences in texts, textual criticism was developed. In this, all extant copies of a manuscript are compared to each other. From there they use various techniques to identify which of the texts are the oldest. If differences are found in the text, then earliest texts are preferred. There is another method, which looks at what text the majority of the copies uses and adopt that.
Needless to say, the more copies of manuscripts we have the more accurately we can decipher the original text. With the New Testament, if we only were to use original language manuscripts we would have over 5,300 copies. Some of them date from as early as 125-130 AD, less than 50 years after the book was written. The Magdalen Papyri is dated to 70 AD and 7Q5, a Qumran fragment, has been dated between 50 BC and 50 AD.
To compare, the writings of Aristotle date 1400 years later and the total number of any one book is 49. Tetralogy by Plato has an earliest dated copy 1300 after he wrote it and there are only 7 manuscripts. The New Testament has 5,300 copies in original language, another 8,000 Latin Vulgaate from the 4th Century and 9,300 earlier version in Coptic, Armenian, Nubian and Syriac.
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There are about 200,000 variants in 10,000 different places. Most of these are misspellings, interpolation of words or orthographical. Orthographical differences would be theater and theatre, where both are correct. There are the previously mentioned textual criticism methods to sort out differences, but there are about 400 words comprising 40 verses where the original writing is just not known. They contain no essential Christian doctrine.
Archeology and non-Christian writings have also been helpful. Archeology has consistently and repeatedly confirmed the New Testament. There are also the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus, Pliny the Younger (governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor) and the Greek satirist Lucian who speak of Christians, Jesus, the crucifixion, John the Baptist and James the brother of Jesus.
As for the word being inspired by God, Mr. Powell looks at the claim by other books to be divine. To decipher which is, we must first determine which is a reliable historical document. The Bible is backed up by archeology, non-Christian writings as well as a remarkable number of ancient copies. Then we look to Jesus claiming to be God. If the resurrection arguments are compelling, t hen we must take Jesus at his word. If Jesus in turn considered the Old Testament to be the Word of God, and what we have just discussed above in this paragraph is true, we have good reason to accept it as well.
Thanks for reading, hope to see you next time when we look at Chapter 8, which addresses if the Old Testament is reliable.
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*Written for TPE by David Stoecker of Spiritual Spackle.