Unit V Manuscript Attestation: Historical Reliability of the new Testament (3)





In this lesson we are going to consider the integrity of the New Testament. That what you are reading in your New Testament is just what was written originally by inspired men. Now that is a legitimate area of inquiry inasmuch as it has been centuries since Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and Peter and Paul and James and Jude wrote the New Testament documents. People have a very legitimate question that needs to be answered. Is it possible that there have been corruptions that found their way into the text of scripture? Is it possible that the copyist, after all the Bible has been copied and recopied and yet copied again, that a copyist’s error could have gotten into the text? Or maybe some theology that was personal to the copyist could have found its way into the text?


The answer is, yes, there have been errors of transmission made by copyist and uninspired statements have even found their way into the text of scripture. Now this is dealt with by the science of textual criticism. These men, scholars, detect the error and then seek to restore the original text. Now what we are going to do in this lesson is compare the manuscript value of the New Testament documents with the manuscript value of some of the classics from history. Then we will be able to see what F.F. Bruce meant when he stated that the evidence for the New Testament is ever so much greater than the evidence for the classical histories.


LESSON AIM:  to see that the manuscript evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is far greater than that for classical histories and is strong evidence that the Bible we have now is the same as that written by the authors.



Discover that we do not have the original signature copies of the New Testament documents.

Find out how many copies of the Greek New Testament are now in existence in whole or in part.

Compare the manuscript attestation of the New Testament to that of the classical histories.



  1. We Don’t have the originals
    1. None have survived – either of the New Testament or of the classics
    2. They are lost to us – we don’t have that copy called the signatures. All we have are copies of the original writings of both the classics and the New Testament.
  2. Not Speaking About Translations
  3. Manuscripts are Copies of the Originals
    1. Copies that are image reproductions.
    2. No simply word for word, but letter for letter.



An evaluation of the reliability of the New Testament can be made by comparing the manuscript value of other ancient histories which are generally received as authentic to the quality of the New Testament manuscripts. It is only fair that the New Testament receive at least the same consideration as other writings from the same period.


We want to compare the New Testament manuscript copies with the manuscript copies of the classical histories.





  1. Caesar’s Gallic Wars – written between about 58 to 50 B.C. Of this ancient writing we have nine or ten good manuscripts (there are no originals) in existence. The oldest manuscript we have of the work is from the ninth century A.D. that leaves a gap of some 800 years between the original writing and the best copy in our possession.
  2. The Roman History of Livy – written between 59 B.C. to 17 A.D. Of the books originally written, there are 35 manuscripts of this work now in existence. Only 29 of these manuscripts are as old as the fourth century. They are removed at least 300 years from the originals.
  3. Histories of Tacitus – written around 100 to 115 A. D. Only 14 ½ books have come down to us in our century; and from only two manuscripts. One manuscript of the histories reaches down to about the ninth century, a gap of about 800 years.
  4. The Annals Tacitus – written about A.D. Only ten manuscripts of this work now exist in full and two exist in part. The best copy in our hand is from the eleventh century, a gap of some nine hundred to a thousand years.
  5. The History of Thucydides – written about 460 to 400 B.C. these writings are known to us from only eight manuscripts. The earliest of these is date around 900 A.D. that is at least 1,300 years removed from the originals.
  6. The History of Herodotus – written about 480 – 425 B.C. Eight manuscripts of this work are known to us. The earliest of these is date around 900 A.D. This is also at least 1,300 years removed from the originals.



In no case can the copies of these histories be compared with the originals so as to determine absolutely the accuracy of the copies in our possession. Bruce observes from this point of view, “Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are 1,300 years later than the originals.


Manuscript evidence for the new Testament is far greater than that for classical histories. There are presently in existence about 5,000 copies of the Greek New Testament in whole or in part. The most valuable are:

  1. Codex Sinaiticus – dating from about 350 A.D. has the entire Bible as well as many other books. Removed from the originals by only about 250 years.
  2. Codex Vatican’s – copied about 350 A.D. Removed from the originals by only about 250 years.
  3. Codex Alexandrinus – copied about the middle of the fifth century A.D. Removed from the originals by only about 350 years.
  4. Codex Ephremaic – dating from the middle of the fifth century D. Removed from the originals by some 350 to 400 years.
  5. Codex Bezae – dating from the fifth or sixth century A.D. Removed from the originals written by the apostles by some 400 years.


 Besides these ancient manuscripts of the Bible, there are some very important fragments from papyrus codices of the Bible which have been dated from around 130 to 250 A.D.
  1. Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri. These fragments contain portions of eleven papyrus codices of the Bible. Three of these contain most of the new Testament writings. One fragment containing the Gospels and Acts is dated between 200 and 250A.D.
  2. Ryland’s Fragment. This fragment contains John 18:31 – 33, and verses 37 and following. It has been dated around 130 A.D. It shows that John, which was written between 90 and 100 A.D. was circulating in Egypt only 40 years after it was written (Bruce). To date, this is the earliest existing fragment of the New Testament.
  3. Papyrus Bodmer II. This fragment contains the first 14 chapters of John, less 22 verses, and considerable portions of the last 7 chapters. It has been dated around 200 A.D.




Our New Testament comes from a manuscript attestation that is far superior to the classical histories. We can be grateful to God in His providence for having provided these copies for us. You can rest assured that what you are reading in your New Testament is an authentic representation of what was originally penned.

In view of the evidence for the classical writings how much more should we receive the New Testament as authentic in view of the evidence for its reliability. Bruce states with tongue-in-cheek, “If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. (Bruce, F.F. , the New Testament Documents, p. 15)