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The practice of reading passages from the New Testament books at worship services began from the 6th century, so that today we have 2,135 lectionaries which have been catalogued from this period (McDowell 1972:52). If there had been a forgery, they too would have all had to have been changed.

Since the books were expensive the Bible itself was not available for every believer.  They were found only in the church libraries.  As a result the scriptures were read during the services as a normal practice so that the Bible is heard by all.  These included, Old Testament portions, New Testament Portions, Epistles and the Gospel.

The Talmud claims that the practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and began with the annual religious festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Talmud, Megilah 32a).  As Christianity evolved from the Jewish base, they also followed the pattern

 A lectionary is a book containing Scripture readings that are appointed to be read in Church services according to the cycles of the liturgical year.




 Some of the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that have survived are Byzantine lectionaries.  This practice of assigning particular readings to each Sunday and Holy day has continued through the history of the Christian Church. The Gospel readings were particularly venerated from the fifth century at least.  Even today the congregation stands while the New Testament lectionary is read.  Before it is read the priest kisses the book and incense is constantly used during the reading time.  These are expressions to show how precious these books and the content meant to the early churches.  Most Eastern Lectionaries provide for an Epistle and a Gospel to be read on each day.

An example of Byzantine lectionary — Codex Harleianus (l150), AD 995, text of John 1:18.

A New Testament Lectionary is a handwritten copy of a lectionary, or book of New Testament Bible readings. Lectionaries may be written in uncial or minuscule Greek letters on parchment, papyrus, vellum, or paper. 

Thus the lectionaries provide corroboration for the integrity of the New Testament transmission.

Thus we see that the New Testament was handed down through generations into a vast number of languages and practically all over the world distributed geographically.  It is not difficult to identify heretic insertions and interpolations by even by the novice.  This is the guarantee of the integrity of transmission for the New Testament.

The following article from equip.org summarizes the argument for why we believe we have the reliable documents of the New Testament, in spite of the fact we are generations away and copies to copies away from the original documents.  

"Facts for Skeptics of the New Testament

Article ID: JAS710

By: Gregory Koukl

This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 27, number 3 (2004). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research http://www.equip.org/articles/facts-for-skeptics-of-the-new-testament/

“The New Testament has been changed and translated so many times over the past 2,000 years, it’s impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. Everyone knows that.”

This challenge has stopped countless Christians in their tracks. The complaint is understandable. Whisper a message from person to person in a group, and then compare the message’s final form with the original. The radical transformation that occurs in so short a period of time is enough to convince the casual skeptic that the New Testament documents are equally unreliable. Communication is never perfect. People make mistakes and errors are compounded with each generation. How then can we know that the New Testament documents we possess correctly reflect the original documents that were destroyed nearly two thousand years ago?

 Setting the Facts Straight.

It’s hard to imagine how one can reconstruct the text of something written two thousand years ago. The skepticism, though, is based on two false assumptions about how an ancient document such as the New Testament was transmitted over time.

The first assumption is that the transmission was more or less linear — one person told a second who talked with a third, and so on, leaving a single message many generations removed from the original.

The second assumption is that the text was transmitted orally, in which case it is more easily distorted and misconstrued than if it had been written. Neither assumption, however, applies to the text of the New Testament.

First, the transmission was not linear, but geometric — that is, one original birthed 50 copies, which generated 500 copies, and so on.

Second, the transmission was done in writing, and written manuscripts can be tested in a way oral communications cannot.

Reconstructing Aunt Sally’s Letter.

Here’s a little story you can use to illustrate how such a test works. Pretend your Aunt Sally learns in a dream the recipe for an elixir that preserves youth. When she wakes up, she scribbles the directions on a scrap of paper, and then runs to the kitchen to make her first glass of the potion. In a few days Aunt Sally is transformed into a picture of radiant youth because of her daily dose of “Sally’s Secret Sauce.”

Aunt Sally is so excited that she sends detailed, handwritten instructions on how to make the sauce to her three bridge partners. They, in turn, make copies for 10 of their own friends.

All goes well until Aunt Sally’s dog eats the scrap of paper on which she first wrote the recipe. In a panic she contacts her three friends who have suffered similar mishaps, so the alarm goes out to the others in an attempt to recover the original wording.

Sally rounds up all the surviving handwritten copies, 26 in all. When she spreads them out on the kitchen table, she immediately notices some differences. Twenty-three of the copies are exactly the same. Of the remaining three, however, one has misspelled words, another has an inverted phrase (“mix then chop” instead of “chop then mix”), and one includes an ingredient that is not listed on any of the others.

Do you think Aunt Sally can accurately reconstruct her original recipe from this evidence? Of course, she can. The misspellings are obvious errors and are easily corrected. The single inverted phrase stands out and can easily be repaired. Sally would then strike the extra ingredient, reasoning that it is more plausible that one person would accidentally add an item than that 25 people would accidentally omit the same one. Even if the variations were more numerous or more diverse, the original could still be reconstructed with a high level of confidence if Sally had enough copies.

