While we do not have an original copy of the Bible, it has been faithfully handed down from one generation to another.
Just as the writings of Shakespeare can be reproduced by comparing the many and varied copies of that author’s work, so we can verify the Bible by comparing its manuscripts and translations. In fact, there are far more serious discrepancies among other works than among Bible manuscripts.
Compare the span of time and the number of manuscripts of the sacred text with other ancient writings:
- The ancient classical history of Caesar’s Gallic War was composed about 58–50 b.c. with the oldest known manuscript dating to about a.d. 850. Thus a gap of 900 years exists between composition and copies. Only ten manuscripts of the history are known. Yet all scholars accept these as reliable history.
- The Roman History of Livy was written between 59 b.c. to a.d. 17, but its oldest known manuscripts were made about a.d. 300. Only 35 copies are known to exist. Yet it is accepted without question.
- The History of Thycydides, written 460– 400 b.c., is reproduced from only eight manuscripts which were produced 1300 hundred years later (a.d. 900). Again, it is not disputed.
- The History of Herodotus (450–425 b.c.) is translated from only eight copies which were made from the original 1300 years later—about a.d. 900. It is accepted without question.
How do these compare with the New Testament? Revelation (its final book) was written by a.d. 96. A span of only 250 years brings us to a.d. 350, the date of the widely accepted Bible codices. In addition, we have 4000 papyrus fragments written from a.d. 130 to a.d. 250. This puts us within 30 to 150 years of the book of Revelation. Further, practically from the time John penned the original autograph, early “church fathers” began quoting the New Testament (a.d. 90 to a.d. 160), and we have their writings.
There are literally thousands more copies of Sacred Scriptures which enable comparison, and give us assurance of a more accurate text for the New Testament, than there is of any text of Shakespeare. Jesus said, “My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). —Flavil Nichols