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Researchers continue to uncover amazing facts about the Bible, leaving all the doubters dumbfounded

The New Testament as we have it was originally written in Greek.

The first printed Greek New Testament coming off a printing press happened in the year 1516, which means that for 1,500 years, the text that John and other biblical authors wrote was passed down by handwritten copies. It was copied by hand and passed on and on and on. That’s significant.

When the New Testament was printed in 1516, it simply turned the world upside down. And I should just pause here and say if you want to read one of the best biographies that I’ve ever read, read David Daniell’s biography of William Tyndale to learn about that era and the heroism, and sacrifice, and reformation that this printing took so that anybody could read it — not just a few monks tucked away making faithful copies, but anybody who took the time could have it in their hands. It simply turned the world upside down in 1516 and beyond.

But for 1,500 years, it came down to us in handwritten form. We do not have the original manuscript of any of the New Testament books; that is, the very piece of parchment or paper that John or Paul or Matthew or Mark or Luke wrote on. We don’t have that piece of paper. Everything we have is copies, and the question is: Did they get it right? Were they faithful with it? And frankly, I think it’s probably just as well that we don’t have those originals because we’d make idols out of them and charge money probably for people to come worship at the shrine of the original manuscript of the apostle Paul. So the books of the New Testament are all preserved by these faithful, hardworking scribes and copyists for all those centuries.

Let me describe those manuscripts to you and give you some amazing facts. There are four ways that those manuscripts appear. One is a group called uncials, which are capital letters in the Greek. These are very old manuscripts. The next group is minuscules, and they’re little Greek letters. So some were written in all caps and some were written in little letters, and then there’s a group called papyri. These are the oldest fragments, written on papyrus, which was a plant common along the Nile in Egypt. The other group is lectionaries, which are collections of text used in public worship, not in the order they were written necessarily, but it lays out what you read on a particular Sunday.

Now, here’s what’s simply amazing: The abundance of those manuscripts in those four different forms is so startling compared to the oldest manuscripts of any other writing coming from the first century. It’s simply breathtaking. Caesar’s Gallic Wars was written about 50 BC. It has ten surviving manuscripts in the language in which it was written, and all of them date from AD 900 and after. Livy’s History of Rome has twenty surviving manuscripts, which are all late. Two manuscripts survive of Tacitus’s Histories and Annals, written about AD 100. There are only two manuscripts and they’re all from the AD ninth and eleventh century. Eight manuscripts exist for Thucydides’s history, which was written around 400 BC.

So, typically when you’re a historian working with manuscripts that come from the period that we’re talking about — the very early first century or so — you have up to twenty manuscripts to work with, and they’re all from the ninth and tenth century, not earlier. And virtually all those historians working in universities around the world are confident they’re interpreting Caesar, Thucydides, and Tacitus.

Compare the numbers of the manuscripts that we have of the New Testament. And these numbers all come from the main think tank called the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany, who have the data all collated. These manuscripts exist in libraries around the world, but of course they’ve been digitized now. And the numbers of these are plain for everybody to see. There are 322 of the uncial texts, there are 2,907 miniscule texts, there are 2,445 lectionary portions, and there are 127 papyri, adding up to about 5,801 manuscripts or fragments. They’re not all complete New Testaments, but they are either whole or fragments of the New Testament. So these handwritten copies of the New Testament are in existence today and now are visible to the scholars who want to work with them to try to discern what the original words were that the biblical authors wrote.

Now, as you can imagine, the copying of those texts produced variations for all kinds of human reasons. So the multiplicity of the numbers of manuscripts increases the problem of variations, and also increases the powers of control by which we can assess which are the most original. The more you have, the more you can test which were the original ones. If we only had two manuscripts of the Gospel of John and one of them included the story about the woman caught in adultery, and one of them omitted it, and they’re both old, what would we do? It would be very difficult to decide.

