On what day was Jesus really born? A New Testament Manuscript Expert Responds

A 1466 copy of Jewish historianFlavius Josephus‘ first century workAntiquities of the Jews, widely used to establish the chronology of Jesus. Photo from Wikipedia.

This is a study by Daniel B. Wallace , which you can read it in its entirety here-  http://bible.org/article/birth-jesus-christ

Daniel B. Wallace has taught Greek and New Testament courses on a graduate school level since 1979. He has a Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is currently professor of New Testament Studies at his alma mater.

His Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996) has become a standard textbook in colleges and seminaries. Dr. Wallace is also the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

Wallace – We must keep in mind that the Jesus we worship was truly born in time-space history. And that babe in the manger was truly crucified–and just as surely rose from the dead. The Bible is different from the sacred books of other religions because it invites historical investigation. And when it has met the test–as it surely always, inevitably does–it inculcates a greater devotion in the heart of the believer for the one we call the Son of God.

The Year Jesus Was Born

In the western hemisphere, we split time by the birth of Jesus Christ. But did he really even live? If so,when was he born?

Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before Herod passed on. This occurred on March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod expired just before Passover. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. From other details supplied by Josephus, we can pinpoint Herod the Great’s demise as occurring between March 29th and April 4th in 4 B.C.

It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!

Now Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born, therefore, is 6 B.C. Through a variety of other time indicators, we can be relatively confident that the one called Messiah was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.

My atheist friend scoffs at such flexibility. He says, „If you don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, how do you know that he really lived?” That is hardly a reasonable question! The other day I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. „Mom, how many candles on this birthday cake?” I inquired. „I don’t know, son–I don’t keep track any more,” she sighed. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, we hung up.

Now, of course, I can’t be certain, but I do believe that that was my mother on the other end of the phone. She can’t remember how old she is (and she’s neither senile nor very old), but that doesn’t make her a figment of my imagination, does it? Because if she’s just a phantom, then for the last three minutes, you’ve been reading absolutely nothing!

The Day Jesus Was Born

This coming December 25th most parents will be lying to their children about old St. Nick. Some of us will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. But was he really born on this day?

Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Virtually every month on the calendar has been proposed by biblical scholars. So why do we celebrate his birth in December?

The tradition for December 25th is actually quite ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ’s birthday. Meanwhile, in the eastern Church, January 6th was the date followed.

But in the fourth century, John Chrysostom argued that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church in the East, as well as the West, has observed the 25th of December as the official date of Christ’s birth.

In modern times, the traditional date has been challenged. Modern scholars point out that when Jesus was born, shepherds were watching their sheep in the hills around Bethlehem. Luke tells us that an angel appeared to „some shepherds staying out in the fields [who were] keeping watch over their flock by night” (2:8).

Some scholars feel that the sheep were usually brought under cover from November to March; as well, they were not normally in the field at night. But there is no hard evidence for this. In fact, early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round. So you can see, December 25th fits both tradition and the biblical narrative well. There is no sound objection to it.

Now admittedly, the sheep around Bethlehem were the exception, not the rule. But these were no ordinary sheep. They were sacrificial lambs. In the early spring they would be slaughtered at the Passover.

And God first revealed the Messiah’s birth to these shepherds–shepherds who protected harmless lambs which would soon die on behalf of sinful men. Whey they saw the baby, could they have known? Might they have whispered in their hearts what John the Baptist later thundered, „Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Now, of course, we can’t be absolutely certain of the day of Christ’s birth. At least, not this side of heaven. But an early winter date seems as reasonable a guess as any. And December 25th has been the frontrunner for eighteen centuries. Without more evidence, there seems no good reason to change the celebration date now.

We can blame the ancient church for a large part of our uncertainty. You see, they did not celebrate Christ’s birth. At all. To them, it was insignificant. They were far more concerned with his death . . . and resurrection.

But modern man has turned that around. A baby lying in a manger is harmless, non-threatening. But a man dying on a cross–a man who claims to be God–that man is a threat! He demands our allegiance! We cannot ignore him. We must either accept him or reject him. He leaves us no middle ground.

This Christmas season, take a close look at a nativity scene once again. Remove your rose-colored glasses–smell the foul air, see the cold, shivering animals. They represent the Old Testament sacrificial system. They are emblems of death. But they are mere shadows of the Babe in their midst. He was born to die . . . that all who believe in him might live.

