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
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
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
lectionary is a book containing Scripture readings
that are appointed to be read in Church services according
to the cycles of the liturgical year.
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
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.
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.
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.
for Skeptics of the New Testament
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
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.”
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?
the Facts Straight.
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
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
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.
transmission was not linear, but geometric — that is, one
original birthed 50 copies, which generated 500 copies, and
transmission was done in writing, and written manuscripts
can be tested in a way oral communications cannot.
Aunt Sally’s Letter.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
and How Old?
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
there are ancient extrabiblical sources — catechisms,
lectionaries, and quotes from the church Fathers — that
contain large portions of Scripture.
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.
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
I found this summary statement by
Reply by Jonathon on
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
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?