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The Manuscript Evidence of the New Testament

Windmill Ministries
Published by in Think About It. ·
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 over 5,600 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’sTetralogies 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.

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.

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