This, in simplified form, is how scholars do “textual criticism,” an academic method used to test all documents of antiquity, not just religious texts. It’s not a haphazard effort based on hopes and guesses; it’s a careful linguistic process allowing an alert critic to identify and correct the possible corruption of any work.

How Many and How Old?

Confidence that the original text has successfully been reconstructed depends on two factors: how many copies exist and how old they are. If the numbers are few and the time gap wide between the original manuscript (called the autograph) and the oldest copy, then the original text is harder to reconstruct. If, however, many copies exist and the oldest are close in time to the original, the scholar can be more confident that the exact wording of the original can be pinpointed.

To get an idea of the significance of the New Testament manuscript evidence, let’s first look at the manuscript evidence for other ancient, nonbiblical texts. Josephus’s first-century document The Jewish War survives in only nine complete manuscripts dating from the fifth century AD — four centuries after they were written. Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome is one of the chief sources for the history of the Roman world during New Testament times, and yet it survives in partial form in only two manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages. Thucydides’s History survives in eight copies. There are ten copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars and seven copies of Plato’s works. Homer’s Iliad has the most impressive manuscript evidence for any secular work with 647 existing copies.

 The Biblical Manuscript Evidence. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is stunning by comparison. The most recent count (1980) shows 5,366 separate Greek manuscripts. These are represented by early fragments, uncial codices (manuscripts written in all uppercase Greek letters and bound together in book form), and minuscules (manuscripts written in lowercase Greek letters).

Among the nearly 3,000 minuscule fragments are 34 complete New Testaments dating from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries AD. Uncial manuscripts providing virtually complete New Testaments date back to the fourth century and earlier. Codex Sinaiticus is dated c. AD 340. The nearly complete Codex Vaticanus is the oldest, dated c. AD 325–50. Codex Alexandrinus contains the whole Old Testament and a nearly complete New Testament and dates from the late fourth century to the early fifth century.

The most fascinating evidence comes from the fragments. The Chester Beatty Papyri (papyri are manuscripts written on paperlike material made from papyrus reeds) contain most of the New Testament and are dated mid-third century. The Bodmer Papyri II collection includes the first fourteen chapters of the Gospel of John and much of the last seven chapters. It dates from AD 200 or earlier.

The most amazing find of all, however, is a small portion of John 18:31–33, discovered in Egypt. Known as the John Rylands Papyri and barely three inches square, it represents the earliest known copy of any part of the New Testament. The papyri are dated on paleographical grounds at AD 117–38 (though it may be even earlier).

Keep in mind that most papyri are fragmentary and only about 50 manuscripts contain the entire New Testament. The manuscript evidence is nevertheless exceedingly rich, especially when compared to other works of antiquity.

Ancient Versions and Patristic Quotations. The accuracy of the manuscripts can also be checked by comparing them with two other groups of texts known as the ancient versions and the patristic quotations. By the third and fourth centuries the New Testament had been translated into several languages, including Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian. Translations of the Greek manuscripts (called versions) help modern-day scholars answer questions about the underlying Greek manuscripts.

In addition, there are ancient extrabiblical sources — catechisms, lectionaries, and quotes from the church Fathers — that contain large portions of Scripture.  .......


The Verdict.

What can we conclude from this evidence? Professor Daniel Wallace notes that although there are about 300,000 individual variations of the New Testament text in the manuscripts, this number is very misleading. Most of the differences are completely inconsequential — spelling errors, inverted phrases, and the like. Of the remaining differences, virtually all can be sorted out using vigorous textual criticism. In the entire 20,000 lines of text, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine. This means that the Greek text from which we derive our New Testament translations is 99.5 percent pure.

Using these facts, the point to press home with the skeptic is this: If we reject the authenticity of the New Testament on textual grounds, we’d also have to reject every work of antiquity prior to AD 1000, since there is less manuscript evidence for their authenticity than for the New Testament.

Has the New Testament been changed? Critical, academic analysis says it has not.

— Gregory Koukl


I found this summary statement by  Jonathon in Atheist Nexus

Reply by Jonathon on August 14, 2009 at 9:00am



I'm not a believer, but seriously. There's more than enough concrete, and, biased-against-Jesus, evidence no more than 70 years after his death as to the fact that the MAN existed. There's no doubt about it. Roman historians wrote about him by NAME, that he existed, that he caused trouble, and that the emperor hated him and punished him. You think credible Roman figures of that time are going to make things up just after it happened? As if they can fool anyone that soon after the fact... The historians also didn't write on their own account, but accessed records of their time detailing the transcripts and activities of the events (i.e. something towards a modern library and/or city hall). Not to mention there was probably a few people surviving who lived it first hand and at minimum were children of those survivors, Romans, Jews, and future Christians alike.

If that's not evidence enough that the man actually existed then NO ONE in the old and new testament existed (Moses, Solomon, etc), and neither did Buddha, and Mohammed, and etc.

Why do we believe that political and military leaders of thousands of years ago existed on virtually no evidence or less evidence than about Jesus, but can't bring ourselves to believe that Jesus actually existed on much more evidence?