How many surviving New Testament manuscripts are there?

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscrip...

{46} is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament.

How Many and How Old? (bold type emphasis mine) From Stand to reason website (Greg Koukl) www.str.org

The ability of any scholar to do effective textual criticism depends on two factors.  First, how many existing copies are there to examine and compare?  Are there two copies, ten, a hundred?  The more copies there are, the easier it is to make meaningful comparisons.  Second, how close in time are the oldest existing documents to the original?

If the numbers are few and the time gap is wide, the original is harder to reconstruct with confidence.  However, if there are many copies and the oldest existing copies are reasonably close in time to the original, the textual critic can be more confident he’s pinpointed the exact wording of the autograph.

To get an idea of the significance of the New Testament manuscript evidence, note for a moment the record for non-biblical texts.  These are secular texts from antiquity that have been reconstructed with a high degree of certainty based on the available textual evidence.

The important First Century document The Jewish War, by Jewish aristocrat and historian Josephus, survives in only nine complete manuscripts dating from the 5th Century–four centuries after they were written.[3] Tacitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome is one of the chief historical sources for the Roman world of New Testament times, yet, surprisingly, it survives in partial form in only two manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages.[4] Thucydides’ History survives in eight copies.  There are 10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, eight copies of Herodotus’ History, and seven copies of Plato, all dated over a millennium from the original.  Homer’s Iliad has the most impressive manuscript evidence for any secular work with 647 existing copies.[5]

{P 52} is the oldest known surviving manuscript of the New Testament

Bruce’s comments put the discussion in perspective:  „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 1300 years later than the originals.”[6]

For most documents of antiquity only a handful of manuscripts exist, some facing a time gap of 800-2000 years or more.  Yet scholars are confident of reconstructing the originals with some significant degree of accuracy.  In fact, virtually all of our knowledge of ancient history depends on documents like these.

The Biblical Manuscript Evidence

By comparison with secular texts, the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is stunning.  The most recent count (1980) shows 5,366 separate Greek manuscripts represented by early fragments, uncial codices (manuscripts in capital Greek letters bound together in book form), and minuscules (small Greek letters in cursive style)![7]

Among the nearly 3,000 minuscule fragments are 34 complete New Testaments dating from the 9th to the 15th Centuries.[8]

Uncial manuscripts provide virtually complete codices (multiple books of the New Testament bound together into one volume) back to the 4th Century, though some are a bit younger.  Codex Sinaiticus, purchased by the British government from the Soviet government at Christmas, 1933, for £100,000,[9] is dated c. 340.[10] The nearly complete Codex Vaticanus is the oldest uncial, dated c. 325-350.[11] Codex Alexandrinus contains the whole Old Testament and a nearly complete New Testament and dates from the late 4th Century to the early 5th Century.

The books of the New Testament were copied and distributed widely during the lifetime of the apostles. Any early changes would have been resisted by them. After their death, there were already copies spread throughout the Roman world. To have changed them all so as to completely eliminate the original readings would have required a tremendous effort. As a result, those who claim that text has been change must face a major problem with their theory.

The Roman Empire

From PBS Frontline

The most fascinating evidence comes from the fragments (as opposed to the codices).  The Chester Beatty Papyri contains most of the New Testament and is dated mid-3rd Century.[12] The Bodmer Papyri II collection, whose discovery was announced in 1956, includes the first fourteen chapters of the Gospel of John and much of the last seven chapters.  It dates from A.D. 200 or earlier.[13]

The most amazing find of all, however, is a small portion of John 18:31-33, discovered in Egypt known as the John Rylands Papyri.  Barely three inches square, it represents the earliest known copy of any part of the New Testament.  The papyri is dated on paleographical grounds at around A.D. 117-138 (though it may even be earlier),[14] showing that the Gospel of John was circulated as far away as Egypt within 30 years of its composition.

Keep in mind that most of the papyri are fragmentary.  Only about 50 manuscripts contain the entire New Testament, though most of the other manuscripts contain the four Gospels.  Even so, the manuscript textual evidence is exceedingly rich, especially when compared to other works of antiquity.

Ancient Versions and Patristic Quotations

Two other cross checks on the accuracy of the manuscripts remain:  ancient versions and citations by the early church Fathers known as „patristic quotations.”

