“The Bible is full of mistakes!” (1 of 4)

That’s what someone said to me not too long ago. My response was, “Such as?” In addition to being ignorant, I was neither gentle nor respectful (1 Peter 3:15-16).  I’ve gained some technical knowledge;  working on my heart won’t be quite as easy 🙂

Today and tomorrow I’ll post my notes on an interview (length—53:02) with Dr Daniel B. Wallace, who studies NT manuscripts for a living. Dr Wallace travels around the world taking high-resolution digital photographs of ancient manuscripts and making them available to scholars, as part of his work with the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

If you’re ADD-inclined here’s two brief videos:


If you’re still reading this, here we go!

We don’t have the original manuscripts, so we can’t know what was originally written. Is it possible that what we have today isn’t what was they had then?

Textual critics compare the earliest Greek manuscripts that we have with early translations of NT manuscripts. These early versions (Greek and other languages) are then compared with quotations made by the early church fathers. This threefold comparison across linguistic and geographic boundaries gives scholars a high degree of certainty as to what the gospel writers put down.

How many manuscripts of the New Testament do we have in Greek and other languages?

As of the recording, there were 5700 known Greek manuscripts of the NT. In Latin, approximately 10,000. Those in Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, Armenian, etc total 10-15,000. Not all of these manuscripts are complete 27-book collections. About 60 of the Greek manuscripts contain Matthew-Revelation. Most are complete gospels (approx. 3000), Paul’s letters (approx. 80), gospels & Paul’s letters (approx. 700), Hebrews-Jude (approx. 700), Revelation (approx. 350). There’s almost ten times as many copies of the gospels as of Revelation, underlining the significance the early church placed on the former.

We have only 350 copies of Revelation, but in comparison with other ancient literature, this is a significant number. Take for example the three major Roman historians, on whom we base our understanding of ancient Rome: Livy (59 BC–AD 17), Tacitus (AD 56–120) and Suetonius (AD 69–140). We have 27 copies of Livy’s works, which comprise about 1/3 or ¼ of all the books he wrote. The earliest of these manuscripts is from the 4th century AD. Of Tacitus’ works, we have 3 copies, the earliest coming from the 9th century. Manuscripts of Suetonius’ works number over 200, but the earliest come from the 9th century. Of the book of Revelation, the oldest manuscript is a fragment from the 3rd century, while the earliest complete copy is from the 4th century.

What’s the manuscript evidence for other extra biblical texts?

We have 1 complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, and 3 Greek fragments. The fragments represent about 20% of the Gospel of Thomas, but there are significant differences between the Greek and the Coptic manuscripts. The Coptic copy is about 2 centuries later than the Greek.

As for the other gnostic gospels (Judas, Philip, Mary) we have one copy apiece. We have one complete copy from the 11th century of The Didache, considered orthodox by the early church.

Posts in this series
Part 1 Can we be sure of what the New Testament says?
Part 2 What kinds of textual variants are there?
Part 3 What is the manuscript evidence for the New Testament?
Part 4 What is at stake with the variants?
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