While we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible, there is far more evidence for the reliable transfer of the New Testament then there is for any other ancient manuscript. For example, Plato died in 347 BC, but the earliest manuscript of his writings is from 900 AD—a gap of one thousand two hundred years. Unfortunately, only seven copies of his manuscripts are known to be in existence. We have forty-nine copies of the writings of Aristotle, the student of Plato and tutor of Alexander the Great. His earliest surviving manuscript is from 1100 AD, one thousand four hundred years after he died. Homer wrote the Iliad around 900 BC. The earliest Homeric manuscript is from 400 BC, five hundred years after he wrote. We have 643 known copies of his writings. The earliest bibliography that is available about the life of Buddha was written over six hundred years after his death.
In contrast, the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are dated to around 130 AD, less than one hundred years after the Apostles penned the originals. It is likely that the entire New Testament was written during the first century. When Paul talks about the reality of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:4) he is writing only twenty years after the crucifixion took place (around 30 AD). There is one fragment of the Gospel of John that might date to the late first or early second centuries—within years of the Apostle’s death (around 96 AD).
When the New Testament was being written, there were people still alive who had been eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. The New Testament is not a group of legends passed down over centuries; it is living history recorded by participants in the events.
Plus there are, not hundreds, but thousands of copies of the New Testament dating from the early centuries of our era. There are almost six thousand copies of the New Testament in the Greek language, and another twenty-one thousand copies in other languages—including Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic texts. While the copies are many, significantly, the differences between them are few. There is less than 0.5 percent variation between all early texts of the New Testament books. Most of these variations can be accounted for by differences in spelling, or by word repetition or word omission. These variations can be corrected easily by comparing the vast number of manuscripts that we have available.
There is far more evidence for the accuracy and validity of the New Testament and its record of the life and words of Jesus than there is for any other historical figure or manuscript from His time period. The comparatively short time periods between the lives of Christ and the Apostles and the earliest manuscripts of New Testament writings means there is very little time in which their words could be distorted or their message compromised. While only seven copies of Plato’s writings are the basis of modern texts of his works—and those copies are far-distanced from his own period—few scholars question Plato’s existence or doubt the validity of his writings. If one rejects the evidence for the New Testament manuscripts and the words of Jesus, then one must equally reject as accurate the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. Conversely, to be willing to accept the works of these authors as representative of what they said or wrote, the reader of the Bible can be so much more confident that the words of the New Testament, the words of Jesus, have been faithfully transmitted down the centuries.
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About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.