One of my clearest memories of Christian Studies at high school was watching some old videos displaying the incredible historical reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts. With amazing 1989 graphics the program illustrated how many early fragments of the New Testament have been found and how they remain consistent over time. I remember thinking, Wow!! The rumour that “the bible has been changed over time’ is a myth. I need to take some notice of this document and what it says about God.
A lot has changed for me over the last 20 years. A lot has changed in manuscript studies over that time as well. The great news is that there are more and more fragments of the New Testament being found, some estimated at being written in the 1st and 2nd century.
On Justin Taylor’s Blog this week he posted an interview with Daniel B Wallace, an expert in New Testament Manuscript research. He was asked, “how does the number of NT manuscripts compare to other extant historical documents?”
NT scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data the classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with. The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies. We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the NT than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Not only this, but the extant manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote. For the NT, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies. The very best classical author in terms of extant copies is Homer: manuscripts of Homer number less than 2,400, compared to the NT manuscripts that are approximately ten times that amount.
If you are interested in reading the whole interview you can find it here