The Visit of the Magi

When Jesus Christ was born, men–known as magi–came from the east to worship him. Were they wisemen . . . or astrologers?

Matthew begins his second chapter with these words: „Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.'”

Who were these wise men from the east? Matthew tells us next to nothing about them–he doesn’t mention their names, nor how many there were–not even which country they came from. As mysteriously as they come on the scene, they disappear. . .

Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much, over-zealous Christians throughout church history have dogmatically filled in the blanks. By the 6th century A.D., these dark strangers were given thrones and names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar were the alleged names of these alleged kings. But this has nothing to do with the biblical story: we really have no idea what their names were–nor even their number. There could have been 3 or 300 as far as we know! But one thing we do know for sure: they were not royalty. The ancient magi were reilgious and political advisors to eastern kings–but there wasn’t a drop of blue blood among them.

But isn’t it true that the magi were astrologers? And didn’t God prescribe death to astrologers in the Old Testament? ‘Not always’ and ‘yes’ are the answers. In Deuteronomy 17, God commands his people to execute all astrologers by stoning. Jean Dixon wouldn’t stand a chance in such a theocracy! The fact that she–and others like her–are so comfortably tolerated–even well respected!–in modern America ought to show us that the U.S.A. is a post-Christian country–at best . . .

But what about these ancient magi? Were they astrologers? After all, they followed a star to Bethlehem.

We might answer this in three ways: First, not all magi were astrologers, for Daniel the prophet was the chief of the magi in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Through his influence, undoubtedly many of the magi carried on their religious and political duties as worshippers of the One true God.

Second, there are some biblical scholars who believe that Isaiah predicted that a star would appear when the Messiah was born. If this interpretation is correct, then the magi who worshipped the newborn king were clearly following in Daniel’s train, for he almost surely taught them from Isaiah.

Third, although a few believe that the ‘star’ they saw was a natural phenomenon–such as a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter–this cannot explain how the star stood right over Bethlehem. Clearly, the ‘star’ was completely of supernatural origin. If so, it probably had nothing to do with astrology.

Therefore, the magi most likely did not subscribe to such superstitious folly. If so, they were truly wisemen . . .

I saw a bumper sticker the other day, which read, „Wise men still seek him.” Actually, that’s not quite accurate. The Bible tells us that „no one seeks God, not even one.” But if he has led us to himself, then we have become wise. For it is true that „wise men still worship him.”

The Boys from Bethlehem

One of the most heinous atrocities in human history was the murder of Bethlehem’s babies by Herod the Great. But did it really happen?

In the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we read that when Herod the Great heard of the Messiah’s birth, „he was troubled–and all Jerusalem with him.” Later, when the wise men did not report back to him, he became furious and ordered all the baby boys up to two years old in and around Bethlehem to be slaughtered!

Three questions come to mind as we consider this cruel incident: First, how many babies did Herod actually kill? Second, how old was Jesus when this happened? And finally, why does no other ancient historian record this outrage? In other words, did it really happen?

How many babies did Herod murder? Some scholars have suggested as many as 200! But most reject such a figure. Bethlehem was a small community–almost a suburb of Jerusalem. The village itself–and the surrounding countryside–would hardly have more than 30 male infants under two. Most scholars today place the number between 20 and 30.

But that’s if only the boy babies were killed. Actually, the Greek text of Matthew 2:16 could mean ‘babies’–not just ‘boy babies.’ And psychologically, Herod’s henchmen might not have bothered to check the gender of their victims. The number might be as high as 50 or 60.

Second, how old was Jesus when this occurred? According to the best chronological evidence, he could not have been more than three or four months old. He was more than likely born in the winter of 5 or 4 B.C.–Herod died in the early spring of 4 B.C. So why did Herod slay all children up to two years old? The answer to the third question might help to answer this one. . .

Third, why is this event not recorded outside the Bible? Specifically, why did Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, fail to mention it?

