You may want to know what a manuscript is in the first place. A manuscript is a hand written copy of an ancient document that predates the invention of the printing press in 1455. Before the invention of the printing press, the Bible was very thoroughly and meticulously copied by the hands of scribes on either papyri or vellum.
There exist today numerous groups who claim that the Bible has undergone corruption such as the Mormons, Muslims, Hari Krishna, and so on. So let’s go through the available evidence to see how much weight their claims actually hold.
We currently have roughly 24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament and 10,000 of the Old Testament. Our copies of the New Testament manuscripts are in various languages including Latin, Arabic, Syriac, and several other dialects. Among those 24,000 are over 5,500 in Greek, the original language the authors used.
Let’s compare this number to the amount of manuscripts we have of other historical works like Caesar?s Gallic Wars of which we only have ten surviving manuscripts that post date the events by a thousand years, or Homer?s Illiad of which we have 643 manuscripts which post date the events by 400 years. Yet many would consider us daft to doubt the authenticity of their contents.
In contrast, the earliest manuscripts we have of the New Testament post date the original writings by only fifty years, which is within the lifetime of some of those who actually witnessed the events discussed within them. By examining these manuscripts, historians have concluded that we have a 99.5% pure text of the New Testament. In the end, there is literally only a few selections of verses that have any questions applied to them from today’s top scholars.
While we do not have the original manuscripts the Bible can still be trusted as a reliable document. Much more than the Qu’ran for example that had to have all its copies burned except for one, because it had become so corrupted among Islamic tribes; or the Book of Mormon which has had over 4,000 changes made to it since its original publication in 1830, despite Joseph Smith’s claims that it is more perfect than the Bible.
It is important to understand that if the stories were false, the eyewitnesses that were still alive would have spoken out against the false writings and immediately discredited them.
One way we can test the accuracy of the manuscripts is by looking at the early church fathers like Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Irenaeus (2nd Century-202 AD), Tertullian (160-220 AD), Eusebius (265-339 AD) and Polycarp (69-155 AD) who quoted the New Testament in commentaries and letters and other transcripts over 86,000 times. Even if we did not have a single manuscript of the Bible, we could still construct 99.86% of the Bible from the writings of these men. All in all, there is only eleven verses that were not cited in the writings of theirs that we have.
In addition, many of the earliest New Testament manuscripts were written by Christians who were at the time in hiding or running for their lives from those who were trying to hunt them down to erase them from the face of the Earth. Many of these copies were penned in caves by candlelight and other similar environments and as a result there have been errors found here in and there within the text that have been remedied. Before people quit reading this and start screaming that the Bible is false, notice that of the errors, 85% are spelling or grammatical errors that have been discovered and fixed in our current translations into modern languages, and the other errors do not effect doctrine but for the most are differences in numerical values and things of the like.
Out of the entirety of the New Testament the only portions that are in question by current scholars are:
- The story of the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11
- Mark 16:9-20 which was not in the earlier manuscripts but is thought to have been added in later by taking accounts of the other three gospels
- The opening line of the Lord?s prayer in either Matthew 6:9 or Luke 11:2