Manuscript Evidence Supports The Bible

The Bible was written over a span of 1,600 years, by 40 different authors without a single contradiction or error, using three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) on hundreds of subjects, and yet there is one consistant, non-contradictory theme that runs through it all: God's redemption of humankind.

One of the most famous objections to the Bible is that it is corrupt, edited, and unreliable and therefore cannot be trusted.  Again, this statement only reveals a person's bias and/or lack of knowledge.

There are over 5,680 ancient Greek Manuscripts dating as far back as 125 A.D. (John Rylands Papyri ) that agree 99.5%, this insures that what we have been handed down is reliable and faithful to the original inspired autographs, which were, "GOD breathed."  That .5% has nothing to do with the fundamentals of our faith, but minor issues which in no way, affect Christianities unique claims and precepts.

As you can see by the graph below, in order to dismiss the Bible as, "corrupt" they must also dismiss Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, and Homer. Our copies are far superior in number and accuracy, so as you can see, they have no footing on which to stand, we might as well dismiss all of history if we deny the Bibles accuracy as we have it.

Works               Date Written     Earliest Copy    # Manuscripts
Aristotle's poetics   384-322 B.C      1100 A.D             49

Plato's tetralogies   427-347 B.C       900 A.D.             7

Herodotus            488-428 B.C.      900 A.D.             8

Tacitus               100 A.D.          1100 A.D.            20

Thucydides           460-400 B.C.      900 A.D.             8

Homer's lliad         800 B.C.           400 b.c.             643

Caesar's Gallic war   58-50 B.C.        900 A.D.            10

Livy roman history    59 B.C.-17 A.D.  900 A.D.            20

New Testament        48-95 A.D.       200 A.D            5,500+

Old Testament        1500-200 B.C     125 B.C.            1,000+

The Extant Manuscript Evidence for the New Testament

There is more abundant and accurate manuscript evidence for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world.  There are more manuscripts copied with greater accuracy and earlier dating than for any secular classic from antiquity.  First, let us examine the number and nature of the New Testament manuscripts themselves.1

The John Rylands Fragment (P52)

This papyrus contains five verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38. It is dated between A.D. 117-138.  The great philologist Adolf Deissmann argued that it may be even earlier.  The manuscript is housed in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.

The Bodmer Papyri (P66, P72, P75)

These papyri date from around A.D. 200.  They contain most of the Gospels of John and Luke along with the books of Jude, I Peter, and II Peter.  These manuscripts contain the earliest complete copies of New Testament books.

Codex Vaticanus (B) 

This manuscript dates from between A.D. 325-350.  It is a vellum manuscript containing the whole New Testament as well as the Greek (LXX) Old Testament.  It was discovered by modern textual scholars in 1475 when it was catalogued in the Vatican Library where it still remains.

Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) 

This manuscript dates from around A.D. 340.  It too is vellum and contains the whole New Testament and half of the Old Testament. Count Tischendorf discovered it in a monastery on Mount Sinai in 1844.  It is contained in the collection at the University Library in Leipzig, Germany.

Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) 

This manuscript dates from around A.D. 350.  It contains only part of the Old Testament but most of the New Testament.  This early manuscript was written over but retrieved by chemical reactivation.  The National Library in Paris possesses it.

Codex Alexandrinus (A) 

Dating from about A.D. 450, this too is a complete vellum manuscript of the Bible with only minor mutilations.  It is housed in the National Library of the British Museum.  It should be kept in mind that although the foregoing great vellum manuscripts date from the fourth and fifth centuries, they represent in whole or in part an "Alexandrian" (mode Alexandria, Egypt) type text that dates from A.D. 100-150.

Codex Bezae (D)

Dating from A.D. 450 or 550, this manuscript is written in both Greek and Latin.  It was discovered in 1562 by the French theologian Theodore de Beza, who gave it to Cambridge University.  This manuscript contains the four Gospels, Acts, and part of III John.