That’s not the situation with any text in the Bible. The variations are many, but we have hundreds of texts. So we can say, “Here it is in these, but here — the number of these texts, the antiquity of these texts, the geographical distribution of these texts — it makes it crystal clear: that’s the original right there.” The number of manuscripts, while creating more variations, also creates the very control that scholars are able to use in order to decide which is original.

Here’s the way F.F. Bruce from a generation ago put it. He wrote this in 1943:

If the great number of manuscripts increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is . . . in truth remarkably small. (The New Testament Documents, 19)

What’s most significant for the reliability and the authority of the New Testament is that the variations that remain, that we still wonder about, do not affect any biblical doctrine. Here’s the way Bruce puts it: “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affects no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (The New Testament Documents, 20).

Now, nothing in the last seventy years or so since he wrote that has changed, in my judgment, except the fact that some very popular teachers, especially Bart Erhman, have become renowned for calling the New Testament into question precisely on the basis of textual criticism issues.

On the other hand, Paul Wegner, writing in 2006, reaffirms Bruce’s judgment: “It is important to keep in perspective the fact that only a very small part of the text is in question… Of these, most variants make little difference to the meaning of any passage.” And then he closes his book with this quote from Fredric Kenyon: “It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable word of God” (A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible, 301).

I agree with Don Carson and the others that the story of the woman caught in adultery was not in the Gospel of John when he wrote it. When I say that, I don’t at all mean for you to respond, “Oh, everything then is up for grabs,” or “How can I count on any text?”

On the contrary, you and I should be very thankful that in God’s sovereign providence over the centuries, these thousands and thousands of manuscripts are so abundant today — that in the science of textual criticism, as they are compared one with the other, there is a high degree of certainty that we have the original wording. And where there isn’t a degree of certainty, it affects no doctrine of the Christian faith.


[From an article written by John Piper and published by THE WESTERN JOURNAL]

(John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as WorshipA version of this article previously appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline, “Isn’t the Bible Full of Errors?”)




As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis




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An Easter message right from the heart…

This little post is going to be politically incorrect, but eternally very correct.  Hope you’ll keep reading.

You have probably heard the expression in one context or another referring to “a leap of faith.”  What that usually means is that when all else fails, try faith rather than reason or logic.

The wonderful thing about God, however, is that He never asks us to take a leap of faith.

God tells us in the Bible, “Come, let us reason together.”  God wants us to find Him, know Him, and rely on Him.  But He gives us tremendous assistance toward that goal.  And He tells us to rely on what we see and what we experience.

We read in the book of Romans, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)  In other words, the world around us tells us every day in very clear terms that God as Creator is behind all that we see and sense.  The universe is an extremely orderly place, and all that order cannot have come from a random and chaotic beginning.  Many astrophysicists and astronomers, in fact, come to faith in God simply because they have no other way of explaining all that confronts them as they explore the heavens.

Consider the Bible itself.  It was written by about forty human authors over a period of perhaps 1500 to 2000 years; many of those Bible writers claimed to be hearing directly from God in what they wrote.  More than that, the Bible says that in its entirety it was inspired by God (the word in Greek means “God-breathed”).  It was accurately and faithfully copied by hand by Jewish scribes over and over again so that today we know beyond a doubt that what we read in English is exactly what was originally written or expressed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Further, there are literally thousands of copies of Biblical books which can confirm this; many secular historical writings have a mere handful of copies, or fewer, to verify what we read today.  There are more faithful copies of Biblical texts in existence today than there are copies of any other written work.

History confirms the Bible.  Archeology confirms the Bible.  Creation confirms the Bible.  Science confirms it.  Even human experience confirms it.  Prophecy also confirms it, and for many people is the most convincing argument of all for the truth of the Bible.

Give yourself this Easter to some serious consideration of your eternal future.  The Bible is very clear, and we all get the same two choices: either a hopeless end or endless hope.

Make this a truly blessed Resurrection Day by embracing the truth of the Bible and coming to accept the gift of eternal life provided for you by the Savior, Jesus!


As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis





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