Early in the history of the Church Greek documents, including the Scriptures, were translated into Latin.  By the 3rd and 4th Centuries the New Testament was translated into Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, etc.  These texts helped missionaries reach new cultures in their own language as the Gospel spread and the Church grew.[15] Translations of the Greek manuscripts (called „versions”) help modern-day textual critics answer questions about the underlying Greek manuscripts.

In addition, there are ancient extra-biblical sources–characteristically catechisms, lectionaries, and quotes from the church fathers–that record the Scriptures.  Paul Barnett says that the „Scriptures…gave rise to an immense output of early Christian literature which quoted them at length and, in effect, preserved them.”[16] Metzger notes the amazing fact that „if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, [the patristic quotations] would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.”[17]

The Verdict

What can we conclude from this evidence?  New Testament specialist Daniel Wallace notes that although there are about 300,000 individual variations of the text of the New Testament, this number is very misleading.  Most of the differences are completely inconsequential–spelling errors, inverted phrases and the like.  A side by side comparison between the two main text families (the Majority Text and the modern critical text) shows agreement a full 98% of the time.[18]

Of the remaining differences, virtually all yield to vigorous textual criticism.  This means that our New Testament is 99.5% textually pure.  In the entire text of 20,000 lines, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine.[19]

Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums up this way:  „The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and  nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”[20]

This issue is no longer contested by non-Christian scholars, and for good reason.  Simply put, if we reject the authenticity of the New Testament on textual grounds we’d have to reject every ancient work of antiquity and declare null and void every piece of historical information from written sources prior to the beginning of the second millennium A.D.

Has the New Testament been altered?  Critical, academic analysis says it has not.

The early spread of the Gospel

The Jewish Diaspora

By the end of the first century BCE, Rome had taken over the eastern Mediterranean and the Jewish population was spread through many cities of the east. In the third and fourth centuries CE there were substantial Jewish settlements in most major eastern cities and many western provinces as well.

 

Related articles:

  1. …some Church history – Spread of the Bible
  2. The Bible- bestselling book of all time Part 1
  3. The Bible- bestselling book of all time Part 2
  4. Ignatius (35 AD-107 AD)- Bishop of Antioch (used gospel in his 1st century writings)
  5. Athanasius (296 A.D.-373 A.D.)- defending orthodoxy
  6. J.I.Packer- the interpretation of Scripture

[2]Bruce, F. F., The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1974), 19.

[3]Barnett, Paul, Is the New Testament History? (Ann Arbor:  Vine Books, 1986), 45.

[4]Geisler, Norman L., Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1986), 405.  Note:  Bruce records two existing copies of this document (p. 16) but Barnett claims there’s only one (p. 45) and that single copy exists in partial form.  To be conservative, I’ve cited Geisler & Nix’s statistics.

[5]Metzger, Bruce M., The Text of the New Testament (New York and Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1968), 34.  This number consists of 457 papyri, 2 uncials and 188 minuscule manuscripts.

[6]Bruce, 16-17.

[7]Geisler & Nix, 402.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Metzger, 45.

[10]Geisler & Nix, 392.

[11]Ibid., 391.

[12]Ibid., 389-390.

[13]Metzger, 39-40.

[14]Geisler & Nix, 388.

[15]Barnett, 44.

[16]Ibid., p. 46-47.

[17]Metzger,  86.

[18]Wallace, Daniel, „The Majority Text and the Original Text:  Are They Identical?,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June, 1991, 157-8.

[19]Geisler and Nix, 475.

[20]Carson, D.A., The King James Version Debate (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1979), 56.

The Restoration of All Things by Sam Storms

from the Gospel Coalition. Other books available here.

Vezi acest document pe Scribd

Other books in the series available for purchase (entire set $17). Series is edited by D.A.Carson and Tim Keller:

The Story of Jacob (2) the Father of Israel) Genesis 25-33

Click here to read Genesis 25-33, the Biblical account of the life of Jacob.

some excerpts taken from D.A.Carson’s ‘For the Love of God” Volume I:

by D.A Carson

Genesis 27 is in many ways a pathetic, grubby account. Earlier Esau had despised his birthright (25:34); now Jacob swindles him out of it. In this Jacob is guided by his mother Rebekah, who thus shows favoritism among her children and disloyalty to her husband. Esau throws a tantrum and takes no responsibility for his actions at all. indeed, he nurses his bitterness and plots the assassination of his brother. The family that constitutes the promised line is not doing very well.