Josephus tells us much about Herod. The best word to describe his reign is ‘overkill.’ He murdered hisfavorite wife’s father, drowned her brother–and even killed her! He executed one of his most trusted friends, his barber, and 300 military leaders–all in a day’s work! Then he slew three of his sons, allegedly suspecting them of treason. Josephus tells us that „Herod inflicted such outrages upon (the Jews) as not even a beast could have done if it possessed the power to rule over men” (Antiquities of the Jews 17:310). Killing babies was not out of character for this cruel king. And killing them up to two years old–to make sure he got the baby Jesus lines up with his insane jealousy for power.

Josephus might have omitted the slaying of the babies for one of two reasons: first, he was no friend of Christianity and he left it out intentionally; or second, just before Herod died he locked up 3000 of the nation’s leading citizens and gave orders that they were to be executed at the hour of his death. He wanted to make sure that there would be mourning when he died. . . Israel was so preoccupied with this that the clandestine murder of a few babies might have gone unnoticed. . .

Herod thought that he had gained a victory over the king of the Jews. Yet this was a mere foreshadowing of the victory Satan thought he had when Jesus lay dead on a Roman cross. But the empty tomb proved that that dark Friday was Satan’s worst defeat!

Conclusion

We’ve been looking at several aspects of the birth of Jesus Christ in this short study. Now, we want to put it all together.

In the winter of 5 or 4 B.C., God invaded history by taking on the form of a man. He was born in a small town just south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, which means ‘the house of bread,’ indeed became worthy of its name one lonely winter night. For there, in that town, was born the Bread of Life . . .

His mother placed the infant king in a manger–or feeding trough–because the guest room where they were to stay was occupied. The birth of this king was celebrated that night only by his mother, her husband, and a handful of shepherds. The shepherds had been in the fields around Bethlehem, guarding the lambs which would die at the next Passover. An angel appeared to them and gave them the birth announcement: „today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). In their simple faith, they rushed to see their newborn king.

Shortly after the birth of the Messiah, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem and inquired of king Herod where the real king of the Jews was to be born. The theologians of Herod’s court knew the Scriptures well–in ‘Bethlehem’ they recited. Ironically, though they knew the Scriptures, they did not believe them! They did not even bother to travel the five or six miles to Bethlehem to see their Messiah.

But Herod believed the Scriptures! That is why he sent a corps of butchers to Bethlehem to slaughter innocent children, in hopes of destroying this rival to his throne. But he was too late. The magi had come and gone and Jesus was by now safe in Egypt.

And the magi believed the Scriptures. They had traveled several hundred miles to worship this Babe. They were guided to Bethlehem by a supernatural celestial phenomenon–and by the Scriptures. Apparently, their ancestors had been instructed by Daniel the prophet about the coming Messiah. . . When they saw the child, they fell down and worshiped him. This was God in the flesh. They could do no other.

And they gave him gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This was an unusual present–by any standards. The gold, of course, we all can understand–but the frankincense and myrrh were odd. Perhaps they had read Isaiah’s prophecy that „nations will come to your light, and kings to your rising . . . They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news. . . ” (Isa. 60:3, 6). This explains the frankincense, but not the myrrh.

Now myrrh, like frankincense, was a perfume. But unlike frankincense, myrrh smelled of death. In the ancient world, it was used to embalm a corpse. Jesus himself would be embalmed with this very perfume (cf.John 19:39).

If the magi were thinking of Jesus’ death when they brought the myrrh, they no doubt knew of it from Daniel’s prophecy (9:24-27). In the ninth chapter of Daniel we read that the ‘Messiah will be cut off’ and this ‘will make atonement for iniquity’ and ultimately ‘bring in everlasting righteousness’ (9:26, 24).

Even at the birth of our Savior, the shadow of the cross is already falling over his face. . .

The theologians of Herod’s court did not believe the Scriptures. They were fools. Herod believed, but disobeyed. He was a madman. The simple shepherds and the majestic magi believed in this infant Savior–and it was reckoned to them as righteousness. May we follow in their train.

