Textual criticism examines the number of copies of early texts that we have available to us today and it looks at the time gap between the original document and the earliest copy that we have. And basically, the more manuscripts we have, and the earlier they are, the less doubt there’s going to be about the original. So let’s compare the bible to other texts in ancient history, ones that are widely used in schools and universities. Let’s look at the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides. They both wrote in the 5th century BC but the earliest copy of their writings that we have dates from AD 900 and that makes a 1300 year time lapse. And even then, we only have eight copies of these manuscripts in the first place. Or look at the Roman historian Tacitus. There’s a 1000-year gap between his book being written and our first manuscript and we have 20 copies. Or another classic Caesar’s gallic war – 950 years between the book being written and our first manuscript copy and even then we only have nine or ten copies of these manuscripts. Again with Livy’s famous history of Rome – a 900-year gap between the book being written and our first manuscript and we only have 20 copies of this.
But when it comes to the New Testament, it’s very different. The New Testament was written between about 40 and 100 AD and we have manuscript evidence going back as early as 130 AD and full manuscripts by 350 AD. And we have more than 5300 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin translations and 9,300 others. So you know we can be pretty confident in the accuracy, the authenticity and the integrity of the New Testament scriptures that have been passed down to us today. The remarkable thing about the bible is there’s such a short chronological distance between the events being described and our first manuscripts. So in many ways the bible scholars are in a very fortunate position of being able to check these things out and finding that they are much more reliable than for example some of the alternatives you’re looking at. And as a scholar I am more than happy to say I trust this, I take it very seriously, I rely on it. Professor F J A Hott, one of the greatest scholars in the area of textual criticism concluded that “In the variety and fullness of the evidence on which it rests, the text of the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone amongst ancient prose writings and no secular historian would disagree with that conclusion.