Yet those who read the passage in the flow of the entire book remember that God himself had told Rebekah, before the twin brothers were born, that the older will serve the younger (25:23) Perhaps

Jacob blessed instead of Esau

that is one of the reasons she acted as she did: apparently she felt that God needed a little help in keeping his prediction, even immoral help. Yet behind these grubby and evil actions God is mysteriously working out his purposes to bring the promised line to the end he has determined. Certainly God could have arranged to have Jacob born first, if that was the man He wanted to carry on the line. Instead, Esau is born first, but Jacob is chosen, as if to say that the line is important, but God’s sovereign, intervening choosing is more important than mere human seniority, than mere primogeniture.

The name „Bethel” means House of God. The event that gave rise to the name (Gen. 28) was a mixed bag. There is Jacob, scurrying across the miles to the home of his uncle Laban. Ostensibly he is looking for a godly wife–but the previous chapter makes clear that he wishes to escape being assassinated by his own brother in the wake of his own tawdry act of betrayal and deceit. Judging by the requests he makes to God, he is in danger of having too little food and inadequate clothing, and he is already missing his own family (28:20-21)Yet here God meets him in a dream so vivid that Jacob declares,”How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven” (28:17).

For his part, God reiterates the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant to this grandson of Abraham. The vision of the ladder opens up the prospect of access to God, of God’s immediate contact with a man who up to this point seems more driven by expedience than principle. God promises that his descendants will multiply and be given this land. The ulrimate expansion is also repeated: „All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (28:14). Even at the personal level, Jacob will not be abandoned, for God declares, „I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back over to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (28:15).

Awakened from his dream, Jacob erects an altar and calls the place Bethel. But in large measure he is still wheeler-dealer. He utters a vow: If God will do this and that and the other, if I get all that I want and I hope for out of this deal, „then the Lord will be my God” (28:20-21).

And God does not strike him down! The story moves on: God does all that he promised, and more. All of Jacob’s conditions are met. One of the great themes of Scripture is how God meets us where we are: in our insecurities, in our conditional obedience, in our mixture of faith and doubt, in our fusion of awe and self interest, in our understanding and foolishness. God does not disclose Himself only to the greatest and most stalwart, but to us, at our Bethel, the house of God.

When I was a child in Sunday School, I learned the names of the twelve tribes of Israel by singing a simple chorus: „These are the names of Jacob’s sons:/Gad and Asher and Simeon,/Reuben, Issachar, Levi,/Judah, Dan and Naphtali-/Twelve in all, but never a twin–/Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin.”

But many more years passed before I grasped how important are the twelve tribes in the Bible’s storyline. Many of the dynamics of the rest of  Genesis turn on their relationships. The organization of the nation of Israel depends on setting aside one tribe, the Levites, as priests. From another son, Judah, springs the Davidic dynasty that leads to the Messiah. Over the centuries, the tribe of Joseph would be divided into Ephraim and Manasseh; in substantial mesaure, Benjamin would merge with Judah. By the last  book in the Bible, Revelation, the twelve tribes of the old covenant constitute the counterpoint to the twelve apostles of the new covenant: this twelve by twelve matrix (i.e. 144, in the symbolism of this apocalyptic literature) embraces in principle the whole people of God.

Jacob meets Rachel by Raphael 1518

But, what tawdry beginnings they have in Genesis 30. The deceit of Laban in Genesis 29, which resulted in Jacob’s marrying both Leah and Rachel, now issues in one of the most unhealthy instances of sibling rivalry in holy Scripture. Each of these women from this family is so eager to outshine the other that she gives her handmaid to her husband rather than allow the other to get ahead in the race to bear children. So self-centered and impetuous are the relationships that another time Rachel is prepared to sell her husband’s sex time to her sister Leah for a few mandrakes. Polygamy has taken hold, and with it a mess of distorted relationships.

From these painful and frankly dysfunctional family relationships spring eleven sons and one daughter (the birth of the last son, Benjamin, is reported in chap. 35). Here are the origins of the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundations of the Israelite nation. Their origins are not worse than those of others; they are merely typical. But already it is becoming clear that God does not deal with this family because they are consistently a cut above other families. No, he uses them to keep his covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He graciously perseveres with them to bring about his grand, redemptive purposes. The tawdry family dynamics cannot possibly prevent the universe’s  sovereign from keeping his covenantal vows.

