As a followup to Sunday’s message on Canonicity, I thought it may be helpful to reinforce the excellent lessons we heard from church history with some historical data regarding our Bible. Let’s see how the New Testament compares to other historical documents that the academic community generally accepts as reliable.

Two major points of historical data which give us an apologetic grounding:

1. Number of Manuscripts – ancient hand-written documents

  • Why Does it Matter? They are the only way we get direct reports on historical events, with multiple manuscripts you can compare and contrast and solve disparities.
  • How Does the NT measure up?
    • Ceasar’s, Gallic War: 10 manuscripts
    • Plato, Works: 7 manuscripts
    • Tacitus, Annals of History: 20 manuscripts
    • Homer, Iliad: 643 manuscripts
    • The New Testament: 5,000+ Greek; 10,000+ Latin; 10,000+ other languages
  • “The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt” (F.F. Bruce)

2. Date of the Manuscripts

  • Why does it Matter? The closer to original date the better – less opportunity for data loss.
  • How Does the NT measure up?
    • Ceasar’s, Gallic War
      • Written: 100 BC; Earliest Copy: AD 900; Gap: 1,000 years
    • Plato, Works
      • Written: 400 BC; Earliest Copy: AD 900; Gap: 1,300 years
    • Tacitus, Annals of History
      • Written: 100 BC; Earliest Copy: AD 1,100; Gap: 1,000 years
    • Homer, Iliad
      • Written: 900 BC; Earliest Copy: 400 BC; Gap: 500 years
    • The New Testament
      • Written: AD 45-96; Earliest Copy: c. AD 125 (“P52” fragment of John’s Gospel [AD 85]), most are 2nd, 3rd, or 4th century; Gap: A little as 35 years, the rest less than 500 years
  • “The Interval then between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubts that the New Testament has come down to us substantially as it has been written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Sir Frederick Kenyon).

I hope some of this historical data reinforces what we already know to be true about God’s holy and perfect Word.

Close Menu