The Reliability of The New Testament – Daniel Wallace PhD

Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and Recently his scholarship has begun to focus on John, Mark, and nascent Christology. He works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (csntm.org), an institute with an initial purpose of preserving Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. He has traveled the world in search of biblical manuscripts. His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, textual criticism studies at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, and the Universität Tübingen, Germany. Photo credit www.dts.edu –

 The Realiability of the New Testament

Wallace: Excerpt: If my New Testament doesn’t really tell the truth about who God is, or who Jesus is, or whether He was really raised from the dead, or if I can’t be sure that’s what the original text said, then I’ve got a few problems to deal with. What I want to give you today is a reason for confidence in the Scriptures. I will begin by quoting from some scholars who have disagreed with this confidence:

  1. We begin with well known scholar Dan Brown, who wrote in his book ‘The DaVinci Code”: The Bible has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” You’ve all heard something like that, you may even have said something like that: The Bible’s been translated so many times, and retranslated, how can we tell what it originally said? We’re going to deal with this issue front on and you’re going to realize that’s a really stupid statement to make.
  2. But, there are others who have written something similar. Atheists are now joining the chorus: „We do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible. The originals are lost. We don’t know when and we don’t know by whom. What we have are copies of copies. In some instances, the copies we have are twentieth generation copies.” C. J. Werleman, Jesus lied P. 41. By the way, there’s a new kind of atheism out that no longer says that Christianity is wrong, that’s presupposed, but, what it’s now saying is that Christianity is evil. And that’s what we have to deal with: Atheism is good and Christianity is evil. C. J. Werleman also wrote a book titled „God hates you, hate him back„. It’s kind of a strange title for an atheist, don’t you think( for someone who doesn’t believe in God)? Now, he says: We don’t have any of the original manuscripts; he’s right. He says: The originals are lost and we don’t know when and by whom. He’s right. What we have are copies of copies. That’s true. However, I have no idea where he got the idea that some copies are 20th generation copies. I think he made it up.
  3. Muslims are saying the same thing, and Muslims are a huge group for us to have to deal with. They have their apologists who are making claims about the Koran. And, a very well known british muslim, M. M. Al-Azumi has written a book called „The history of the Koranic texts from revelation to compilation- a comparative study with the Old and New Testaments„. The book is very, very popular in Britain. He says, „The Orthodox church, being the sect which eventually established supremacy over all the others, stood in fervent opposition to various opposition (a.k.a „heresies”) which were in circulation… In each case this sect, the one that would rise to be the Orthodox church, deliberately corrupted the Scriptures so as to reflect its own theological visions of Christ, while demolishing that of all rival sects.” What’s he talking about? He is saying that the Bible that you have today is a corruption of the original. What he says elsewhere is that the deity of Christ is definitely not taught in the original New Testament, and (that) this group known as the Orthodox church, which is nothing that even resembles orthodoxy, made up things about Jesus and they demolished all the other views.Well, where are Werdleman and Al-Azumi getting their ideas from? They’re not New Testament scholars. They don’t know Greek, as far as I know. Well, they’re getting it from a number of New Testament scholars, but, principally, from one fellow who has become the #1 theologian in the country as far as the media is concerned. If you ever watch any of these stories, it’s typically around Christmas and Easter is when you will see these TV shows that are typically dealing with „well, Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead…” Somebody claimed just a few years ago that we actually found the bones of Jesus.

Well, Bart Ehrman was an evangelical, he went to Moody Bible Institute, he’s a graduate of Wheaton College- two very fine evangelical schools. He went on to Princeton Seminary to study under the great Dr. Bruce Metzger, who was one of the finest New Testament scholars of the 20th century and an evangelical himself. Ehrman got his master;s and his doctorate under Metzger at Princeton Seminary. And then he began to drift. Later on, he got out of evangelicalism, but still called himself a Christian, years later he called himself an agnostic, which is where he is at today. But, he has also said, „If there is a God, it’s definitely not the God of the Bible.” He’s not the God that I could possibly ever worship. Because of his spiritual journey, or unspiritual journey, Ehrman has become kind of the spokesman for liberalism and is the #1 theologian, as I said, in the media, newspapers, radio, television, they all interview him because (they say): Oh, here’s a guy who came out of evangelicalism and now he’s against it.” This is where these other people have gotten their ideas from about the text. Bart Ehrman is a bonafide New Testament scholar whose specialty is the New Testament manuscripts. In his book „Misquoting Jesus” he said, „Not only do we not have the originals, we do not have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies, of the copies of the originals.” I am sure he is right in the first and second generation. But, Ehrman has made this claim and his writings have impacted tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, who are either marginally within the Christian faith, or were considering and they’ve abandoned it. That’s Bart Ehrman. (8:30)

Two attitudes to avoid

It reminds me of a couple of attitudes we need to avoid as we think about these issues of the text of Scripture.

