While the Old Testament was compiled over many generations and records the history of thousands of years, the New Testament covers only one century at most and was completed within a single lifetime.
The evidence for the reliability of the texts is quite different and far more extensive than for the Old Testament. It comes from two main sources: Greek manuscripts and translations, and the testimony of the leaders and writers in the early Christian movement.
The New Testament is by far the most reliable ancient writing known today. There exist as many as an astounding 25,000 ancient manuscripts that contain all or portions of the New Testament.
Counting Greek copies alone, the texts are preserved in 5,366 partial and complete manuscripts hand copied from the second through the fifteenth century. A few New Testament fragments are very early, dating from the second century. At least 362 New Testament manuscripts and 245 lectionaries (collections of Scripture texts grouped together for reading in public worship services) date from the second through the tenth centuries, constituting nearly 11% of all New Testament and lectionary manuscripts. Such early manuscripts are valuable in establishing the original text of the New Testament. The other 89% of manuscripts are minuscule, dating between the ninth and fifteenth centuries.
Add to these Greek manuscripts the more than 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 early translations, and we approach the earlier mentioned number of 25,000.
By contrast, the manuscripts for most other ancient books date from about a thousand years after their original composition. To compare this to the other ancient writings: Homer’s Iliad is in “second place” behind the New Testament with no more than 643 copies. And of Plato’s Tetralogies only seven copies are known. Also the earliest copy of Plato’s work is dated about 1,200 years after he produced the original. The oldest copy of the Iliad dates about 500 years after the original. This is a dramatic contrast to the oldest papyrus text of the New Testament, a part of chapter 18 of the Gospel of John, dated at near 125 AD.
The importance of the vast number of manuscripts copies cannot be overstated. This abundance of manuscripts makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy.
Overview of The New Testament Manuscripts
An overview of the most important New Testament manuscripts, sorted by age: 
125 AD – Oldest Fragment (P52): Perhaps the earliest section of Scripture to survive is a fragment of a papyrus codex containing John 18:31-33 and 37 of about 2 ˝ x 3 ˝ inches. Known as the Rylands Papyrus (P52), it dates from the first half of the second century, as early as 117-138 AD. Found in Egypt (some distance from the probable place of composition in Asia Minor), this little piece of papyrus has forced the critics to place the fourth gospel in the first century, abandoning previous assertions that it could not have been written by the apostle John.
250 AD –
Second-third century AD – Bodmer Papyri (P66,P72,P75): P66, dating from about 200 AD or earlier, contains 104 leaves of John. P72 is the earliest known copy of Jude, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. It dates from the third century and also contains several apocryphal books. P75 is a codex of 102 pages (originally 144); it contains most of Luke and John, and dates between 175 and 225 AD. This is the earliest known copy of Luke. Actually, in this collection are some 88 papyri manuscripts of portions of the New Testament, of which the foregoing are merely the most important representatives. The papyri witness to the text is invaluable, dating as far back as the threshold of the second century – within a generation of the autographs (original copies penned by the author) and including most of the New Testament. All are extant (that is, available as manuscript) from within the first 200 years after the New Testament itself was written.
325-350 AD – Codex Vaticanus (B): The Codex Vaticanus is perhaps the oldest codex on parchment or vellum (ca. 325-350). It is one of the most important witnesses to the text of the New Testament. This manuscript of the whole Bible was likely written by the middle of the fourth century; however, it was not known to textual scholars until after 1475, when catalogued in the Vatican Library. It includes most of the LXX version of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament in Greek. Missing are Timothy through Philemon, Hebrews 9:14 through Revelation, and the general epistles.
340 AD – Codex Sinaiticus (א): This fourth century Greek manuscript is generally considered the most important witness to the text because of its antiquity, accuracy, and lack of omissions. It contains over half the Old Testament (LXX), and all of the New Testament, with the exception of Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11.
From five of the early manuscripts alone (P45,P46,P47, P66,P75), it is possible to construct all of Luke, John, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, and portions of Matthew, Mark, Acts, and Revelation. Only the “pastoral epistles” (Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy), the general epistles (James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2, and 3 John), and Philemon are excluded.
Table 11- 1 : Comparing NT Manuscript to Other Ancient Writings
The amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament (see table 11-1) makes it by far the most reliable of all ancient books.
Integrity of the Manuscript Texts
The texts of New Testament manuscripts were not copied and maintained as meticulously as those of the Old Testament. As strange as it may appear, the texts for the Old Testament –especially the oldest books in the Torah – are the very texts likely to be the most accurate when compared to the original. This is because they were recognized as the sacred Word right from the beginning; as a result they were carefully protected and copied by scribes. The New Testament manuscripts, however, were copied by the early Christians. Not all text was immediately acknowledged as Scripture, but also the early Christians were not well-trained scribes. They did not do the extensive error checking like the Masoretes and other Jewish scribes and were under much more time pressure to get the texts reproduced and distributed among the fast growing number of eager disciples of Christ.
Errors in copying, mistranslations and some scribal editing and additions to many manuscripts has resulted in numerous variant readings.
Norman Geisler cites widespread misunderstanding among critics as to “errors” in the Biblical manuscripts. Some estimated as many as 200,000 variant readings. First, these are not “errors” but only variations, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. Second, these readings are spread over more than 5,300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter of one word in one verse in 2,000 manuscripts is counted as 2,000 “errors.” Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated only one in 60 of these variants has significance. This would leave the text 98.33% pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 altered the meaning of the passage, only 50 were of real significance, and not even one affected “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.” 
Most other ancient books are not so well authenticated. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism has been copied with only about 90% accuracy and Homer’s Iliad with about 95%. By comparison, he estimated the New Testament is about 99.5% accurate. 
It is safe to summarize that less than one percent of the New Testament text as we know it today is under competent dispute. No doctrine taught in the Bible depends on the turn of any of these disputes.
In the words of Dockery, Mathews and Sloan: “For most of the Biblical text a single reading has been transmitted. Elimination of scribal errors and intentional changes leaves only a small percentage of text about which any questions occur.” They conclude: “It must be said that the amount of time between the original composition and the next surviving manuscript is far less for the New Testament than for any other work in Greek literature…..Although there are certain differences in many of the New Testament manuscripts, not one fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading.” 
And finally, the conclusion of the renowned Bible scholar F.F. Bruce: 
“The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual
critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic
fact or of Christian faith or practice.”
Exhibit #8: Early Church Leaders' letter
 The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume I through X: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to AD 325 (1997). Volume 4, page 349. Origen (ca. 185-254 AD) was one of the first apologists in the early Christian church.
 Josh McDowell , The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999), chapter 3.
 Normal L. Geisler , William E. Nix .: A General Introduction to the Bible (1986), page 383.
 Josh McDowell , The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1999), page 35.
 Summary derived from Normal L. Geisler , William E. Nix .: A General Introduction to the Bible. (1986), chapter 22.
 Data from different sources, most are mentioned throughout this chapter.
 New Testament manuscripts are fragmentary. Earliest complete manuscript is ca. 350; lapse of event to complete manuscript is about 325 years.
 Norman L. Geisler , Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (1999), page 532.
 Philip Schaff , Companion to the Greek Testament and English Version, page 177.
 Norman L. Geisler , Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (1999), page 532.
 Chuck Missler .
 David Dockery, Kenneth Mathews and Robert Sloan: Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, (1994), page 176.
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