Historicity & Preservation, Part 1

Has the Old Testament been significantly altered through the millennia, as is frequently said?

It is a common accusation of skeptics, often posed with much condemnation and issued in such a way as to demoralize and confuse the believer. The truth of the matter is that, though there is no way to definitively prove that the Old Testament is historically intact, every piece of evidence, from colophons to preserved manuscripts and extra-biblical documents, along with internal confirmation across the unified narrative of the Bible as a whole, attests to the fact that the Old Testament is historically authentic and trustworthy.

As compelling as the evidence is for the Old Testament’s historicity and textual integrity, that of the New Testament is far superior. The level of quality and the overall quantity of the New Testament manuscripts are absolutely unprecedented amongst all ancient literature, and to date, we possess some 5,600 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and over 8,000 manuscripts from other languages, such as Ethiopic, Slavic, Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic.¹ As if those numbers were not amazing enough, we also have records of literally thousands of citations of New Testament passages by early church leaders. The tangible evidence demonstrating the veracity and integrity of the New Testament is without question.

To put those figures into perspectives, let us compare the manuscripts of the New Testament to other, less disputed, documents of antiquity.

Take the works of Tacitus for instance, his “Histories” and the “Annals.” Both of these writings are known from only two manuscripts which still remain, the earliest of which originating some 700 years after the original.

Consider the “History of the Peloponnesian War” by Thucydides, and Herodotus’ “History.” Each of these scholarly classics are known from only eight existing manuscripts, and each was copied as late as 1,300 years after the original composition! Similarly, Aristotle’s “Poetics” was written in the fourth century BC, and only four manuscripts, copied 1400 years after the original, remain today.

Also look at Julius Caesar’s “Gallic Wars,” his first-hand account of the wars, written sometime in the first century. Known today from only ten remaining manuscripts, earliest existing of these was copied one thousand years after it was first written.

Consider now how, all told, there are over 20,000 New Testament manuscripts remaining today, with the earliest being copied within one hundred years from the first composition!

016 - Antiquated Secular MS vs New Testament MS
Antiquated documents vs Biblical Documents

Isn’t it interesting that, despite these facts, no one questions the historicity of Caesar’s account or the authorship of Herodotus’ work? No, the secular intellectual community heralds these works as historic relics of worth, yet by and large they utterly reject the historicity of the New Testament, indeed the Bible as a whole. In my opinion, such actions are very telling indeed…

Notes:

  1. Boa, Dr. Kenneth, “How Accurate is the Bible,” Bible.org

“Historicity & Preservation” continues next time…


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