  1. Radical skepticism or total despair. This attitude is the one I have just presented to you from these 3 writers:  That, basically, we can’t tell what the original text said, we might as well give up (cause) we don’t know.
  2. But, there’s another attitude that’s equally pernicious, and it’s found among Christians. King James only people have this attitude. Many of you come to church with your Bible in your hands, and you say, „This is exactly what the apostles wrote.” We don’t know for sure about some things, but we do have certainty about others. So there’s another attitude we need to avoid, which is absolute certainty. It makes us uncredible in the eyes of skeptics and sometimes when that absolute certainty gets dashed, people switch the pendulum way too far, over to radical skepticism. (9:00)

While there are 2 attitudes to avoid, there are 4 questions I want us to answer this morning:

  1. How many textual variants are there?
  2. What kinds of textual variants are there? Do they affect doctrine, are they spelling differences?
  3. What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages?
  4. Is what we have now what they wrote then?

The above notes are from the first 10 minutes of the video (there are 26 minutes remaining, in which Dr. Wallace answers the 4 questions)

VIDEO by Shulamitefire The Realiability of the New Testament

ABOUT THE VIDEO: Published on Jul 28, 2013

If you encounter someone who questions or doubts the accuracy and reliability of our Bible, the information Dr. Daniel Wallace provides in this presentation at Heights Baptist Church in 2013 will address those issues directly.

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace has been Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Seminary for over 25 years and is an internationally known Greek New Testament scholar. He has been a consultant for five Bible translations and founded the Center for the study of New Testament Manuscripts.

How badly did the early scribes corrupt the New Testament? Daniel B. Wallace

Reminder: One primary reason I transcribe important lectures is because of our international readership. You can pass along this article to non English speaking readers, as they can use the Google translate widget in the sidebar (first widget at the top, on the right side of every page of this blog).

Daniel Wallace:

The New Testament has been under a barrage in the last few years. The Old Testament has been sieged. The biggest apologetic question used to be: „Is it true?”

Now, the question that is on the horizon, and is increasingly so, is: „Did God really say that?” „Is that what the Bible really says?”

Daniel Wallace, answers 4 important questions:

  1. How many textual variants are there?
  2. What kinds of textual variations are there?
  3. What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages?
  4. Is what we have now what they wrote then?

Daniel Wallace is a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and the founder of The Center for the Study of the New Testament Manuscripts, an institute that seeks to study and preserve the manuscripts of the New Testament. Wallace is an expert in biblical Greek and in textual criticism, the academic study of ancient manuscripts. Daniel Wallace’s personal website – http://www.danielbwallace.com/ The following lecture was given at Watermark Community Church of Dallas Texas on September 29th, 2012.

Here are some points from the lecture:

  • Dr. Wallace begins with a preliminary question: Don’t we have the original New Testament anymore? The answer is ‘no’. It turned to dust… probably by the end of the second century. These were originally 27 documents, sent to a variety of churches in the ancient world, that got collected later on. But, the originals must have worn out within 100 years of the writing of them. The reason I say that is because they were all written on papyrus. Papyrus doesn’t last real long. It’s actually stronger than paper. It’s kind of got the consistency of a paper grocery sack (bag). Now, these papyrus texts, they would have been copied and copied, and handled. The early church would have disseminated these documents, they would have worn out. So, we don’t have the original New testament anymore.
  • But, of the copies we do have, don’t they all say exactly the same thing? Our 2 closest, earliest related manuscripts have between 6 and 10 differences per chapter. Because of the disappearance of the originals and the difference in the manuscripts we cannot say that we have the original New Testament. Textual criticism is necessary because of these differences and because the originals don’t exist anymore.

Definition of textual variance: Any place among the manuscripts in which there is variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, even spelling differences.

