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God's Word - Do the Manuscripts that We Have Accurately Reflect the Originals?

Written By Wade Mobley on 01/21/2014 | Posted in Christian HistoryDaily Christian Thinking

God's Word is a core value - arguably the primary core value - of Living Word Free Lutheran Church. We state it like this:

"Trusting in the Holy Bible as the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God, preserved for us by the Holy Spirit for our salvation and instruction."

We believe, teach and confess that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is breathed out by God (inspired), without error (inerrant) and unable to fail in any of its teachings (infallible).

Such a broad claim needs some substantiation, and leads us to consideration of original manuscripts. The first (and most obvious) consideration is that we don't have them. This is less concerning than you may think, for we do not have the "autographs" of ANY ancient document. Further, if we DID have those autographs, how would we KNOW that we had the autographs? I'm guessing that "This here is the original manuscript of Romans" would draw some suspicion, would it not? And perhaps - this is just a thought - NOT having the originals may be somewhat helpful. Can you imagine the temptation toward idolatry we would experience if we had them? So we ask:

Do the manuscripts that we have accurately reflect the originals? (Transmission)

Others have written on this, in spades, so I won't rewrite it. I will, though, give you three specific resources (all of which are available from your favorite bookseller), four specific links, and one specific thought.

I'll start with the thought: When it comes to manuscript evidence, we should look at the Bible like any other work of antiquity. The pertinent questions are "how many manuscripts do we have" and "how close (in accuracy and age) are those manuscripts to the originals?" My brief contribution will compare the manuscript evidence for the New Testament to that of Homer's Iliad (c. 760BC), a pillar of classical education for centuries.

The New Testament v. The Iliad

  • How many manuscripts? 24,000 vs. 643
  • How close are the earliest manuscripts to the time of writing? 15 years vs. 500 years
  • Number of discrepancies- regardless of size- in those manuscripts? 300-400,000 vs. not even remotely close to that number.
  • The New Testament has 40 times more manuscripts existing than the Iliad.
  • The earliest New Testament manuscripts are over 3300% closer to the actual events than the Iliad.

Yet critics doubt the New Testament in ways they would never doubt the Iliad. To an extent that is understandable- Homer made no claims to speak as God. I get it. But that is content- not manuscript- evaluation.

The one area where the New Testament does not (at first blush) fare well is in the number of discrepancies between manuscripts. Skeptic and textual critic Bart Ehrman, in his book "Misquoting Jesus," estimates that there are between 300-400 THOUSAND variants in the New Testament manuscripts. That means 3-4 variants for every word of the New Testament. Really all this is saying is that we have a lot of manuscripts, which is a good thing, right?

Not every scabbard thus rattled contains a sword. Enjoy!

The links:

The books, all of which have some of their content online:

  • Surprised by Faith, Don Bierle
  • Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace
  • A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell

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Thankful to the Living God for life, redemption and His many blessings. Doing my best to reflect His character in all I do.

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