The New Testament (Greek: Καινὴ Διαθήκη, Kainē Diathēkē) is the name given to the second major division of the Christian Bible, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament. The original texts were written by various authors sometime after c. AD 45, most likely in Koine Greek, the primary language of the eastern Roman Empire.
Its books were collected into a single volume, probably in the first century according to the Pauline letters, consisting of the four narratives of the life and death of Jesus, called "gospels" (Greek meaning "good news"); a narrative of the Apostles' ministries in the early church; twenty-one early letters, commonly called "epistles", written by various authors and consisting mostly of counsel and instruction; and prophecy.
Perhaps the earliest piece of surviving Scripture is a fragment of a papyrus codex containing John 18:31~33 and 37. It is called the Rylands Papyrus and was found in Egypt. The Rylands Papyrus has forced critics to place the fourth gospel back into the first century, abandoning their earlier assertion that it could not have been written then by the Apostle John. This manuscript evidence creates a bridge of extant papyrus and parchment fragments and copies of the New Testament stretching back to almost the end of the first century.
In addition to the actual Greek manuscripts, there are more than 1,000 copies and fragments of the New Testament in Syria, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, and Ethiopic, as well as 8,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate, some of which date back almost to Jerome's original translation in 384 ~ 400 A.D.
A further witness to the New Testament text is sourced in the thousands of quotations found throughout the writings of the Church Fathers (the early Christian clergy [100-450 A.D.] who followed the Apostles and gave leadership to the fledgling church, beginning with Clement of Rome (96 A.D.).
It has been observed that if all of the New Testament manuscripts and versions mentioned above were to disappear overnight, it would still be possible to reconstruct the entire New Testament with quotes from the Church Fathers, with the exception of fifteen to twenty verses!
Although the New Testament's reliability is constantly under attack, the fact remains that the New Testament is the most well established and manuscript-rich text in existence, the manuscripts are better preserved and more numerous than any ancient text that was ever written. For comparison, we can look at writings by Plato, Aristotle and Homer... existing copies of Plato's are limited to 7; Aristotle's are a little better, numbering 49; Homer's Iliad being the next best supported manuscripts, has 643 surviving copies. Cross checking these documents for consistency, the most consistent would be Iliad which is 95% consistent from copy to copy. Compare this to the New Testament which has over 5,600 ancient copies (not to mention the later copies and extra biblical evidence) and is 99.5% consistent from copy to copy. Interestingly enough, the same critics who argue against the reliability of the New Testament have no problem supporting the reliability of Iliad, Aristotle or Plato, nor the reliability of several other famous ancient thinkers and writers.
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. 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.
Below is a chart with some of the oldest extant New Testament manuscripts compared to when they were originally penned. Compare these time spans with the next closest which is Homer's Iliad where the closest copy from the original is 500 years later. Undoubtedly, that period of time allows for more textual corruption in its transmission. How much less so for the New Testament documents?
Portions of this information were taken from several sources including Wikapeadia, carm.org, Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler, 1976, p. 307; 2) the article "Archaeology and History attest to the Reliability of the Bible," by Richard M. Fales, Ph.D. and A Ready Defense, by Josh Mcdowell, 1993, p. 45.
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