Each week, we will be releasing one of the student blog posts from the Thinking Series Online Course that we find excellent. Today, we share with you a post written by Petrus Klopper. His original article can be found here.
There is good reason to believe the New Testament is a reliable historical document, with early accounts from eyewitnesses and the accurate preservation of manuscripts over time.
How does the New Testament manuscripts compare to the other ancient works of Homer or Aristotle. The earliest copy of Homer’s Iliad is 500 years after the original was written and 643 copies are known to exist. The earliest copy of Aristotle’s work is 1100 years after the original and 49 copies exist. The earliest copy of the New testament is less than 100 years after the original was written and 5600 Greek manuscripts exist; not to mention the 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages which total 24,000 copies. More and more historical evidence, for the reliability of the bible, is being discovered, analyzed and dated as we speak. Consider the earliest fragment from Mark’s Gospel found in a mummy (death) mask that dates to before AD 90, that would be within the lifetime of the originals, and doesn’t conflict with our current New Testament.
The New Testament omits key historical events such as, the deaths of James, Paul and Peter (AD 61-65), the siege of Jerusalem (AD 67-70) and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (AD 70). For this reason it is entirely plausible that the Gospels were written before these events because they would have been significant to the apostles, placing the writers of the New Testament as eye witnesses of Jesus, as they claimed to be.
Accuracy and Preservation
To be sure the copies were accurate before they became canonized, in the Council of Loadicea, we need to see what they said and how well their writings were preserved. The oldest complete surviving copy of the New Testament would be the Codex Sinaiticus (AD 350), this document gives us a snapshot, if you would, of the fourth century. In his book, Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace describes how in a court of law any evidence presented in a trial needs to have a “chain of custody“. Wallace uses this principle to connect the “snapshots” of Jesus, the apostles had, to the “snapshot” of Jesus found in the Codex Sinaiticus. Wallace connects the teachings of John, Paul and Peter to their students after them, until you get to the Council of Laodacea (-J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, page 216-230) to compare if the information became corrupted. Lets briefly look at John’s chain of custody. John taught two students: Ignatius (AD 35-117) and Polycarp (AD 69-155), who in turn taught Irenaeus (AD 120-202), who passed on what he had been taught to Hippolytus (AD 170-236). Ignatius and Polycarp quote from up to sixteen different New Testament books each (AD 110), and Irenaeus and Hippolytus quote twenty-four New Testament books respectively (AD 185 and AD 220). Showing the information was quoted from the originals.
“We have every reason to believe that the original writings and their earliest copies would have been in circulation for a hundred years in most cases — in some cases much longer, even 200 years.”[This means that]”a scribe making a copy of a script in the third century could actually have at his disposal [the] first-century originals, or first-century copies, as well as second-century copies.”
-Dr. Craig Evans, Professor of New Testament studies in an interview with Owen Jarus, from Live Science. | 2015
The number of manuscripts, the eyewitness testimony, and the “chains of custody” from John, Paul and Peter shows the New Testament letters were not corrupted over time; rather, they were being quoted accurately before the councils from where they were canonized.