In Genesis 32 Jacob is returning home  and he is still frightened half to death of his brother…Jacob left the tents of his parents a single man, taking almost nothing with him, while here he returns home a rich, married man with many children.

But the deepest differences between the two journeys are reflected in Jacob’s changed attitude toward God. On the outbound trip, Jacob takes no initiative in matters divine. He simply goes to sleep (Gen 28). It is God who intervenes with a remarkable vision of a ladder reaching up to heaven. When Jacob awakens, he acknowledges that what he experienced was some sort of visitation from God (28:16-17), but his response is to barter with God: if God will grant him security, safety, prosperity, and ultimately a happy return home, Jacob for his part will acknowledge God and offer him a tithe.

Now it is rather different. True, God again takes the initiative: Jacob meets angelic messengers (32:1-2). Jacob decides to act prudently. He sends some of his people ahead to announce to Esau that his brother is returning. This spawns devastating news: Esau is coming to meet him, but with 400 men.

On the one hand, Jacob sets in motion a carefully orchestrated plan: successive waves of gifts for his brother are sent ahead, with each of the messengers carefully instructed to speak to Esau with the utmost courtesy and respect. On the other hand, Jacob admits that matters are out of his control. Bartering is gone; in „great fear and distress” (32:7) Jacob takes action, and then prays, begging for help. He reminds God of his covenantal promises, he pleads his own unworthiness, he acknowledges how many undeserved blessings he has received, he confesses his own terror (32:9-12). And then, in the darkest hours, he wrestles with this strange manifestation of God himself (32:22-30).

Twenty years or so have passed since Jacob’s outward-bound journey. Some people learn nothing in twenty years. Jacob has learned humility, tenacity, godly fear, reliance upon God’s covenantal promises, and how to pray. None of this means he is so paralyzed by fear that he does nothing but retreat into prayer. Rather, it means he does what he can, while believing utterly that salvation is of the Lord. By the time the sun rises, he may walk with a limp, but he is a stronger and better man.

Jacob’s story with his 12 children, who are the 12 tribes of Israel continues through Joseph. You can read Joseph’s story here (in English-including maps of Joseph’s journey when sold into slavery by his brothers) and you can read an English illustration of Joseph, the  foreshadow to the Savior here; also read a Romanian article (excerpt from book by Iosif Ton- Ce l-a tinut pe Iosif curat, aflat atit de departe de casa? Part 1 & 2). Lastly you can view the story of Joseph and his brothers in a film (English with Romanian subtitles)

The epilogue:

One of the most difficult things to grasp is that the God of the Bible is both personal–interacting with other persons–and transcendent (i.e. above space andtime–the domain in which all our personal interactions with God take place).As the transcendent Sovereign, he rules over everything without exception, as the personal Creator, he interacts in personal ways with those who bear his image, disclosing himself to be not only personal but flawlessly good. How to put those elements together is finally beyond us, however frequentlythey are frequently assumed in Scripture.

When Jacob hears that Joseph is alive, he offers sacrifices to God, who graciously discloses himself to Jacob, once again: „I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes” (Gen 46:3-4).

The book of Genesis makes it clear that Jacob knew that God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise that the land where they were now settled would one day be given to him and his descendants. That is why Jacob needed the direct disclosure from God to induce him to leave the land. Jacob was reassured on three fronts: (a) God would make his descendants multiply into a „great nation” during their sojourn in Egypt, (b) God would eventually bring them out of Egypt, (c) at the personal level, Jacob is comforted to learn that his long-lost son Joseph will attend his father’s death.

All of this provides personal comfort. It also discloses something of the mysteries of God’s providential sovereignty, for readers of the Pentateuch know that this sojourn in Egypt will issue in slavery, that God will then be said to „hear” the cries of his people, that in the course of time he will raise up Moses, who will be God’s agent in the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the granting of the Sinai covenant and the giving of the law, the wilderness wanderings, and the (re)entry into the Promised Land. The sovereign God who brings Joseph down to Egypt to prepare the way for this small community of seventy persons has a lot of complex plans in store. These are designed to bring his people to the next stage of redemptive history, and finally to teach them that God’s words are more important than food (Deut 8).

One can no more detach God’s sovereign transcendence from his personhood or vice versa, than one can safely detach one wing from an airplane and still expect it to fly.

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