Truths about Bible Manuscripts


Everyone has an opinion on how the Truths about Bible Manuscripts were collected and how can we know if they are the real deal. Below is basic outline of how we can trust our relevant manuscripts. It the contention of many that it is impossible for us to know that we have the correct scriptures and that how could God of managed to keep consistent copies over many centuries. Below, I hope will answer this question.

Truths about Bible Manuscripts

The Old Testament Texts

The Old Testament faced different set of challenges than the New Testament texts. They had one chief worship centre.

The scribes would specialize in copying the scriptures when they were getting old. The scribes were extraordinarily careful in copying these texts. They would count the letters going each way. If they found one mistake, they would destroy that page. They did make occasional mistakes like the reversing of letters, but they did not dare tamper with God’s Word. They preserved the integrity of the holy texts by burning the old ones with defects.

What happened as a result was that our latest copies (manuscripts) of the Old Testament scriptures were more than one or two thousand years from the time that they were written in some cases. People started wondering whether they were true.

Until recently, our most ancient copies (manuscripts) of the Old Testament were from the 10th century. They could of course check its message with the Septuagint, which was written several hundred years before Christ. This was the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in use when Jesus was preaching and teaching.

More recent archaeological findings, however, have swept this suspicion into the Mediterranean. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s has shown that the Hebrew Masoretic text was accurately preserved. These scrolls were written 100 to 200 years before Jesus’ time. Therefore, passages that clearly describe Jesus such as Isaiah 53 could no longer be said to be inserted after Jesus’ time.

Truths about Bible Manuscripts

The New Testament Texts

The New Testament manuscripts on the other hand are numerous. These 5,500 plus manuscripts date from the 2nd century. Those who ask whether the originals had ever existed can find their answer here. They certainly did. Only the genuine text could have spawned so many copies through the years.

Some people seem to question the authenticity of the originals when there are so many manuscripts with slight variations. This is a shame. The opposite is true. The agreement of the scriptures prove the existence of the original documents. The number of manuscripts for the New Testament scriptures is far greater than any other ancient text. It is through these variants (differences on words or spellings used), we can trace back and discover what the original text had said.

Do we find that the texts are reliable? Definitely!

Although one may hear of thousands of variants or errors, we must keep in mind that they count the same error in the 5,000 manuscripts. After careful examination, they have found that only 40 lines (400 words) of the 20,000 lines are in question. We can be sure that the New Testament is 99% pure. The Iliad by contrast has 5% corrupted text. There is no ancient text that is more reliable than the New Testament.

What is more helpful is that we know exactly what the differences of the Greek text are. At the foot of each page of the Greek text, one can see the footnotes that document which variants that particular verse might have. They note which manuscripts support which variant. In this way Lower Criticism has dispelled fears of an unreliable text. One main advantage of studying Greek is to be able to read these footnotes! English translations mention only the most significant variants.

Why all the confusion?

Many people do not understand how the New Testament books were written, copied and distributed. It is not as we might think.

There was no instant New Testament Bible. Each New Testament book was written separately (except perhaps Luke and Acts) and sent to different people and places. These places had no faxes, computers or telephones. Paper was not yet popularized or available. Reading the scriptures was popular in churches. Copies were not easily made or preserved. The originals would be passed around from church to church.

And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodicean’s; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16)

As time went on, the 27 different documents (Bible books) would travel about and end up in different Christian churches or Christian centres. Each main Christian centre would begin their own collection of these NT scriptures (i.e. manuscripts) and make their own copies for those in their jurisdiction. Those who made these copies were scribes. Remember, writing was a special skill back in those days.

These centres then unconsciously would develop their own family of manuscripts through their copying efforts. There would be slight variations in these manuscripts, nothing significant. Remember, only 40 lines of 20,000 are in question. Alexandria in Egypt had the driest climate and most well-preserved scriptures. The Western texts were centred, in Rome. Later on Byzantine became the empire’s capital and a major centre for Christianity.


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