How Can We Believe Inerrancy of Scripture In the Originals When We Don’t Have the Original?

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 160 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

For the conservative Evangelical Christian, one of their foundational doctrines is “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”[1]

How is this even possible for Christians to hold such an absolute view as absolute inerrancy when we do not have the original documents? Really, how could any reasonable, rational, logical person have such a view as Inerrancy of Scripture because we do not have the originals and so how could you ever prove that your statement is true? Moreover, only the original autographs published by the Bible authors themselves at absolutely inerrant. No copy or any translation is inerrant. The following statements below are common ways the Agnostic, atheist, Bible critic, and skeptic make just this argument.


First, the original manuscripts are not accessible today. If the scriptures derive their authority from their inspiration and inerrancy, then only the original manuscripts carry any authority, for the copies we have now are neither inspired nor inerrant. This forces the conclusion that every Bible-believing Christian places his faith in an authority that doesn’t exist.[2]

It has been frequently pointed out that if God thought errorless Scripture important enough to inspire its composition, he would surely also have further inspired its copying, so that it might remain error free. Surely a God who can inspire error-free composition could also inspire error-free copying. Since he did not, it would appear he did not think our possession of error-free Scripture very important. But if it is not important for us, why was it important originally?[3]

Presumably if we could ever recover the original manuscript of a NT book it would be very close to what its author intended. Even here, however, the text might not be completely correct. If the author had written it himself, he could have made mistakes; if he had dictated it to a scribe, the latter could have made mistakes.[4]

What does all this mean? The Agnostic, atheist, and Bible critics and skeptics, in general, believe that this kind of argument is their advantage over the Christian’s belief in absolute inerrancy of Scripture.


There are, unfortunately, fierce critics who reject any claims of veracity for these early manuscripts. Former evangelical Christian, now agnostic New Testament Bible scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrman writes,

Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.[5] (Bold mine)

As we read these remarks, it is easy to get a sense of hopelessness because “all feels lost, for there is certainly no way to get back to the originals.” Correct? Ehrman has had a long history of creating hopelessness for his readers, as he carries on his alleged truth quest. He asserts that even in the very few numbers of places that we might be sure about the wording, we cannot be certain about the meaning.

Blinded by Misguided Perceptions

Ehrman clearly has been immensely impacted by the fact that we do not have the originals or immediate copies. Here we have a world-renowned textual and historian of early Christianity who is emphasizing that we do not have the originals nor the direct copies, and since there are so many copyist errors, it is virtually impossible to get back to the Word of God at all. Even if by some stroke of fortune, we could, we cannot know the meaning with assurance. Ehrman is saying to the lay reader: we can no longer trust the text of the Greek New Testament as the Word of God. If so, we would have to conclude that all translations are untrustworthy as well.

Ehrman has exaggerated the negative to his readers to the detriment of the positive in New Testament textual criticism. Mark Minnick assesses the latter nicely: “Doesn’t the existence of these variants undermine our confidence that we have the very words of God inspired? No! The fact is that because we know of them and are careful to preserve the readings of every one of them, not one word of God’s word has been lost to us.”[6] The wealth of manuscripts that we have for establishing the original Greek New Testament is overwhelming, in comparison to other ancient literature. We can only wonder what Ehrman does with an ancient piece of literature that has only one copy, and that copy is hundreds or even over a thousand years removed from the time of the original.

Consider a few examples. Before beginning, it should be noted that some of the classical authors are centuries, some are many centuries before the first century New Testament era, which is a somewhat unfair comparison. See the chart below.[7]

The New Testament Compared to Classical Literature

Author Work Writing Completed Earliest


Years Removed Number of MSS
Homer Iliad 800 B.C.E. 3rd century B.C.E.[8] 500 1,757
Herodotus History 480–425 B.C.E. 10th cent. C.E. 1,350 109
Sophocles Plays 496–406 B.C.E. 3rd cent. B.C.E.[9] 100-200 193
Thucydides History 460–400 B.C.E. 3rd cent. B.C.E.[10] 200 96
Plato Tetralogies 400 B.C.E. 895 C.E. 1,300 210
Demosthenes Speeches 300 B.C.E.


Fragments from 1st cent. B.C.E. 200 340
Caesar Gallic Wars 51-46 B.C.E. 9th cent. C.E. 950 251
Livy History of Rome 59 B.C.E.–17 C.E. 5th cent. C.E. 400 150
Tacitus Annals 100 C.E. 9th-11th cent. C.E. 750–950 33
Pliny, the Elder Natural History 49–79 C.E. 5th cent. C.E. fragment 400 200
Eight Greek NT Authors 27 Books 50 – 98 C.E. 110-125 C.E. 12-27 5,898

The Greek New Testament evidence, as we’ve mentioned previously, is over 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts (140 papyri, 323 majuscules, 2,951 minuscules, and 2,484 lectionaries)[11] that have been cataloged,[12] over 9,284 versions, and over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, not to mention an innumerable amount of church fathers’ quotations. This places the Greek New Testament in a class by itself, because no other ancient document is close to this. However, there is even more. There are 60 Greek papyri, along with five majuscules manuscripts that date to the second and third centuries C.E. Moreover, these early papyri manuscripts are from a region in Egypt that appreciated books as literature, and were copied by semi-professional and professional scribes, or at least highly skilled copyists. This region produced what are known as the most accurate and trusted manuscripts.


Were the Scribes in the Early Centuries Amateurs?

