New Testament Analysis
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Matt. 24:35
The short answer is a resounding YES. The first time I studied this topic, I was shocked at the numbers involved. Let’s take a look.
We are trying to determine how accurately a modern copy of the New Testament represents the original manuscripts, not whether it is divinely inspired or true. That is a topic for another day.
Textual Criticism is a method used to evaluate any ancient text. Two key metrics in the analysis are 1) how many hand written copies exist and 2) how close in time to the original manuscript were they written. From Wikipedia:
Textual criticism has been practiced for over two thousand years. Early textual critics were concerned with preserving the works of antiquity, and later with medieval and early modern manuscript writings. Many ancient works, such as the Bible and the Greek tragedies, survive in hundreds of copies, and the relationship of each copy to the original may be unclear, though the question of whether the Bible has ever had only one original has been discussed.
The textual critic’s task, therefore, is to sort through the variants and establish a “critical text” that is intended to best approximate the original and, at the same time, to explain the relation of extant witnesses to the reconstructed original. In establishing the critical text, the textual critic considers both “external” evidence (the age, provenance, and affiliation of each witness) and “internal” or “physical” considerations (what the author and scribes, or printers, were likely to have done).
The following table illustrates that the New Testament has more than eight times the number of “original language” manuscript copies as the second closest ancient manuscript rival, Homer, at 643 copies. Additionally, the time gap for the earliest New Testament copies is between 50 – 225 years depending on the copy. The second closest is Homer at 400 years.
|Author||Writings||Date Written||Earliest Copies||Time Gap||Number of Copies|
|Caesar||Gallic Wars||100 – 44 B.C.||c. 900 A.D.||c. 1000 years||10|
|Demosthenes||300 B.C.||c. 1100 A.D.||c. 1400 years||200|
|Josephus||The Jewish War||37 – 100 A.D.||c. 900 A.D.||c. 800 years||9|
|Homer||Iliad||800 B.C.||c. 400 B.C.||c. 400 years||643|
|Herodotus||The Histories of Herodotus||480 – 425 B.C.||c. 900 A.D.||c. 1350 years||8|
|Livy||History of Rome||59 B.C. – 17 A.D.||c. 300 A.D. (partial)
c. 900 A.D. (mostly)
|c. 300 years
c. 900 years
|Plato||Dialogues||400 B.C.||c. 900 A.D.||c. 1300 years||7|
|Pliny the Elder||Natural History||23 – 79 A.D.||c. 850 A.D.||c. 800 years||7|
|Tacitus||Annals of Imperial Rome||55 – 118 A.D.||c. 1100 A.D.||c. 1000 years||20|
|Thycydides||History of the Peloponnesian War||460 –400 B.C.||c. 900 A.D.||c. 1300 years||8|
|The New Testament||Matthew to Revelation||50 – 100 A.D.||c. 114 A.D. (fragments)
c. 200 A.D. (books)
c. 250 A.D. (most of N.T.)
c. 325 A.D. (complete N.T.)
|c. +50 years
c. 100 years
c. 150 years
c. 225 years
|5,366 Greek copies
10,000 Latin copies
Conclusion: It is clear that there are a substantial number of Greek and Latin manuscripts that can be cross checked to validate the accuracy of modern copies and translations of the New Testament. To dismiss modern copies of the New Testament as flawed and inaccurate is to also dismiss all other modern copies of ancient manuscripts.