The quantity of Variants:

  • In the Greek NT we have approx. 140,000 words
  • Textual Variants in the manuscripts approx 400,000

So for every word in the NT we have about 2 1/2 textual variants. The reason we have a lot of textual variants is that we have a lot of manuscripts.  If there was one copy of the New Testament today, it would have no variants. As soon as you have a second copy, you will have variants. (Yet) the more manuscripts we have, the better we are in getting back to reconstructing the original. And the reason we have a lot of textual variants is that we have a lot of manuscripts. There’s nothing in the ancient world that compares to the number of variants that we have for the New Testament, nor to the number of manuscripts. (11:19)

Let me go back 300 years ago to the famous scholar- Richard Bentley, and author of the book  „Remarks Upon a Discourse of Freet Thinking” (1713). He said:

If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek New Testament at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago, then we [would have] had no various readings at all… And would the text be in a better condition then, than now [that] we have 30,000 [variant readings]?

It is good therefore… to have more anchors than one; and another MS, to join the first would give more authority, as well as security.

  • Greek manuscripts: The latest number of how many Greek New Testament manuscripts we have: 5824 By the way, the average sized Greek New Testament manuscript is more than 450 pages long. We’re not talking of little fragments. Yes, there are some that are little fragments and there are some that are huge manuscripts. But, the average size is over 450 pages.
  • Latin manuscripts: The New Testament was translated into various languages as well, early on- latin swept across Europe and starting in the second century, the New Testament was translated into Latin. We have more manuscripts in Latin than we do in Greek: The count is over 10,000+.
  • Ancient languages manuscripts: It (NT) was then translated into other ancient languages- Syriac, and Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, and Gothic and Old Church Slavonic, Arabic, the list goes on and on-Our best guess is that there is at least 5,000 manuscripts in these other ancient translations.
  • Quotations from NT: Even without these manuscripts, there are over 1 million quotations from the New Testament by church fathers.The New Testament itself has just under 8,000 verses in it. We can sometimes reproduce the New Testament many times over just by the quotations of the church fathers.

How does this compare with other ancient literature?

  • The average classical Greek writer has less than 20 hand written copies of his works still in existence. If you were to stack them up they would be 4 foot high.
  • If you were to pile all the existing New Testament manuscripts they would be 1 mile high.

Skeptics will say: How can you possibly tell what the New Testament originally said? It’s been translated, copied so many times?

Yes, but, we are not relying just on the latest versions of it? We can go back in time and we can see earlier copies and see many, many, many copies. If we’re gonna be skeptical about what the New Testament originally said, that skepticism, on average, needs to be multiplied at least 1,000 times any other classical Greek or Latin author.

Herodotus was the historian of Alexander the Great. Suetonius was one of the 3 historians on the Caesars. If we don’t have the New Testament texts, or if we have doubts about that, we should be 1,000 times more skeptical about these other texts. Maybe Julius Caesar never existed. Maybe there never was an Alexander the Great. Let’s play fair with the evidence. The New testament is phenomenal in terms of how much we’ve got in manuscripts. But, it’s also earlier than these other texts.

In the first millennium, till about AD 1,000 we have about 15% of our New Testament manuscripts. We have multiple copies of the entire New Testament within the first 300 years.

Has the Bible been translated and retranslated so many times that we don’t know what it originally said? If we go back to 1611, when the first King James Bible was published, we discover that the New Testament was based essentially on 7 Greek manuscripts that a scholar had published about 100 years earlier. The earliest of these manuscripts is from the 11th century. Today, in 2012, we have over 5800 manuscripts, almost 1000 times as many manuscripts and our earliest go back to the second century.

As time goes on, we are not getting farther and farther away from the original texts. We are actually getting closer and closer to them. 

We haven’t lost those manuscripts that the King James translators used.

The nature of the variants: What kind of variants are there?

  • 99% of the variants make virtually no difference at all. They are spelling variants that don’t change the meaning.

One of the common variants that we have among the manuscripts is the use of the article, the word „the”. (With) proper names, you would see in Luke chapter 2 ‘the Joseph and the Mary left Jerusalem’. Well, that’s in Greek. We don’t translate it that way. The word ‘the’ occurs 20,000 times in the Greek New Testament.

  • The smallest group of variants are those that are both meaningful and viable, that do affect the meaning of the text and they have a good chance at being authentic.
  • Less than 1% of all textual variants fit this group. Actually the number is approximately 1/4 of 1%.

