Text, Typos and Transmission: Why You Can Trust the New Testament
by Mark Pierson
More than any other ancient writing, the New Testament has tons of evidence that show that it has been faithfully and accurately copied and transmitted down through the ages. Check out this week’s article spotlight from the The Apologetics Issue of Higher Things Magazine where Pastor Mark Pierson highlights the amazing way in which the New Testament has been preserved and gives you the facts for reminding those who doubt, that the New Testament is a book as reliable as they come! Click here for a PDF copy of the article and a ready-to-use Bible Study based on the article.
I remember when it first dawned on me that there might be “problems” with the New Testament. As I casually flipped through the red-lettered words of Jesus in my parents’ study Bible, something surprising caught my eye. There, in the Gospel of John, I noticed a particularly strange footnote. It said something like, “This part is not the same in all ancient manuscripts.” This struck me as rather odd and out of place. Why would a note like that be in the New Testament? Does this mean we don’t know the whole truth about Jesus? Can a book that contains typos really be God’s holy Word?
Not all of these questions were at the forefront of my mind that day, but years later they popped up. In fact, one of the most common misconceptions about the New Testament (NT) is that it has been copied, translated, and altered so many times that it no longer resembles what the original authors wrote. Thankfully, an apologist—a defender of the faith—explained to me why the NT is actually the most trustworthy collection of texts from the entire ancient world.
The Older the Better: The Earliest NT Manuscripts
Have you heard those radio ads telling you to back up your computer before it crashes and all your data is erased? Well, as far as we know, the original writings of the NT have been erased from existence. Copies were made, but since neither computers nor the printing press existed back then, everything was preserved by hand for centuries. So how do we know some drunken monks from the Middle Ages didn’t change the text? Maybe somewhere along the line people put words into the mouth of Jesus, having Him claim to be God, or that His death would pay for our sins, when He himself never said such things. Could it be that the text was tampered with and we just don’t know it? The answer is NO, for at least two reasons.
First, the oldest surviving parts of the NT date all the way back to the beginning of the second century. This may seem like it’s still not early enough, since Jesus and the apostles lived in the first century. But keep in mind that most of the NT was written in the latter half of that century, such that only a couple of decades separate the last living apostle from our earliest copies…
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