We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. As I have indicated, the examples are not just in the hundreds but in the thousands. The examples given are enough to convey the general point, however: there are lots of differences among our manuscripts, differences created by scribes who were reproducing their sacred texts. In the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs and as such were more inclined to alter the texts they copied—or more prone to alter them accidentally—than were scribes in the later periods who, starting in the fourth century, began to be professionals.[13] [Bold mine]

Let us take just a moment to discuss Ehrman’s statement, “in the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs….” In this book, we established just the opposite. Literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being done by professionals. As it happened, the few poorly copied manuscripts became known first, establishing a precedent that was difficult for some to discard when the truckload of evidence came forth that showed just the opposite. (P. Comfort 2005, 18-19)

Ehrman is misrepresenting the situation to his readers when he states, “We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.” The way this is worded, he is saying that we do not have copies that are three or four generations removed from the originals. Ehrman cannot know this because we have 18 copies that are 20 to 150 years removed from the death of the apostle John in 100 C.E. There is the possibility that any of these could be only third or fourth generation removed copies. Furthermore, they could have been copied from a second or third generation. Therefore, Ehrman is misstating the evidence.


Let us do another short review of two very important manuscripts: P75 and Vaticanus 1209 (B). P75 is also known as Bodmer 14, 15. As has already been stated, papyrus is writing material used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans that was made from the pith of the stem of a water plant. These are the earliest witnesses to the Greek New Testament. P75 contains most of Luke and John, dating from 175 C.E. to 225 C.E Vaticanus is designated internationally by the symbol “B” (and 03) and is known as an uncial manuscript written on parchment. It is dated to the beginning of the fourth-century C.E. [c. 300-325] and originally contained the entire Bible in Greek. At present, Vaticanus’ New Testament is missing parts of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:14 to 13:25), all of First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. Initially, this codex probably had approximately 820 leaves, of which 759 remain.

What kind of weight or evidence do these two manuscripts carry in the eyes of textual scholars? Vaticanus 1209 is a key source for our modern translations. When determining an original reading, this manuscript can stand against other external evidence that would seem to the non-professional to be much more significant. P75 also is one of the weightiest manuscripts that we have and is virtually identical to Vaticanus 1209, which dates 175 to 125 years later than P75. When textual scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort released their critical text in 1881, Hort said that Vaticanus preserved “not only a very ancient text but a very pure line of a very ancient text.” (Westcott and Hort 1882, 251) Later, scholars argued that Vaticanus was a scholarly recension: a critical revision or edited text. However, P75 has vindicated Westcott and Hort because of its virtual identity with Vaticanus; it establishes that Vaticanus is essentially a copy of a second-century text, and likely, a copy of the original text, except for a few minor points.

The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Kurt Aland[14] wrote, “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”[15] David C. Parker[16] says of P75 that “it is extremely important for two reasons: “like Vaticanus, it is carefully copied; it is also very early and is generally dated to a period between 175 and 225. Thus, it pre-dates Vaticanus by at least a century. A careful comparison between P75 and Vaticanus in Luke by C.M. Martini demonstrated that P75 was an earlier copy of the same careful Alexandrian text. It is sometimes called proto-Alexandrian. It is our earliest example of a controlled text, one which was not intentionally or extensively changed in successive copying. Its discovery and study have provided proof that the Alexandrian text had already come into existence in the third century.” (Parker 1997, 61) Let us look at the remarks of a few more textual scholars: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace.

Even some of the early manuscripts show compelling evidence of being copies of a much earlier source. Consider again Codex Vaticanus, whose text is very much like that of P75 (B and P75 are much closer to each other than B is to [Codex Sinaiticus]). Yet the papyrus is at least a century older than Vaticanus. When P75 was discovered in the 1950s, some entertained the possibility that Vaticanus could have been a copy of P75, but this view is no longer acceptable since the wording of Vaticanus is certainly more primitive than that of P75 in several places.’ They both must go back to a still earlier common ancestor, probably one that is from the early second century.[17]

Comfort comments on how we can know that Vaticanus is not a copy of P75: “As was previously noted, Calvin Porter clearly established the fact that P75 displays the kind of text that was used in making codex Vaticanus. However, it is unlikely that the scribe of B used P75 as his exemplar because the scribe of B copied from a manuscript whose line length was 12–14 letters per line. We know this because when the scribe of Codex Vaticanus made large omissions, they were typically 12–14 letters long.[18] The average line length for P75 is about 29–32 letters per line. Therefore, the scribe of B must have used a manuscript like P75, but not P75 itself.”[19]

Ehrman suggests that the early Christians were not concerned about the integrity of the text, its preservation of accuracy. Let us consult the second-century evidence by way of Tertullian.[20]

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones[21] of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places,[22] in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.[23] (Bold mine)

What did Tertullian mean by “authentic writings”? If he was referring to the Greek originals–and it seems that he was, according to the Latin–it is an indication that some of the original New Testament books were still in existence at the time of his penning this work. However, let us say that it is simply referring to well-preserved copies. In any case, this shows that the Christians valued the preservation of accuracy.

We need to visit an earlier book by Ehrman for a moment, Lost Christianities, in which he writes, “In this process of recopying the document by hand, what happened to the original of 1 Thessalonians? For some unknown reason, it was eventually thrown away, burned, or otherwise destroyed. Possibly, it was read so much that it simply wore out. The early Christians saw no need to preserve it as the `original’ text. They had copies of the letter. Why keep the original?” (B. D. Ehrman 2003, 217)

Here Ehrman is arguing from silence. We cannot read the minds of people today, let alone read the minds of persons 2,000 years in the past. It is a known fact that congregations valued Paul’s letters, and Paul exhorted them to share the letters with differing congregations. Paul wrote to the Colossians, and in what we know as 4:16, he said, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” The best way to facilitate this would be to send someone to a congregation, have them copy the letter and bring it back to their home congregation. On the other hand, someone could make copies of the letter in the congregation that received it and deliver it to interested congregations. In 1 Thessalonians, the congregation that Ehrman is talking about here, at chapter five, verse 27, Paul says, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” What did Paul mean by “all the brothers”? It could be that he meant it to be used like a circuit letter, circulated to other congregations, giving everyone a chance to hear the counsel. It may merely be that, with literacy being so low, Paul wanted a guarantee that all were going to get to hear the letter’s contents, and he simply meant for every brother and sister locally to have a chance to hear it in the congregation. Regardless, even if we accept the latter, the stress that was put on the reading of this letter shows the weight that these people were placed under concerning Paul’s letters.[24] In addition, Comfort comments on how Paul and others would view apostolic letters:

Paul knew the importance of authorized apostolic letters, for he saw the authority behind the letter that came from the first Jerusalem church council. The first epistle from the church leaders who had assembled at Jerusalem was the prototype for subsequent epistles (see Acts 15). It was authoritative because it was apostolic, and it was received as God’s word. If an epistle came from an apostle (or apostles), it was to be received as having the imprimatur [approval/authority] of the Lord. This is why Paul wanted the churches to receive his word as being the word of the Lord. This is made explicit in 1 Thessalonians (2:13), an epistle he insisted had to be read to all the believers in the church (5:27). In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul indicated that his epistles carry the same authority as his preaching (see 2:15). Paul also told his audience that if they would read what he had written, they would be able to understand the mystery of Christ, which had been revealed to him (see Eph. 3:1–6). Because Paul explained the mystery in his writings (in this case, the encyclical epistle known as “Ephesians”), he urged other churches to read this encyclical (see Col. 4:16). In so doing, Paul himself encouraged the circulation of his writings. Peter and John also had publishing plans. Peter’s first epistle, written to a wide audience (the Christian diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia—see 1 Pet. 1:1), was a published work, which must have been produced in several copies from the onset, to reach his larger, intended audience. John’s first epistle was also published and circulated—probably to all the churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor. First John is not any kind of occasional epistle; it is more like a treatise akin to Romans and Ephesians in that it contains John’s full explanation of the Christian life and doctrine as a model for all orthodox believers to emulate. The book of Revelation, which begins with seven epistles to seven churches in this same province, must have also been inititally published in seven copies, as the book circulated from one locality to the next, by the seven “messengers” (Greek anggeloi—not “angels” in this context). By contrast, the personal letters (Philemon, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 John, 3 John) were not originally “published”; therefore, their circulation was small. Second Peter also had minimal circulation in the early days of the church. Because of its popularity, the book of Hebrews seemed to have enjoyed wide circulation—this was promoted by the fact that most Christians in the East thought it was the work of Paul and therefore was included in Pauline collections (see discussion below). The book of Acts was originally published by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel (see Acts 1:1–2). Unfortunately, in due course, this book got detached from Luke when the Gospel of Luke was placed in one-volume codices along with the other Gospels.[25]

Peter, as we have seen, also had this to say about Paul’s letters: “there are some things in them [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet 3:16) Peter viewed Paul’s letters as being on the same level as the Old Testament, which was referred to as Scripture. In the second century (about 135 C.E.), Papias, an elder of the early congregation in Hierapolis, made the following comment.

I will not hesitate to set down for you, along with my interpretations, everything I carefully learned then from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. In addition, if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders–what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and abiding voice.[26]

As an elder in the congregation at Hierapolis, in Asia Minor, Papias was an unrelenting researcher, as well as a thorough compiler of information; he exhibited great indebtedness for the Scriptures. Papias determined properly that any doctrinal statement of Jesus Christ or his apostles would be far more appreciated and respected to explain than the unreliable statements found in the written works of his day. We can compare Jude 1:17, where Jude urges his readers to preserve the words of the apostles.

Therefore, the notion that the “early Christians saw no need to preserve it as the ‘original’ text” is far too difficult to accept when we consider the above. Moreover, imagine a church in middle America being visited by Billy Graham. Now imagine that he wrote them a warm letter, but one also filled with some stern counsel. Would there be little interest in the preservation of those words? Would they not want to share it with others? Would other churches not be interested in it? The same would have been even truer of early Christianity receiving a letter from an apostle like Peter, John, or Paul. There is no doubt that the “original” wore out eventually. However, they lived in a society that valued the preservation of the apostle’s words, and it is far more likely that it was copied with care, to share with others, and to preserve. Moreover, let us acknowledge that their imperfections took over as well. Paul would have become a famous apostle who wrote a few churches, and there were thousands of churches toward the end of the first century. Would they have not exhibited some pride in the fact that they received a letter from the famous apostle Paul, who was martyred for the truth? Ehrman’s suggestions are reaching and contrary to human nature.

However, Ehrman may not have entirely dismissed the idea of getting back to the original if he agreed with Metzger in their coauthored fourth edition of The Text of the New Testament. Metzger’s original comments from previous editions are repeated there as follows.

Besides textual evidence derived from New Testament Greek manuscripts and from early versions, the textual critic compares numerous scriptural quotations used in commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early church fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.[27]

How are we to view the patristic citations? Let us look at another book for which Ehrman was coeditor and a contributor with other textual scholars: The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research (1995). The following is from Chapter 12, written by Gordon Fee (The Use of the Greek Fathers for New Testament Textual Criticism).

In NT textual criticism, patristic citations are ordinarily viewed as the third line of evidence, indirect and supplementary to the Greek MSS, and are often therefore treated as of tertiary importance. When properly evaluated, however, patristic evidence is of primary importance, for both of the major tasks of NT textual criticism: in contrast to the early Greek MSS, the Fathers have the potential of offering datable and geographically certain evidence. (B. D. Ehrman 1995, 191)

To conclude, we have established that Ehrman has painted a picture that is not quite the truth of the matter for the average churchgoer while saying something entirely different for textual scholars. Moreover, he does not help the reader to appreciate just how close the New Testament manuscript evidence is to the time of the original writings, in comparison to manuscripts of other ancient works, many of which are few in number and hundreds, if not a thousand years removed.

In addition, Ehrman has exaggerated the variants in the Greek New Testament manuscripts by not qualifying the level of variants. In other words, he has not explained how he counts them to obtain such high numbers. Moreover, Ehrman’s unqualified statement, “in the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs,” has been discredited as well. Either literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of the early papyri, with some being done by professionals.