I’ll give you a couple that are pretty meaningful texts:

  1. Mark 9:29 –  Jesus’s disciples try to cast out a demon and they can’t. So they come to Him and He says: „This kind can come out only by prayer [and fasting].” Well, I put ‘and fasting’ in brackets because the earlier manuscripts don’t have ‘and fasting’. But, most of the manuscripts which are later, do have ‘and fasting’.  This is a meaningful variant and a viable variant and it is the only place in the New Testament that says that fasting may be required to exorcise demons. So, it’s meaningful ad viable and it does change the text. But, how significant is it?
  2. Here’s one that may be more relevant to you: Revelation 13:18- „Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” Now, everybody knows the antichrist’s number is 666. Not so fast. In the middle of the 19th century, in Paris, a manuscript was deciphered that had never been deciphered before, by a scholar who spent 2 years on it had found that Revelation 13:18, the number of the beast was 616. Now, I had the opportunity to examine that manuscript a couple of years ago and sure enough it says 616. Well, that’s just one manuscript. But, it turned out to be our second most important manuscript for Revelation. It’s text is terrific in almost all of Revelation. Maybe it’s one that was wrong, for there were no others that said 616, until 1998 when at Oxford University, the papyrologists were going through all these papyri that for the majority had never been published and they came across a small fragment, actually 26 fragments  that spread out over 9 chapters, one of them the size of a postage stamp with this verse on it. And it had the number of the beast as 616. Well, that’s just one manuscript. But, it’s also our earliest manuscript for Revelation.  Now, even with all that evidence which is really significant, most scholars today would say, „We believe that the number of the beast is 666. When all the dust will say, we will probably say, „We’re not sure”.  But, here’s the point about Revelation 13:18: I know of no church, no denomination, no Bible college, no theological seminary of any sort that has as its doctrinal statement: We believe in the virgin birth, We believe in the deity of Christ, and we believe that the number of the beast is 666. It may be important, but not that important.

What theological beliefs do depend on textually suspect passages?

Teabing, the character in the Da Vinci Code says that Constantine, the emperor actually invented the deity of Christ in A.D. 325. Dan Brown actually believed this. It was based on another book that said (that) there are no New Testament manuscripts form before the 4th century. Well, there were at least 48 of them before the 4th century, but, they didn’t do their research. There’s a lot of misinformation that’s going on nowadays. But, here’s the point. Here in this book, they’re claiming that the deity of Christ came later, 300 years after the time that Jesus lived.

There is a papyrus # P66, written about A.D. 75. It is the first leaf of John’s Gospel. It says in John 1:1- „In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Every New Testament manuscript says that. Every single one in every single language. It’s not just the deity of Christ, we see go all the way back to the original. But, it’s all of our essential doctrines. In fact, here’s some evidence. In Bart Erhman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ paperback edition, in the appendix the publishers wrote this: „Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?”

Ehrman’s response is: „Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants  in the manuscript tradition of the New testament.” This is a skeptic saying this. This is the guy on whose works, Moslems and atheists are basing their wild flames that the orthodox have so corrupted the texts, that it must not have been orthodox at all originally. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But, they’re basing it on Dr. Ehrman’s work.

In conclusion: When it comes to essentials, we have absolute certainty that this has not been affected.Even a skeptic like Bart Ehrman could not deny that. No essential Christian belief is jeopardized by any viable variant.

Dan Wallace – discovery of a Markan papyri fragment dating back to the first century and dialogue with Bart Ehrman

Dan Wallace writes that on 1 February 2012, as he debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today, mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year. (source Dallas Theological Seminary) The article continues:

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.

Ehrman

How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmedvarious readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introducednew authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time.

These new papyri will no doubt continue that trend. But, if this Mark fragment is confirmed as from the first century, what a thrill it will be to have a manuscript that is dated within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection!

You can watch the Ehrman – Wallace debate in the video below:

Is The Original New Testament Lost?

:: A Dialogue with Dr. Bart Ehrman & Dr. Daniel Wallace

Uploaded by 

An evening of scholarly dialogue on the origins, the transmission, and the reliability of the New Testament. Do we have the original manuscripts? Can we trust the copies passed down to us? How accurate is our New Testament today? These questions and more were discussed by two top-tier NT scholars. Both Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Wallace presented their respective positions before opening the floor for a time of Q&A.

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