-- the Greek
Homer -- the Greek poet.
Julius Caesar -- the Roman emperor.
Tacitus -- the Roman historian.
Every student of ancient European
these names. When I studied Classical Greek and
college, my fellow students and I had to translate published portions
of literature which these people had written. Handwritten
manuscript copies of their work, copied and recopied generation after
generation, still exist today, preserved in museum vaults.
In all my studies of these
ancient authors, I never
saw any critique which suggested that any of those documents are
corrupted and unreliable. Scholars assume that the works of
Plato, Homer, Caesar, and Tacitus which have been handed down to us
accurately represent what their original authors wrote. Yet
of these same scholars claim that manuscript
copies which form our New Testament of the Bible are corrupted and
In the face of such criticism, let us make a comparison, applying the
tests to the New Testament as we do other ancient documents.
Since we do not possess the
original letters by
Plato's original manuscript, we must apply two basic tests to judge the
of existing copies of an ancient document. Those two tests
many ancient copies of
the document still exist? If the number of existing
is bad. If the number of existing copies is many, that is
good. If we have many copies of a document, it is a simple
to compare those copies to determine what the original manuscript said.
long is the time span
between the original composition of the document and the earliest
existing copies? A short time span is
good. A long gap
in time is bad. During a long span of time there is the
that with each generation the text will become further corrupted.
How do the existing manuscripts
of our ancient
authors compare when we measure them with those two basic tests?
his Philosophy about 400
BC. Only seven ancient copies exist
today. The time
span between Plato and the earliest existing copy is about 1,300
the Iliad about 800
There are 642 ancient copies still in
existence. The time
between Homer and the earliest existing copy is about 400
wrote his account of the Gallic
Wars between 100 BC and 44 BC. Ten
exist. The earliest of those copies was written 1,000
after Caesar wrote original manuscript.
his Annals around AD
Twenty ancient copies exist, the earliest of which
dates about 1,000
years after Tacitus.
In this list thus far, Homer gets
score. He has the highest number of ancient manuscripts in
shortest time span. The others offer very few copies, with
spans of 1,000 years or more. Yet, historians have regarded
documents as accurate.
How do the Bible's New
compare? There exists today 5,366 ancient
portions of the New Testament. The time span between the
composition of the New Testament documents and existing copies is about
50 years for copy fragments, 100 years for whole
books of the
New Testament, 150 years for nearly complete NTs, and
225 years for complete New Testaments. The New Testament offers an
objective standard for reliability which far exceeds every other
ancient document of western civilization.
|Time gap between original composition and earliest existing manuscripts|
|Number of existing early manuscript copies|
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