How reliable are the New Testament Documents?    

How Reliable are the New Testament Documents That We Have Today?

To investigate whether we can use the NT documents to evaluate the claims of Christianity, we also need to know how reliable the documents are. Does the New Testament that we have now accurately reflect what the authors wrote?

Author Book Date Written Earliest Copies Time Gap # Of copies extant
Homer Iliad 800 B.C. c. 400 B.C. c. 400 years 643
Herodotus History 480-425 B.C. c. A.D. 900 c. 1350 years 8
Thucydides History 460-400 B.C. c. A.D. 900 c. 1300 years 8
Plato   400 B.C. c. A.D. 900 c. 1300 years 7
Demosthenes   300 B.C. c. A.D. 1100 c. 1400 years 200
Caesar Gallic Wars 100-44 B.C. c. A.D. 900 c. 1000 years 10
Livy History of Rome 59 B.C. - A.D. 17 4th cent. (partial)
mostly 10th century
c. 400 years
c. 1000 years
1 partial
19 copies
Tacitus Annals A.D. 100 c. A.D. 1100 c. 1000 years 20
Pliny Secondus Natural History A.D. 61-113 c. A.D. 850 c. 750 years 7
New Testament   A.D. 50-100 c. A.D. 114 (fragment)
c. A.D. 200 (books)
c. A.D. 250 (most of NT)
c. A.D. 325 (complete NT)
+50 years
c. 100 years
c. 150 years
c. 225 years
5366 (Greek)
19,284 (other languages including Latin Vulgate, Ethiopic, Slavic, Armenian etc.

*table from data from The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, 1999, Thomas Nelson Publishers, pp. 34, 38.

This chart compares ancient documents, including the NT documents. It lists the number of partial or complete manuscripts that exist today. These are not the original manuscripts, but copies that were made from the originals. There are two notable points:

1. Compared with other ancient documents, the NT document copies we have today were written very soon after the original documents were thought to have been composed (see chart on previous page).

2. Compared with other ancient documents, there are an extraordinary number of NT document copies. This suggests a tremendous penetration of these documents throughout the ancient world.

The overwhelming number of copies of the NT documents indicate the enormous fidelity of what we have now in the Bible we buy at Walmart. In other words, what we read now can be reliably shown to be what the original eyewitnesses wrote. There are so many copies that translaters can compare texts at every point to ensure that the text is correctly transmitted.

I will only briefly mention that, not only do we have the copies of the NT documents, but we also have virtually complete quoting of the new testament text within other ancient documents of the Church Fathers.


© 2011 Amy Deardon |