Dr. Jack L. Arnold
THE RELIABILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
A. Through the science of lower textual criticism (determining the original words of the Bible) the New Testament can almost be reproduced. God has preserved the New Testament in such a phenomenal manner that no Christian need ever doubt that the words of his New Testament are essentially the same words the Apostles wrote in the original manuscripts.
B. God has providentially guided in the discovery of new manuscripts to authenticate and confirm the accuracy of our present day New Testaments. NOTE: Archeology and manuscript studies are throwing new light on the accuracy and meaning of the Greek New Testament. There is more evidence today to validate the New Testament than at any time since the New Testament was written in the first century. These are exciting days for evangelicals
II. THE NUMBER AND STYLE OF THE GREEK MANUSCRIPTS
A. Number of Manuscripts: All totaled there are more than 13,000 manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament. POINT: People readily accept the historicity of Caesar and yet there are only 8 to 10 manuscripts about Caesar’s Gallic Wars and none within 800 years of the original manuscripts. Yet there are thousands of New Testament manuscripts and a few go back within 35 years of the original. Paul Little comments,
The evidence for the early existence of the New Testament writings is clear. The wealth of materials for the Now Testament becomes even more evident when we compare it with other ancient documents which have been accepted without question. Bruce observes that only nine or ten good manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars exist. The oldest of these manuscripts was written some 900 years after Caeser’s time. The History of Thucydides (ca. 460-400 BC is known to us from eight manuscripts, the earliest belonging to around AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps that belong to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (ca. 430-425 BC). However, no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their work which are of any use to us are more then 1,300 years later then the originals. (Know Why You Believe)
1. Uncial: Written in Greek capital letters about an inch high. Most uncials are written on papyrus sheets, rolls or codex and are the earliest of the manuscripts. There was very little punctuation or spacing between words.
2. Cursive: Written in capital letters, only in longhand. Some later manuscripts are in cursive. After the 4th century vellum was used for writing material.
3. Minuscule: Small Greek letters which did not become popular until after the 9th century.
III. THE EXISTING (EXTANT) MANUSCRIPTS
A. Greek Manuscripts: There are at least 4,700 Greek manuscripts.
1. Papyri: The Papyri are very old manuscripts that were used in Egypt. There are now 80 papyri manuscripts, which cover 20 New Testament books and 40% of the New Testament material. Some of these documents, which are mostly uncials, date back to the early 2nd century. The Papyri give a text at least 125 to 150 years earlier than the Codex Vaticanus, which is considered the best Greek manuscript. POINT: The Papyri were not discovered until 1897, so earlier English translations of the Bible did not have these manuscripts to work with.
2. Uncials: There are approximately 250 uncial manuscripts now and these are usually very early works.
a. Codex Sinaiticus: This manuscript is one of the two most important and dates in the middle of the 4th century (340 AD It was discovered by Tischendorf (1844) who was looking for old manuscripts, at the convent of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. He found these manuscripts in the wastebasket and was told that many more had been burned. Codex Sinaiticus was given as a gift to the Czar of Russia. In 1933 England bought it form Russia for $500,000.
b. Codex Alexandrenus: Dated in 450 AD, it is known as the longest and best known of the early uncial copies. It was probably written in Alexandria, Egypt, and was discovered early in the 17th century, then presented as a gift to King James I of England in 1627.
c. Codex Vaticanus: This manuscript is considered to be the oldest and most valuable for it dates from the middle of the 4th century (350 AD). It had its origin in Egypt and was discovered around 1475 and taken to the Vatican in Rome. It has been there ever since, except for a brief period when Napoleon’s armies conquered the pope and his cardinals and took some books from the Vatican. It was returned to Rome in 1850. After it was returned to the Vatican, Tischendorf, in 1859, was permitted to get two glimpses of it, once for 6 hours and the other for 42 hours. He probably would have gotten a longer look had he not broken his promise not to copy any of the text. He copied 20 pages. Tergellus later was permitted to look at it for 9 hours a day for six weeks. He memorized much of the text. The pope in 1889 permitted it to be photographed and at last was released to the libraries of the world.
d. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus: Dated in 450 AD, it is thought to be written in Alexandria. The original was scrubbed clear by someone who did not recognize its worth and the discourses of Ephraem, a Syrian Father of the 4th century, were copied on it. This was given to the French Library in Paris where a student noticed the faint writing underneath the Syrian. Later, chemicals were applied that brought out much of the original writings. It is now in the National Library of Paris.
e. Codex Besae (550)
f. Codex Claromontanus (550)
g. Codex Washingtonianus (550)
B. Ancient Translations or Versions: As the gospel spread, thee was a need for the New Testament in other languages, so there were many translations made from the early Greek. Some of these go back as early as 150-200 AD, and we now have thousands of these manuscripts.
1. Syriac Versions: These versions are divided into the Old Syriac and the Peshito and were written in the Aramaic of that day.
2. Coptic Versions: There were also translations into the Egyptian language and dialects.
3. Latin Versions: There would be a need for a Latin Bible and from the Greek came the Old Latin version (150) and the Latin Vulgate (385), which is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.
D. Lectioneries: These were reading lessons used in public church services after the 5th century.
About 1,000 of these lessons have now been classified. There are lectionaries of the Gospels, Acts and the epistles. Though they did not appear before the 6th century, the text from which they quote may itself be early and of high quality.
B. Scripture has been preserved because God said it would be, for He said, “For, all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25.