Textual scholar Philip W. Comfort[28] and others believe that the very early Alexandrian manuscripts that we now possess are a reflection of what would have been found throughout the whole of the Greco-Roman Empire about 125–300 C.E. If we were to discover other early manuscripts from Antioch, Constantinople, Carthage, or Rome, they would be very similar to the early Alexandrian manuscripts. This means that these early manuscripts are a primary means of establishing the original text, and we are in a far better position today than were Westcott and Hort in 1881. Even still, there is a 99.5% agreement between the Westcott and Hort critical text and the 2012 Nestle-Aland 28th edition critical text. This certainly emphasizes what a tremendous job that Westcott and Hort had done when we consider all the early second and third century New Testament papyri that were discovered in the 20th century, and yet so few changes.

How do we know that the critical text NA28 and the UBS5 are reliable? In 1989, Eldon J. Epp noted that the papyri have added virtually no new substantial variants to the variants already known from our later manuscripts.[29] Even with the discovery of many other papyri over the last 25 years, the situation has remained the same. It can be said that after 135 years of early manuscript discoveries since Westcott and Hort of 1881, the above critical editions of the Greek New Testament have gone virtually unchanged. (Hill and Kruger 2012, 5) Hill and Kruger go on to say, “It also means that the fourth-century ‘best texts,’ the ‘Alexandrian’ codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, have roots extending throughout the entire third century and even into the second.” (p. 6)

The most reliable of the earliest texts are P1, P4, 64, 67, P23, P27, P30, P32, P35, P39, P49, 65, P70, P75, P86, P87, P90, P91, P100, P101, P106, P108, P111, P114, and P115. The copyists of these manuscripts allowed very few variants in their copies of the exemplars.[30] They had the ability to make accurate judgments as they went about their copying, resulting in superior texts. Whether their skills in copying were a result of their belief that they were copying a sacred text, or from their training, cannot be known. It could have been a combination of both. These papyri are of great importance when considering textual problems and are considered by many textual scholars to be a good representation of the original wording of the text that was first published by the biblical author. Still, “many of these manuscripts contain singular readings and some ‘Alexandrian’ polishing, which needs to be sifted out.” (P. Comfort 2005, 269) Nevertheless, again, they are the best texts and the most faithful in preserving the original. While it is true that some of the papyri are mere fragments, some contain substantial portions of text. We should note too that text types really did not exist per se in the second century, and it is a mere convention to refer to the papyri as Alexandrian, since the best Alexandrian manuscript, Vaticanus, did exist in the second century by way of P75.[31] It is not that the Alexandrian text existed, but rather P75/Vaticanus evidence that some very strict copying with great care was taking place.[32]


Why Do We Not Need the Original Manuscripts to Believe In Inerrancy of Scripture?

Between 3,500 years ago and 2,460 years ago some 32+ authors penned 39 books in the Middle East, compiling a history of the world from its creation, to the flood of Noah, the confusing of the languages at Babylon, Abraham entering Canaan, to the formation of the Israelite nation, to the rise and fall of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian Empires. These 39 books became the most important collection of literature that the world has ever known. They would soon be joined by another 27 books, the second most important collection that was written some 2,000 years ago, covering the birth of the Roman Empire and the birth of the Son of God, as well as the birth and foundation of Christianity.

There was something different about this library of sixty-six books that had been penned over a 1600-year period. The authors came from every walk of life from lowly fishermen and shepherds to a military general, a physician, a tax collector, kings, and the like. These 40+ men were moved along by the Holy Spirit so that what they produced was not theirs alone but belong to one author, the Creator of all things, God himself. This means that these sixty-six books possessed perfect content (fully inerrant/infallible) with no errors, mistakes, contradictions. We still have translations of these writings today that can be read by almost everyone on earth. However, a question arises because the copyists who were making copies for thousands of years were not moved along by the Holy Spirit. We do not have the original manuscripts. We know that the thousands upon thousands of original language manuscripts (Hebrew OT/Greek NT) and the versions all read differently, as there are hundreds of thousands of scribal errors. How can we be certain that what we have in our Bible translations is really an accurate translation of what the authors originally wrote?

How Our Bible Manuscripts Survived the Elements

One may wonder why more Old and New Testament manuscripts have not survived. Really, the better question would be how come so many of our Bible manuscripts survived in comparison to secular ancient manuscripts? The primary materials used to receive writing in ancient times were perishable papyrus and parchment. It must be remembered that the Christians suffered intense persecution during intervals in the first 300 years from Pentecost 33 C.E. With this persecution from the Roman Empire came many orders to destroy Christian texts. In addition, these texts were not stored in such a way as to secure their preservation; they were actively used by the Christians in the congregation and were subject to wear and tear. Furthermore, moisture is the enemy of papyrus, and it causes them to disintegrate over time. This is why, as we will discover, the papyrus manuscripts that have survived have come from the dry sands of Egypt. Moreover, it seems not to have entered the minds of the early Christians to preserve their documents, because their solution to the loss of manuscripts was just to make more copies. Fortunately, the process of making copies transitioned to the more durable animal skins, which would last much longer. Those that have survived, especially from the fourth century C.E. and earlier, are the path to restoring the original Greek New Testament.[33]

Both papyrus and parchment jeopardized the survival of the Bible because they were perishable materials. Papyrus, the weakest of the two, can tear and discolor. Because of moist climates, a sheet of papyrus can decay to the point where it is nothing more than a handful of dust. We must remember papyrus is a plant and when the scroll has been stored, it can grow mold and it can rot from dampness. It can even be eaten by starving rodents or also insects, especially white ants (i.e., termites) when it has been buried. When some of the manuscripts were first discovered early on, they were exposed to excessive light and humidity, which hastened their deterioration.

While parchment is far more durable than papyrus, it will also perish in time if mishandled or exposed to the elements (temperature, humidity, and light) over time.[34] Parchment is made from animal skin, so it too is also a victim of insects. Hence, when it comes to ancient records, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East states, “survival is the exception rather than the rule.” (R. S. Bagnall 2009, 140) Think about it for a moment; the Bible and its special revelation could have died from decay in the elements.