Other Early Greek Manuscripts 

There are numerous early Greek manuscripts.  Codex Claromontanus (D2) dates from A.D. 550 and contains much of the New Testament. Codex Basiliensis (E) has the four Gospels from the eighth century.  Codex Laudianus (E2) contains Acts from the sixth or seventh century.  These are followed by numerous other manuscripts with everything from parts to the whole New Testament dating from the ninth century on.

The total count of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is now around 5,000.  The New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger counts 76 papyri, 250 uncials, 2,646 minuscules, and 1,997 lectionary manuscripts.  This would total 4,969, No other book from antiquity possesses anything like this abundance in manuscripts.

Comparison of the New Testament with Ancient Secular Writings
From the standpoint of a documentary historian the New Testament has vastly superior evidence to that of any other book from the ancient world.  The following chart will reveal the superior number, dating, and degree of accuracy of the New Testament over other books.


Author    Written    Earliest Copy    Number of Copies     Accuracy

Caesar    1 B.C.      900 A.D.               10

Livy       1 B.C.                                20

Tacitus   100 A.D.    1100 A.D.             20

Thucydides   5 B.C.    900 A.D.              8

Herodotus    5 B.C.    900 A.D.              8

Demosthenes 4 B.C.    1100 A.D.             200

Homer        9 B.C.                             643                 95%

New Testament 50-100 A.D.  2nd Cent. A.D.   5,000        99 + %

Several observations are pertinent to the above chart.  No other book is even a close second to the Bible on either the number or early dating of the copies.  The average secular work from antiquity survives on only a handful of manuscripts; the New Testament boasts thousands.  The average gap between the original composition and the earliest copy is over 1,000 years for other books. 

The New Testament, however, has a fragment within one generation from its original composition, whole books within about 100 years from the time of the autograph, most of the New Testament in less than 200 years, and the entire New Testament within 250 years from the date of its completion.  The degree of accuracy of the copies is greater for the New Testament than for other books that can be compared. Most books do not survive with enough manuscripts that make comparison possible.  A handful of copies that are 1,000 years after the fact do not provide enough links in the missing chain nor enough variant readings in the manuscript to enable textual scholars to reconstruct the original. 

Bruce Metzger does provide an interesting comparison of the New Testament with the Indian Mahabharata and Homer's Iliad.  The New Testament has about 20,000 lines.  Of these only 40 are in doubt (i.e., about 400 words).  The Iliad possesses about 15,600 lines with 764 of them in question.  This would mean that Homer's text is only 95 percent pure or accurate compared to over 99.5 percent accuracy for the New Testament manuscript copies.  The national epic of India has suffered even more textual corruption than the Iliad.  The Mahabharata is some eight times the size of the Iliad, of which some 26,000 lines are in doubt. This would be roughly 10 percent textual corruption or a 90 percent accuracy copy of the original.  From this documentary standpoint the New Testament writings are superior to comparable ancient writings.  The records for the New Testament are vastly more abundant, clearly more ancient, and considerably more accurate in their text.

The Dating of the Original New Testament Sources

The manuscript evidence takes us to within a generation of the completion of the original New Testament documents. But the death of Christ is computed to have occurred somewhere between A.D. 29 and 33.  The next link in the argument for the historical reliability of the Gospel records deals with the date of the original composition of the Gospel records.

The German posthegelian Tübingen school of F. C. Baur once dated the completion of the New Testament into the second century. Using a dialectical presupposition, they argued that the thesis of Paul's Gentile Christianity was opposed by the antithesis of Peter's and James's Jewish Christianity that was not synthesized until the second century by Johannine Christianity. However, this opinion is no longer reasonable in view of the evidence for the Gospel of John being a first century composition. 

The dating for all the New Testament books falls well within the first century.  No less authority than Biblical archaeologist William F. Albright said that "every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and the eighties of the first century A.D. (very probably sometime between A.D. 50 and 75).  Let us examine the evidence for the dating of the documents of the New Testament.

