Why We Believe The Bible part 3 of 5 Pastor John Piper at Samuel Zwemer Theological Seminary

View Part 1  here– Inspiration, Inerrancy & Authority of the Bible

View Part 2 here- Which Books Make Up The Bible And Why? The Old and NewTestament Canon

You can read the notes here on the Desiring God site including Seminar Notes for the entire (5 part) series

Part 3 below: Do we have the very words written by the Biblical authors? and Does It Matter Whether We Affirm the Verbal Inerrancy of the Original Manuscripts?

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4. Do We Have the Very Words Written by the Biblical Authors?

Do we have any of the original manuscripts of the New Testament?

We do not have the actual piece of paper or papyrus or parchment that a Biblical writer actually wrote on.

How were the manuscripts of the New Testament preserved?

The first printed Greek New Testament was published 1516 by Erasmus. Before that, all copying was by hand. We owe our Bible to the meticulous love and care given by countless monks and scholars of the first 1500 years of the Christian era.

How many manuscripts of the New Testament writings do we possess today?

Over 5,000

As of 1967 the statistics were:

266 uncial texts
2,754 minuscule texts
2,135 lectionary portions
81 papari
5,236 TOTAL

How does this amount of evidence compare with other ancient writings of the same era?

We have no original manuscripts of any other writers from this period of history.
Moreover the textual evidence of other writings cannot compare with the wealth of New Testament manuscripts. For example:

Caesar’s Gallic Wars (composed between 58 and 50 bc). There are about 10 manuscripts available and the oldest is 900 years after the event.

Parts of the Roman History of Livy (composed between 59 bc and ad 17) is preserved in about 20 manuscripts, only one of which, containing only fragments, is as old as the fourth century.

The Histories and the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus (composed around ad 100) are preserved (partially) only in two manuscripts, one from the ninth and one from the eleventh century.

The History of Thucydides (who lived 460-400 bc) is known to us from only eight manuscripts, the earliest belonging to ad 900, and a few papyrus scraps from the beginning of the Christian era.

The same general picture is true of Herodotus (who lived about ad 480 – 425).

Does this small number of manuscripts cause secular scholars to despair that we can know what these writers wrote?

As F. F. Bruce says:

No Classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals. (Are the New Testament Documents Reliable, pp. 16-17)

So are you saying that the New Testament is the unique in having so many manuscripts?

Yes. No other ancient book comes close to this kind of wealth of diverse preservation.

What are some of the oldest manuscripts?

The oldest is a papyrus and comes from about ad 130 and contains John 18:31-33, 37f.

Two of the only full early manuscripts of the New Testament comes from ad 350, called Codex Sinaiticus because it was discovered in a monastery on Mt. Sinai.

Are manuscripts the only source of our knowledge of the original wording of the New Testament Writings?

No. In addition to manuscripts, there are quotations from the New Testament in very early writers outside the New Testament. For example, in the Didache and The Epistle of Barnabas and Clement’s letter to the Corinthians were produced around ad 100, and quote extensively from the New Testament writings.

The letters of Polycarp and Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, from about ad 120 contain many quotes from both Gospels and letters.

Do all these manuscripts create problems or solutions for getting back to the original writings?

The huge numbers of manuscripts of the New Testament results in two things: 1) there are many variations in wording among them because they were all copied by hand and subject to human error; 2) there are so many manuscripts that these errors tend to be self-correcting by the many manuscript witnesses we have to compare.

F. F. Bruce:

Fortunately, if the great number of MSS increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is not so large as might be feared; it is in truth remarkably small. (The New Testament Documents, p. 19)

Is there a branch of Biblical Studies that focuses on this problem of getting back to the wording of the original writings?

Yes. The branch of Biblical Studies that works with all these sources to determine the best manuscript of the Bible is Textual Criticism.

Illustrations of Discrepancies and How They Came About and Are Resolved:

Misreading: Revelation 1:5

Marginal glosses: 1 John 5:7

Harmonization: Acts 9:6

Does the doctrine of inerrancy in the original manuscripts matter?

From our Affirmation of Faith:

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts. . .

Yes, it matters, because it affirms the reality of objective, historical inspiration. There is an objective measuring rod for us to return to. To the degree that we come close to the wording of the original we come close to the very words of God. We are there for all practical purposes.

B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort:

The proportion of words virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt is great; not less on a rough computation than 7/8ths of the whole. The remaining 1/8th … formed in great part by changes of order and other comparative trivialities constitutes the whole area of [textual] criticism … The words in our opinion still subject to doubt only make up about 1/60th of the whole New Testament. Substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation and can hardly form more than 1/100th part of the entire text. (The New Testament in the Original Greek, pp. 2-3)

F. F. Bruce:

The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affects no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice. (The New Testament Documents, p. 20)

5. Does It Matter Whether We Affirm the Verbal Inerrancy of the Original Manuscripts?

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