The Mosaic Law commanded every future king, “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” (Deuteronomy 17:18) Moreover, the professional copyist of the Hebrew Old Testament made so many manuscripts, by the time of Jesus and the apostles, throughout all of Israel and even into distant Macedonia, there were many copies of the Scriptures in the synagogues (Luke 4:16, 17; Acts 17:11) How did our Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament survive the elements to the point where there are far more of them than any other ancient document. For example, there are 5,830+ New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek alone.

New Testament scholar Philip W. Comfort writes, “Jews were known to put scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars in order to preserve them. The Dead Sea scrolls found in jars in the Qumran caves are a celebrated example of this. The Beatty Papyri were very likely a part of a Christian library, which was hidden in jars to be preserved from confiscation during the Diocletian persecution.”[35] Christianity were initially made up Jewish Christians only for the first seven years (29-36 C.E.), with Cornelius being the first Gentile baptized in 36 C.E. Much of early Christianity (33-350 C.E.) was made up of Jewish Christians, who evidently carried over the tradition of putting “scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars in order to preserve them.” It is for this reason that some of our earliest Bible manuscripts have been discovered in unusually dry regions, in clay jars and even dark closets and caves.

Young Christians

Manuscripts Saved from Egyptian Garbage Heaps

Beginning in 1778 and continuing to the end of the 19th century, many papyrus texts were accidentally discovered in Egypt that dated from 300 B.C.E. to 500 C.E., almost 500 thousand documents in all. About 130 years ago, there began a systematic search. At that time, a continuous flow of ancient texts was being found by the native fellahin, and the Egypt Exploration Society, a British non-profit organization, founded in 1882, realized that they needed to send out an expedition team before it was too late. They sent two Oxford scholars, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, who received permission to search the area south of the farming region in the Faiyūm district. Grenfell chose a site called Behnesa because of its ancient Greek name, Oxyrhynchus. A search of the graveyards and the ruined houses produced nothing. The only place left to search was the town’s garbage dumps, which were some 30 feet [9 m] high. It seems to Grenfell and Hunt that all was lost, but they decided to try.

In January 1897, a trial trench (excavation or depression in the ground) was dug, and it only took a few hours before ancient papyrus materials were found. These included letters, contracts, and official documents. The sand had blown over them, covering them, and for nearly 2,000 years, the dry climate had served as a protection for them.

It took only a mere three months to pull out and recover almost two tons of papyri from Oxyrhynchus. They shipped twenty-five large cases back to England. Over the next ten years, these two courageous scholars returned each and every winter, to grow their collection. They discovered ancient classical writing, along with royal ordinances and contracts mixed in with business accounts private letters, shipping lists, as well as fragments of many New Testament manuscripts.

Of what benefit were all these documents? Foremost, the bulk of these documents were written by ordinary people in Koine (common) Greek of the day. Many of the words that would be used in the marketplace, not by the elites appeared in the Greek New Testament Scriptures, which woke scholars up to the fact that Biblical Greek was not some special Greek, but instead, it was the ordinary language of the common people, the man on the street. Thus, by comparing how the words had been used in these papyri, a clearer understanding of Biblical Greek emerged. As of the time of this writing, less than ten percent of these papyri have been published and studied. Most of the papyri were found in the top 10 feet 93 m] of the garbage heap because the other 20 feet [6 m] had been ruined by water from a nearby canal. If we look at it simply, this would mean that the 500 thousand documents found could have been two million in total. Then, we must ponder just how many documents must have come through Oxyrhynchus that were never discarded in the dumps. We have almost a half million papyrus documents (likely there were millions more that did not survive) in garbage dumps in the dry sands of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.

The end result is that the New Testament has been preserved in over 5,898 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, as well as some 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages, which include Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. Some of these are well over 2,000 years old.

The Hebrew Scriptures ended up in the hands of the Masoretes scribe-scholars (‘preservers of tradition’) who worked between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E., based primarily in early medieval Palestine in the cities of Tiberias and Jerusalem. The Masoretes have not been adequately appreciated for their accomplishments. These nameless scribes copied the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures with meticulous and loving care. As for the early Christian copyists of the New Testament, either literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of the early papyri, with some being done by professionals.

It is true that the Jewish copyists, as well as the later Christian copyists, were not led along by the Holy Spirit, and therefore their manuscripts were not inerrant, infallible. Errors (textual variants) crept into the manuscripts unintentionally and intentionally. However, the vast majority of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament has not been infected with textual errors. For the portions impacted with textual errors, it is the many tens of thousands of copies that we have to help us to weed out the errors. How? Well, not every copyist made the same textual errors. Hence, by comparing the work of different copyists and different manuscripts, textual scholars, we can identify the textual variants (errors), remove those, which leaves us with the original content.

Yes, it would be the greatest discovery of all time if we found the actual original five books that were penned by Moses himself, Genesis through Deuteronomy. However, first, there would be no way of establishing that they were the originals. Second, truth be told, we do not need the originals. We do not need those original documents. What is so important about the documents? Nothing, it is the content on the original documents that we are after. And truly miraculously, we have more copies than needed to do just that. We do not need miraculous preservation because we have miraculous restoration. We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament critical texts are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.

Why Would the Holy Spirit Miraculously Inspire 66 Fully Inerrant Texts and Then Allow Human Imperfection in the Copies?

Agnostic New Testament textual and early Christianity scholar Dr. Bart   D. Ehrman states, “For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.” Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 211.

New Testament textual scholar Dr. Dirk Jongkind offers a brief response, “God chose not to give us exhaustive knowledge of every detail of the text, though he could have done so. Still, he has given us abundant access to his words. In other words, to say that God inspired the words of the New Testament does not mean that God is therefore under an obligation to preserve for us each and every detail.” – An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge, Crossway.