Paul's Writings 

The apostle Paul was martyred under Nero in A.D. 67.  His earliest epistles were written before his imprisonment in Rome between A.D. 60-62 (Acts 28).  Of the thirteen epistles attributed to Paul, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians are conceded even by ardent critics of the Tübingen school to be genuine.  The only substantial debate on the thirteen epistles is over the pastoral epistles (I and II Timothy, Titus). 

In the remaining ten authentic epistles there are found all the essential points of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ written by a contemporary of the eyewitnesses (see I Cor. 15:5 f.).  Paul taught that Jesus was virgin born (Gal. 4:4) and that he was the preexistent Creator of the universe (Col. 1:1516) who existed both in the "form of man" and in the "form of God" (Phil. 2:5, 8). Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and David (Rom. 9:5; 1:3) who lived under the Jewish law (Gal. 4:4), who was betrayed the night he instituted a memorial meal of bread and wine (I Cor. 11:23 f.), was crucified under the Romans (I Cor. 1:23; Phil. 2:8) although the responsibility lay with the Jewish authorities (I Thess. 2:15).  This same Jesus is said by Paul to have been buried for three days, to have risen from the dead, and to have been seen by over five hundred eyewitnesses, the majority of whom were still alive when Paul wrote (I Cor. 15:4).

Paul knew the Lord's apostles personally (Gal. 1:17 f.).  Peter, James, and John are mentioned as "pillars" of the Jerusalem community (Gal. 2:9).  Paul knew that the Lord's brothers and Peter were married (I Cor. 9:5).  On occasions Paul quoted sayings of Jesus (I Cor. 7:10; 9:14; 11:23).  Elsewhere Paul summarized the Sermon on the Mount (Rom. 12:1421) and insisted on following the example of Christ (Rom. 13:14).  In short, to use the words of F. F. Bruce, "The outline of the Gospel story as we can trace it in the writings of Paul agrees with the outline which we find elsewhere in the New Testament, and in the four Gospels in particular."

Several observations about Paul's testimony are pertinent to the question of the authenticity of the New Testament documents.

First, although Paul was not personally an eyewitness of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, he was a contemporary of many who were.

Second, Paul wrote within thirty years of the actual events themselves, far too short a time for the alleged distortions and dialectical development claimed by the Tübingen school.

Third, Paul challenged his readers to check with the eyewitnessesmost of the five hundred were still aliveif they wanted to verify the truth of his message (I Cor. 15:5). There is no indication from history that Paul's challenge was ever taken or his claims falsified. On the contrary, these writings of Paulparticularly Romans, Corinthians, and Galatiansbear every indication of authenticity.

The Writings of John the Apostle

The Gospel of John claims to be written by "the Disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper " (John 21:20). By the process of elimination this disciple must have been John. Other disciples as Peter, Philip, Thomas, and Andrew are named in the third person (1:41; 6:9; 14:5, 8).

Furthermore, the writer was one of the inner circle of James, Peter, and John, as is evidenced by the fact that he leaned on Jesus' bosom (John 13:23-25), that he had eyewitness and inside information (John 18:15), and that Jesus on his death committed his mother to John's care (John 18:26, 27). But James died very early (c. A.D. 44) in the persecution of Herod (Acts 12:2) and Peter is named in the third person (John 21:21). Hence, by elimination, the author of the fourth Gospel must have been John.

There is ample external and internal evidence to confirm that this eyewitness Gospel was written by the young disciple of Christ.  Externally we have both the John Rylands Fragment and the testimony of the early Church Fathers. 

The Rylands Fragment argues strongly for a first century origin of the Gospel, since an early second century copy (c. A.D. 117 f.) was found in Egypt. E. F. Harrison summarized the evidence well:"Among the earliest witnesses to Johannine authorship are the AntiMarcionite Prologue to John and the Muratorian Canon, both in the second half of the second century.  Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria from approximately the same period, agree on John the Apostle." 

