No Original Documents: A Skeleton in God’s Closet?
By Carey Bryant
The Skeleton in the Closet
Article X of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states “that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture…” In other words, God only inspired the original documents written by the biblical authors. What’s the problem with that?
None of them exist anymore.
Every book that Paul originally wrote crumbled to dust centuries ago. No person alive on earth has seen the original Gospel of John. Every manuscript of the New Testament that exists today is a copy of a copy.
Many Christians treat this issue like a skeleton in God’s closet, a shameful secret that no one needs to know. Since no originals exist, is the New Testament we have today anywhere close to what the biblical authors wrote centuries ago?
Today, more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered. The number of manuscripts is over 24,000 if you include the Latin Vulgate and other early versions. The New Testament has the most manuscripts of any ancient work. To put this in perspective, Homer’s Iliad probably has the second greatest number of manuscripts with only 643.
New Testament manuscripts date anywhere from the second to the eighteenth century. Probably the earliest manuscript we have of the New Testament is a fragment of the Gospel of John, dated around AD 125. If you date the Gospel of John between AD 80-90, then the time span between the original and this fragment is less than 50 years! Going back to Homer’s Iliad, the earliest copy we have is 400 years after the original composition.
Bringing the Skeleton into the Light
How close can we get to the originals? The absence of the original manuscripts doesn’t mean that we no longer have the original words…
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