Why didn’t God inspire the copyists? Some have clicked on the link here because this question has plagued them, or some Bible critic has challenged them. Therefore, you are looking for the silver bullet to quench your personal concern, or you want to have a ready, quick response for the Bible critic. Draw comfort in that there are hundreds, if not thousands of great responses to attacks from Bible critics, that will cause them to move onto another. However, there are good reasons, rational responses to some questions that will not be fully answered until the second coming. What lies below is the latter. If you want to skip this introductory material, scroll to where the article question is boldened below. However, we recommend that you get the full picture and read the intro.

Some people have unreceptive hearts and minds, they are Pharisaical, and the Word of God, reason, and logic will not get through their callused hearts. If I teach one thing in my 32 years, it is this, identify these people fast or you will waste much of your life give reasonable, rational responses to then have the person reject it out of hand and move onto something else as though he never brought it up. Mind you, an angry person, a person with doubts is not necessarily a Pharisaical person. There are reasons for some to doubt, there are reasons for some to be angry. If the person is treating you with disdain, mocking, talking down to you, these and other things are indications of a Pharisaical attitude. The answer is below within the full context of the issue.

Christian Bible students need to be familiar with Old and New Testament textual criticism as two of the most essential foundational studies. Why? If we fail to establish what was originally authored with reasonable certainty, how are we to do a translation, or even to interpret what we think is the actual Word of God? We are fortunate in that there are far more existing New Testament manuscripts today than any other book from ancient history. This gives New Testament textual scholars vastly more to work within establishing the original words of the text. Some ancient Greek and Latin classics are based on one existing manuscript, while with others, there are just a handful and a few exceptions that have a few hundred available. However, for the New Testament over 5,898 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been cataloged (As of January 2016), 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and an additional 9,300 other manuscripts in such languages as Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian.

The other difference between the New Testament manuscripts and those of the classics is that the existing copies of the New Testament date much closer to the originals. In the case of the Greek classics, some of the manuscripts are dated about a thousand years after the author had penned the book. Some of the Latin classics are dated from three to seven hundred years after the time the author wrote the book. When we look at the Greek copies of the New Testament books, some portions are within decades of the original author’s book. Sixty-two Greek papyri, along with five majuscules[36] date from 110 C.E. to 300 C.E.

Distribution of Greek New Testament Manuscripts

  • The Papyrus is a copy of a portion of the New Testament made on papyrus. At present, we have 140 cataloged New Testament papyri, many dating between 110-350 C.E., but some as late as the 6th century C.E.
  • The Majuscule or Uncial is a script of large letters commonly used in Greek and Latin manuscripts written between the 3rd and 9th centuries C.E. that resembles a modern capital letter but is more rounded. At present, we have 323 cataloged New Testament Majuscule manuscripts.
  • The Minuscule is a small cursive style of writing used in manuscripts from the 9th to the 16th centuries, now having 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts cataloged.
  • The Lectionary is a schedule of readings from the Bible for Christian church services during the year, in both majuscules and minuscules, dating from the 4th to the 16th centuries C.E., now having 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts cataloged.

We should clarify that of the approximate 24,000 total manuscripts of the New Testament, not all are complete books. There are fragmented manuscripts that have just a few verses, but there are manuscripts that contain an entire book, others that include numerous books, and some that have the whole New Testament, or nearly so. This is to be expected since the oldest manuscripts we have were copied in an era when copying the whole New Testament was not the norm, but rather a single book or a group of books (i.e., the Gospels or Paul’s letters). This still does not negate the vast riches of manuscripts that we possess.

What can we conclude from this short introduction to textual criticism? There is some irony here, in that secular scholars have no problem accepting the wording of classic authors, with their minuscule amount of evidence. However, they discount the treasure trove of evidence that is available to the New Testament textual scholar. Still, this should not surprise us as the New Testament has always been under-appreciated and attacked in some way, shape, or form over the past 2,000 years.

On the contrary, in comparison to classical works, we are overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of existing New Testament manuscripts. We should also keep in mind that seventy-five percent[37] of the New Testament does not even require the help of textual criticism because that much of the text is unanimous, and thus, we know what it says. Of the other twenty-five percent, about twenty percent make up trivial scribal mistakes that are easily corrected. Therefore, textual criticism focuses mainly on a small portion of the New Testament text. The facts are clear: the Christian, who reads the New Testament, is fortunate to have so many manuscripts, with so many dating so close to the originals, with 500 hundred years of hundreds of textual scholars who have established the text with a level of certainty unimaginable for ancient secular works.

After discussing the amount of New Testament manuscripts available, Atheist commentator Bob Seidensticker, writes, “The first problem is that more manuscripts at best increase our confidence that we have the original version. That does not mean the original copy was history ….”[38] That is, Seidensticker is forced to acknowledge the reliability of the New Testament text as we have it today and can only try to deny what it says. He also tells us of the New Testament, “Compare that with 2000 copies of the Iliad, the second-best represented manuscript.”[39] Of those 2,000 copies of the Iliad, how far removed are they from the alleged originals? The Iliad is dated to about 1260–1180 B.C.E. The most notable Iliad manuscripts are from the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries C.E. That would make these manuscripts over 2,000 years removed from their original.


The Range of Textual Criticism

The Importance and scope of New Testament textual criticism could be summed up in the few words used by J. Harold Greenlee; it is “the basic biblical study, a prerequisite to all other biblical and theological work. Interpretation, systemization, and application of the teachings of the NT cannot be done until textual criticism has done at least some of its work. It is, therefore, deserving of the acquaintance and attention of every serious student of the Bible.”[40]

It is only reasonable to assume that the original 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books written first-hand by the New Testament authors have not survived. Instead, we only have what we must consider being imperfect copies. Why the Holy Spirit would miraculously inspire 66 fully inerrant texts, and then allow human imperfection into the copies, is not explained for us in Scripture. We do know that imperfect humans have tended to worship relics that traditions hold to have been touched by the miraculous powers of God or to have been in direct contact with one of his special servants of old. Ultimately, though, all we know is that God had his reasons for allowing the Old and New Testament autographs to be worn out by repeated use. From time to time, we hear of the discovery of a fragment possibly dated to the first century, but even if such a fragment is eventually verified, the dating alone can never serve as proof of an autograph; it will still be a copy in all likelihood.