The testimony of Irenaeus is crucial because only one generation stood between him and John. John's disciple, Polycarp, was among Irenaeus' teachers (Eusebius, V, xx.6).  The statement of Papias (Eusebius III, xxxix.4) alleging two Johns, one an apostle and the other an elder, even if true, in no way affects the evidence that John the apostle was the author of the fourth Gospel.  And the Alogoi sect (A.D. 170), who denied John's authorship, seems to have been a fabrication to deny John's authority in teaching about the Logos (John 1:1, 14).  In short, the external evidence for John the apostle is strong.

Internal evidence for the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel is even stronger than the external.  There is the identification with John by the process of elimination discussed above.  The Gospel was written by an eyewitness, as is indicated by the many first person references (cf. 20:2; 21:4). The author was a Jew who was thoroughly acquainted with Jewish customs of purification (2:6), burial (19:40), feasts (5:1), and even Jewish attitudes (7:49).  The author was a Palestinian Jew who was familiar with the geography and topography of the land (cf. 2:12; 4:11; 5:2; 18:11; 19:17).  All of this evidence points collectively in the single direction of John the apostle of Christ.

The Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel is important whatever date is assigned to the book, whether the late date of A.D. 80-100 traditionally given to it by scholars or the earlier date argued more recently on the basis of comparison with Qumran literature.  George Ladd summed up the early view as follows: "Many contemporary scholars now recognize a solid Johannine tradition, independent of the Synoptics, stemming from Palestine and dating from A.D. 30-66."  If the early date can be established, then so much the better. But even with the late date we have in our possession a historian's treasure, a firsthand eyewitness account of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ!

The Synoptic Gospels 

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke pose an interdependent question with respect to the time of their composition.  As early as A.D. 130 Papias wrote, "Matthew compiled the Logia in the 'Hebrew' speech [i.e., Aramaic], and every one translated them as best he could."  Traditionally scholars have taken this to indicate the chronological priority of the Gospel of Matthew, but more recently New Testament source critics have argued for the priority of Mark.

F. F. Bruce provides a good summary for the evidence that Mark's Gospel was written first:

We find, for example, that the substance of 606 out of the 661 verses of Mark appear in Matthew, and that some 380 of Mark's verses reappear with little material change in Luke.  Or, to put it another way, out of 1,068 verses in Matthew, about 500 contain material also found in Mark; of the 1,149 verses of Luke, about 380 are parallel in Mark. Altogether, there are only 31 verses in Mark which have no parallel in Matthew or Luke.

With this kind of literary dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark it seems reasonable to posit Mark as the earliest Gospel.  There is, of course, the remaining problem of the 250 verses common to Matthew and Luke (called Q from Quelle, or source) not found in Mark.  There are also 300 verses peculiar to Matthew (M) and about 520 verses in Luke (L) not found in the other Gospels.  There are a number of possible explanations of these other sources.

Some posit an early edition of Mark which did not have the 31 verses not used by Matthew and Luke.  As to the verses peculiar to Matthew and Luke respectively, they may have had independent sources.  If Matthew was written by the tax collector disciple of Christ, he may have taken notes of his own on Jesus' ministry which he incorporated into Mark's accepted framework.  Luke states in the prologue of his Gospel that he had many eyewitness and written accounts from which he worked.

Whatever the status of the sources and material, the key to dating the Gospels is the Book of Luke.  If Luke was dependent on Mark, then the dating of Luke will demand a prior dating of Mark, and Matthew by implication can be fitted into the same pattern. 

Let us examine the probable date of the Gospel of Luke.  The key to dating Luke is the dating of the sequel of Luke, namely, the Book of Acts.  Acts was written by a companion of Paul as is indicated by the "we" sections written in the first person (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21; 27:1 f.). The rest of the book is in the same style.  By the process of elimination, the only close companion of Paul not mentioned in the third person is Luke the beloved physician. 

