BIBLE: HOW MANY MANUSCRIPTS REMAIN?

How did the Bible come to us? Some believe it came by people writing down their personal or fanciful ideas and somehow these writings were put in book form. Many believe it is not inspired by God, so they dismiss it as myth multiplied. If that were the case, you would expect the book to eventually fade from history and be forgotten. However, it remains the most popular book in history and a constant best seller. One estimate said 100 million are sold annually. The Lord of the Rings was the next best seller but it took 55 years for it to sell 150 million copies. Clearly the Bible stands alone and unique among books.

This is amazing since it was written over a period of 1600 years by forty authors from different walks of life from fishermen to kings. It was originally written in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) over three continents yet it has a unifying theme that points in one direction toward Christ and God’s glory.

But do we have the original manuscripts? The answer is “no.” You got it. We have many ancient copies of the Bible, but we don’t have the originals. Why? Because ancient scribes copied them so they could be spread abroad. Before originals became too worn to read they were either hidden in sacred places or simply burned to prevent anyone from making incorrect copies because they were hard to read.

How do we know our bibles are accurate? This is where Lower Criticism comes in. It is a study in which scholars look “low” or down close at the manuscript words to detect when and how they were written etc. This is a fascinating study to look at and much too deep to address here.

Check out my blog last week for the impact of the 1948 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and how it verified the accuracy of the Old Testament we have in our Bibles today.

Regarding the New Testament, it came along only 1900 years ago but we don’t have originals of that either. Yet we know it is accurate because of the massive number of copies or fragments that have been found. More are being found all along. For example, copies of well-known books written by Caesar, Plato, Thucydides etc. in the first 400 years after Christ have an average of about a dozen copies each. No one disputes them. But the New Testament now has about 24,000 manuscripts or fragments from the same period of time.  Amazing!  

We had the privilege of seeing the amazing codex,  The Book of Kells , while in Ireland a some years ago. This complete Latin copy of the Bible with elaborate script and ornamentation was produced about 800 AD and eventually lost for centuries until found more recently. We were able to also see the oldest fragment, (P52), of the New Testament. It is from the book of John and dates to about 125 AD and may be a first generation copy of the original.

We had the privilege of seeing the amazing codex, The Book of Kells, while in Ireland a some years ago. This complete Latin copy of the Bible with elaborate script and ornamentation was produced about 800 AD and eventually lost for centuries until found more recently. We were able to also see the oldest fragment, (P52), of the New Testament. It is from the book of John and dates to about 125 AD and may be a first generation copy of the original.

The more copies the merrier because it allows scholars to compare and verify accuracy. There are fragments of all NT books but there are also recent finds of old copies of the entire NT bound into book form (a Codex). Look up Codex Sinaiticus for some fascinating reading of how this was discovered near Mt. Sinai.

Learn more Sundays at 9:15 as we continue the powerful new The God Who Speaks DVD Sunday School series on the subject. We’ll also hear missionary friend Dan Kain during that hour as he tells us of the ministry he now has in Russia. Don’t miss it.

Scripture is His Word to us to live by, find forgiveness, direction and purpose for our lives. Read it and heed it!

Want to learn still more. Listen to Dr. Al Mohler’s interview of an author of a new book on 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. It is a helpful interview as the author discusses it with Al.

-Pastor Mark