Pondering. If we ask why didn’t God inspire copyists, then, it will have to follow, why didn’t God inspire translators, why didn’t God inspire Bible scholars that author commentaries on the Bible, and so on? If God’s initial purpose was to give us a fully inerrant, authoritative, authentic and accurate Word, why not adequately protect the Scriptures in all facets of transmission from error: copy, translate, and interpret? If God did this, and people were moved along by the Holy Spirit, it would soon become noticeable that when people copy the texts, they would be unable to make an error or mistake or even willfully change something.

Where would it stop? Would this being moved along by the Holy Spirit apply to anyone who decided to make themselves a copy, testing to see if they too would be inspired? In time, this would prove to be actual evidence for God. This would negate the reasons why God has allowed sin, human imperfect to enter into humanity in the first place, to teach them an object lesson, man cannot walk on his own without his Creator. God created perfect humans giving them a perfect start and through the abuse of free will, they rejected his sovereignty. He did not just keep creating perfect humans again and again, as though he got something wrong. God gave us his perfect Word and has again chosen to allow us to continue in our human imperfection, learning our object lesson. God has stepped into humanity many hundreds of times in the Bible record, maybe tens of thousands of times unbeknownst to us over the past 6,000+ years in order to tweak things to get the desired outcome of his will and purposes. However, there is no aspect of life where his stepping in on any particular point was to be continuous until the return of the Son. Maybe God gave us a perfect copy of sixty-six books and then like everything else, he placed the responsibility of copying, translating, and interpreting on us, just as he gave us the Great Commission of proclaiming that Word, explaining that Word, so as to make disciples. – Matthew 24:14;28-19-20; Acts 1:8.


Reflecting. Some Bible critics seem, to begin with, the belief that if the originals were inspired by God and fully inerrant, the subsequent copies must continue to be inerrant in order for the inerrancy of the originals to have value. They seem to be asking, “If only the originals were inspired, and the copies were not inspired, and we do not have the originals, how are we to be certain of any passage in Scripture?” In other words, God would never allow the inspired, inerrant Word to suffer copying errors. Why would he perform the miracle of inspiring the message to be fully inerrant and not continue with the miracle of inspiring the copyists throughout the centuries to keep it inerrant? First, we must acknowledge that God has not given us the specifics of every decision he has made in reference to humans. If we begin asking, “Why did God not do this or do that,” where would it end? For example, why didn’t God just produce the books himself, and miraculously deliver them to people as he gave the commandments to Moses? Instead of using humans, why did he not use angelic messengers to pen the message, or produce the message miraculously? God has chosen not to tell us why he did not move the copyists along with the Holy Spirit, so as to have perfect copies, and it remains an unknown. However, it should be noted that if we can restore the text to its original wording through the art and science of textual criticism, i.e., to an exact representation thereof, we have, in essence, the originals.

As for errors in all the copies, we have, however, we can say is that the vast majority of the Greek text is not affected by errors at all. The errors occur in the form of variant readings, i.e., portions of the text where different manuscripts disagree. Of the small amount of the text that is affected by variant readings, the vast majority of these are minor slips of the pen, misspelled words, etc., or intentional but quickly analyzed changes, and we are certain what the original reading is in these places. A far smaller number of changes present challenges to establishing the original reading. It has always been said and remains true that no major doctrine is affected by a textual problem. Only rarely does a textual issue change the meaning of a verse.[41] Still, establishing the original text wherever there are variant readings is vitally important. Every word matters!

It is true that the Jewish copyists, as well as the later Christian copyists, were not led along by the Holy Spirit and therefore their manuscripts were not inerrant, infallible. Errors (textual variants) crept into the manuscripts unintentionally and intentionally. However, the vast majority of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament has not been infected with textual errors. For the portions impacted with textual errors, it is the many tens of thousands of copies that we have to help us to weed out the errors. How? Well, not every copyist made the same textual errors. Hence, by comparing the work of different copyists and different manuscripts, textual scholars, we can identify the textual variants (errors), remove those, which leaves us with the original content.

Yes, it would be the greatest discovery of all time if we found the actual original five books that were penned by Moses himself, Genesis through Deuteronomy, or the original Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, first, there would be no way of establishing that they were the originals. Second, truth be told, we do not need the originals. We do not need those original documents. What is so important about the documents? Nothing, it is the content on the original documents that we are after. And truly miraculously, we have more copies than needed to do just that. We do not need miraculous preservation because we have miraculous restoration. We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament critical texts are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.




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[1] The Evangelical Theological Society Constitution (Retrieved Monday, August 10, 2020)

[2] Darin M. Weil, Inerrancy and It’s Implications for Authority: Textual Critical Considerations in Formulating an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture, Quodlibet Journal 4.4 (November 2002.

[3] Paul J. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 71–72.

[4] Jack Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts: A Working Introduction to Textual Criticism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 54.

[5] Bart D. Ehrman, MISQUOTING JESUS: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York, NY: Harper One, 2005), 10.

[6] Mark Minnick, “Let’s Meet the Manuscripts,” in From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible, eds. James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor (Greenvill, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999), p. 96.

[7] The concept of this chart is taken from The Bibliographical Test Updated – Christian Research May 04, 2017. However, some adjustments have been made as well as footnotes added.

[8] There are a number of fragments that date to the second century B.C.E. and one to the third century B.C.E., with the rest dating to the ninth century C.E. or later.

[9] Most of the 193 MSS date to the tenth century C.E., with a few fragments dating to the third century B.C.E.

[10] Some papyri fragments date to the third century B.C.E.