Timothy, Silas, Mark, Barnabas, and so on, are all named (see 15:39; 16:1, 25).  Only Luke remains.  The high quality of the Greek, the use of medical terminology, and the obvious knowledgeability of the author all fit the character of Luke the physician.  The narration of Acts ends with Paul's detention in a Roman prison (A.D. 60-62). 

Since Paul is presented as still alive when Luke wrote and since he stopped his story at this point in history, we must assume that A.D. 60-62 is the time of composition. Surely the death of Paul (c. A.D. 67) would have been included had Luke written after that time.  Now the Gospel of Luke is Part I of the two part Luke Acts history.  Acts refers to the "first book" written to the same person, Theophilus (1:1; cf. Luke 1:3). 

The interests, writing style, and Gentile emphases of both books support a common author as well.  It is reasonable to conclude, then, that Luke, the companion of the apostle Paul, wrote the Gospel of Luke sometime around A.D. 60.  If Mark is prior to Luke, then this would place Mark between A.D. 50 and 60.  Since Papias said Mark was the secretary of Peter, the external evidence would support this early dating of Mark.  Matthew, likewise, can be assumed to date from about the same time.

There are of course some internal problems with this dating of Matthew and Luke at approximately A.D. 60.  Some critics argue that:  Matthew 22:7 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) as already past (cf. Luke 14); that Matthew 18:15, depicts an already organized Christian church; that Matthew 28:18-20 reflects an advanced ecclesiology. 

Upon examination none of these arguments is decisive or even substantial.  The references in Matthew to the "church" could be either retrospective to the Jewish synagogue or anticipatory of the New Testament church which Jesus said was yet future (see Matthew 16:16f.). 

The baptismal formula in "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19) need be no later than the belief that Jesus was God's Son which is taught in both Matthew (16:16f.) and Mark (14:61-65).  The only argument of significance is the possible reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and this could be an implied prediction given before the fact (see Matt. 22:7). 

Indeed, the real basis of the whole objection to the early date for the synoptics seems to be an antisupernatural bias.  It is assumed that a description of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:25) in A.D. 70 would not be possible before the fact.  But if there is a theistic God who knows all, including the future, then there is no problem believing that both Matthew 22 and Matthew 24 could be predictive.  And since there is good reason to believe that Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark and that Luke was written by A.D. 60, it is reasonable to conclude that Mark and Matthew were written before A.D. 60. 

It is the testimony of the earliest Church Fathers that Matthew the disciple wrote the Gospel and that Mark, Peter's secretary, wrote the Gospel of Mark.  This being the case, we have another Gospel by an eyewitness, contemporary, and disciple of Christ (Matthew) and a third by a secretary to the apostle Peter (Mark).

To summarize, we have five different authentic sources for the life of Christ. Paul, the contemporary of the eyewitnesses, wrote some ten epistles between A.D. 50 and 60 which contain the essential teachings about Christ. Luke, the companion of Paul, using written documents and eyewitness accounts, wrote a complete life of Christ and history of the early Christian Church up to A.D. 60-62. 

Mark is believed on literary grounds to be prior to Luke and Matthew and, hence, must be dated between A.D. 50 and 60.  Mark was a secretary and an associate of the apostle Peter who was an eyewitness disciple of Christ.  John uses independent sources of his own that can be traced on linguistic grounds to between A.D. 30 and 66, though many place his composition between A.D. 80 and 100. 

All in all we possess eyewitness testimony in documents that were recorded between twenty to fifty or so years after the actual events themselves.  This means that the New Testament records are authentic first century and firsthand information about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ.  The only remaining link in establishing their historical reliability is the examination of the trustworthiness of the writers of the documents.
(Geisler, N. L. 1976. Christian apologetics. Includes index. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids)
"Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes."
Deuteronomy 11:18
"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."
Joshua 1:8
"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
Matthew 5:18