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CHAPTER SEVEN

 Accuracy of the New Testament

Barbara and Kurt Aland (1988)

In the process of rewriting and copying in different Christian centers, various forms of Greek New Testaments came into existence with their own styles and expressions.  In The Text of the New Testament, Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland compare the total number of variant-free verses, and the number of variants per page (excluding orthographic errors), among the seven major editions of the Greek NT - Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, von Soden, Vogels, Merk, Bover, and Nestle-Aland.  The analysis conclude that in all the six different editions  62.9%, or 4999/7947, are in agreement without one single variation.

 

Book

Total Number Of Verses

Variant-Free Verses-Total

Percentage

Variants per page

Matthew

1071

642

59.9  %

6.8

Mark

678

306

45.1  %

10.3

Luke

1151

658

57.2  %

6.9

John

869

450

51.8  %

8.5

Acts

1006

677

67.3  %

4.2

Romans

433

327

75.5  %

2.9

1 Corinthians

437

331

75.7  %

3.5

2 Corinthians

256

200

78.1  %

2.8

Galatians

149

114

76.5  %

3.3

Ephesians

155

118

76.1  %

2.9

Philippians

104

73

70.2  %

2.5

Colossians

95

69

72.6  %

3.4

1 Thessalonians

89

61

68.5  %

4.1

2 Thessalonians

47

34

72.3  %

3.1

1 Timothy

113

92

81.4  %

2.9

2 Timothy

83

66

79.5  %

2.8

Titus

46

33

71.7  %

2.3

Philemon

25

19

76.0  %

5.1

Hebrews

303

234

77.2  %

2.9

James

108

66

61.6  %

5.6

1 Peter

105

70

66.6  %

5.7

2 Peter

61

32

52.5  %

6.5

1 John

105

76

72.4  %

2.8

2 John

13

8

61.5  %

4.5

3 John

15

11

73.3  %

3.2

Jude

25

18

72.0  %

4.2

Revelation

405

214

52.8  %

5.1

Total

7947

4999

62.9 %

 

 

They concluded:

"Thus in nearly two-thirds of the New Testament text, the seven editions of the Greek New Testament which we have reviewed are in complete accord, with no differences other than in orthographical details (e.g., the spelling of names, etc.). Verses in which any one of the seven editions differs by a single word are not counted. This result is quite amazing, demonstrating a far greater agreement among the Greek texts of the New Testament during the past century than textual scholars would have suspected []. In the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation the agreement is less, while in the letters it is much greater"  This analysis was done in 1988.

There are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing.  The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure.  That is an amazing accuracy.  In addition there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages.  The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.  Anyone interested can check out these translations and compare with the original Greek texts and see how much of consonance is there between them.

Almost all biblical scholars agree that the New Testament documents were all written before the close of the First Century.  If Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D., then that means that the entire New Testament was completed within 70 years.  This is important because it means there were plenty of people around when the New Testament documents were penned who could have contested the writings.  In other words, those who wrote the documents knew that if they were inaccurate, plenty of people would have pointed it out.  But, we have absolutely no ancient documents contemporary with the First Century that contest the New Testament texts.

Furthermore, another important aspect of this discussion is the fact that we have a fragment of the gospel of John that dates back to around 29 years from the original writing (John Rylands Papyri 125 A.D.).  This is extremely close to the original writing date.  This is simply unheard of in any other ancient writing and it demonstrates that the Gospel of John is a First Century document.

Errors in the Bible!

What does this 62.5% accuracy mean?  Does it mean our bible is only slightly more that 50% accurate.  In order that we understand what this means we need to see how this error counted.

 "There is widespread misunderstanding among critics about 'errors' in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them.

First of all, these are not 'errors' but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical.

Second, these readings are spread throughout the more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 'errors.'  Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one in sixty of these variants have significance. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance, and not even one affected 'an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching' (Schaff, 177).

Thus as the number of manuscripts used for the accuracy calculation increase, the accuracy can be expected to be very high.  For example if the error (100 - 62.5 =) 37.5 % in all the (7947 - 4999 =)   2948 which is only 37.5/2948 = 0.013 % error.  That is why we normally claim an accuracy of transmission as 99.98 % for the bible.

 

"The average NT manuscript is about 200 pages, and in all, there are about 1.3 million pages of text. No two manuscripts are identical, except in the smallest fragments, and the many manuscripts which preserve New Testament texts differ among themselves in many respects, with some estimates of 200,000 to 300,000 differences among the various manuscripts. According to Bart Ehrman "Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognized and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive or, sometimes, inept. Indeed, the single most common mistake in our manuscripts involves "orthography", significant for little more than showing that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most of us can today. In addition, we have numerous manuscripts in which scribes have left out entire words, verses, or even pages of a book, presumably by accident. Sometimes scribes rearranged the words on the page, for example, by leaving out a word and then reinserting it later in the sentence."(Bart Ehrman:Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew)

"If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly mount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament." (B.F. Westcott, and F.J.A. Hort, eds., New Testament in Original Greek, 1881, vol. II.)

 "It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament." (Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941)

Because of its importance to our discussion here a special note needs to be given to the Magdalene Manuscript mentioned above. Until two years ago, the oldest assumed manuscript which we possessed was the St. John papyrus (P52), housed in the John Rylands museum in Manchester, and dated at 120 AD (Time April 26, 1996, pg.8). Thus, it was thought that the earliest New Testament manuscript could not be corroborated by eyewitnesses to the events. That assumption has now changed, for three even older manuscripts, one each from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke has now been dated earlier than the Johannine account. It is two of these three findings which I believe will completely change the entire focus of the critical debate on the authenticity of the Bible.