Bible manuscripts: Number of copies and time gap

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.