[11] Of the 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts cataloged, 83 percent of them date after 1000 C.E., with 17% (889 manuscripts) dating from the second to the tenth century. Between the second to the tenth century we find in whole or in part 365 Gospels, 112 Acts and Catholic Epistles, 158 Epistles of Paul, 33 Revelation, and 313 lectionaries. The Gospel of Mark is the least attested prior to the fourth century, with chapters 2, 3, 10, and 13-16 having no representation at all. The Gospel of Mark is only represented in (P45), but about 78% of the Gospel is missing, and the fragment P137, a codex, written on both sides with text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark; verses 7-9 on the recto side and 16-18 on the verso side. The Gospel of John on the other hand, prior to the fourth century it is very well attested, with only 14 verses not being covered between chapters 16 and 20. The Gospel of John is found in some of the earliest and most significant manuscripts (P45 P66 P75).

[12] While at present here in 2020, there are 5,898 manuscripts. There are 140 listed Papyrus manuscripts, 323 Majuscule manuscripts, 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts, and 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts, bringing the total cataloged manuscripts to 5,898 manuscripts. However, you cannot simply total the number of cataloged manuscripts because, for example, P11/14 are the same manuscript but with different catalog numbers. The same is true of P33/5, P4/64/67, P49/65 and P77/103. Now this alone would bring our 140 listed papyrus manuscripts down to 134. ‘Then, we turn to one example from our majuscule manuscripts where clear 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190, 0191, 0193, 0194, and 0202 are said to be part of 070. A minuscule manuscript was listed with five separate catalog numbers for 2306, which then have the letters a through e. Thus, we have the following GA numbers: 2306 for 2306a, and 2831- 2834 for 2306b-2306e.’ – (Hixon 2019, 53-4) The problem is much worse when we consider that there are 323 Majuscule manuscripts and then far worse still with a listed 2,951 Minuscule and 2,484 Lectionaries. Nevertheless, those who estimate a total of 5,300 (Jacob W. Peterson, Myths and Mistakes, p. 63) 5,500 manuscripts (Dr. Ed Gravely /, 5,800 manuscripts (Porter 2013, 23), it is still a truckload of evidence far and above the dismal number of ancient secular author books.

[13] Bart D. Ehrman, MISQUOTING JESUS: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York, NY: Harper One, 2005), 98.

[14] (1915 – 1994) was Professor of New Testament Research and Church History. He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster and served as its first director for many years (1959–83). He was one of the principal editors of The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.

[15] K. Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research,” 336.

[16] Professor of Theology and the Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. Scholar of New Testament textual criticism and Greek and Latin paleography.

[17] J. ED Komoszewski; M. James Sawyer; Daniel B Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), 78.

[18] Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 233–34.

[19]  (Comfort and Barret, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts 2001)

[20] Tertullian (160 – 220 C.E.), was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa.

[21] Cathedrae

[22] Suis locis praesident.

[23] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 260.

[24] The exhortation ἐνορκίζω ὑμᾶς τὸν κύριον ἀναγνωσθῆναι τὴν ἐπιστολὴν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς (“I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read aloud to all the brothers [and sisters]”), is stated quite strongly. ἐνορκίζω takes a double accusative and has a causal sense denoting that the speaker or writer wishes to extract an oath from the addressee(s). The second accusative, in this case τὸν κύριον (“the Lord”), indicates the thing or person by whom the addressees were to swear. The forcefulness of this statement is highly unusual, and in fact it is the only instance in Paul’s letters where such a charge is laid on the recipients of one of his letters.―Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 208-09.

[25] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 17.

[26] Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2007), 565.

[27] Bruce M. Metzger; Bart D. Ehrman, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 126.

[28] Philip W. Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992).

[29] E. J. Epp, ‘The Significance of the Papyri for Determining the Nature of the New Testament Text in the Second Century: A Dynamic View of Textual Transmission’, in W. L. Petersen, ed., The Gospel Traditions in the Second Century (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 101

[30] In 1988, the Alands, in the second edition of The Text of the New Testament (93-95), categorized thirty of the forty-four earliest manuscripts (40 papyri and 4 parchment) as “at least normal,” “normal,” and “strict,” with the other fourteen being categorized as “free” or “like Codex Bezae (D).” At that time, the Alands did not rate P90 [2nd], P92, [3rd/4th] and P95 [3rd], likely because they had only recently been discovered. However, we now have the Aland classification of “strict.”

[31] The Coherence Based Genealogical Method, which was developed by Gerd Mink and assists scholars in developing genealogical trees of manuscripts, will be discussed in far greater detail in Chapter XIII by Wilkins; but we should note here that it has no relation to the traditional text-type model. It is for this reason that scholars such as Holger Strutwolf have suggested that we abandon any references to the manuscripts by the tradition text-types.

[32] “What we do know, from the manuscript evidence, is that several of the earliest Christian scribes were well-trained scribes who applied their training to making reliable texts, both of the Old Testament and the New Testament. We know that they were conscientious to make a reliable text in the process of transcription (as can been seen in manuscripts like P4+64+67 and P75), and we know that others worked to rid the manuscript of textual corruption. This is nowhere better manifested than in P66, where the scribe himself and the diorthotes (official corrector) made over 450 corrections to the text of John. As is explained in the next chapter, the diorthotes of P66 probably consulted other exemplars (one whose text was much like that of P75) in making his corrections. This shows a standard Alexandrian scriptoral practice at work in the reproduction of a New Testament manuscript.” (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 264)

[33] Cf. J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), 11.

[34] For example, the official signed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written on parchment. Now, less than 250 years later, it has faded to the point of being barely legible.

[35] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 158.

[36] Large lettering, often called “capital” or uncial, in which all the letters are usually the same height.

[37] The numbers in this paragraph are rounded for simplicity purposes.

[38] 25,000 New Testament Manuscripts? Big Deal. – Patheos, (Retrieved Monday, August 10, 2020).

[39] Ibid

[40] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995), 8-9.

[41] Leading textual scholar Daniel Wallace tells us, after looking at all of the evidence, that the percentage of instances where the reading is uncertain and a well-attested alternative reading could change the meaning of the verse is a quarter of one percent, i.e., 0.0025%

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