Has the New Testament been reliably copied?

What about the reliability of the New Testament?  The degree of accuracy of the New Testament exceeds 99%, which is greater than that of any other book from the ancient world.  And what is astounding is the strength of the argument when comparing it to other ancient writings. When measured against such works as Homer’s The Iliad, Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, or Plato’s writings, there are more copies of the New Testament, written closer in time to the originals, with other versions for the sake of comparison than any other ancient text.

To be more specific about these three points, contrast the New Testament with The Iliad, which is the Greek siege of the city of Troy. There are over 24,000 copies of the New Testament, compared to only 643 of the Iliad, the second highest total for any ancient document after the New Testament. Professor and apologist Norman Geisler says, “The abundance of manuscript copies makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy.” As we did with the Old Testament, the New Testament can be verified by checking what we have today with what the earliest manuscripts say.

Next, the time from the earliest copy of the New Testament after the final book was done is about 225 years, compared to 400 years for The Iliad, the second best time gap on the list of writings from antiquity. As more years intervene, the more copies are needed, hence the greater possibility for error. Even so, 225 years for the New Testament may sound like a long time, but Frederic Kenyon, librarian of the British Museum said: “It is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poet’s death.”

 We read a play by Sophocles like Oedipus the King, and don’t bat an eye, wondering, “Is this really what Sophocles wrote?” Nor do we do that for any of the books by Homer, Julius Caesar, or Plato. But we question the Bible. The research shows we shouldn’t have the inquiries for the Word of God as much as these other works!

Like the Old Testament, we can crosscheck the New Testament with various languages in which it was written, such as Greek, Latin, Slavic, Armenian, and the like. If they are all saying the same thing, the text has been accurately transmitted. By verifying what they wrote and what our Bible says, the New Testament passes the bibliographical test. Is the Bible a reliable document? Absolutely—make no mistake about it. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said it best: “In real terms, the New Testament is easily the best attested ancient writing in terms of the sheer number of documents, the time span between the events and the document, and the variety of documents available to sustain or contradict it. There is nothing in ancient manuscript evidence to match such textual availability and integrity.”  Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is a reliable document to read!

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