The number of New Testament manuscripts (hand-made copies from the early centuries) now stands at over 5,800. The number goes up each year, as more documents are unearthed in the mideast. When we add the number of quotations made in letters written from one person to another, we get tens of thousands more ancient sources for the Bible. The following facts can be drawn from these manuscripts:
- There are so many manuscripts that no one person or group could have biased the copies. If the single original autograph existed, someone would own it, and the accuasation could be made that they had changed it. But since there are almost six thousand manuscripts and many thousands of copies, we can be sure that no one group with an agenda could have biased the text. Thus God preserved His sacred word by ensuring the original autograph was not preserved, but many thousands of copies were.
- The large number of manuscripts give us a high confidence in our ability to reconstruct the original. The more ancient manuscripts in existence, the greater the confidence that the original text can be constructed.
- Other ancient writers have many fewer copies avialable. Plato only has about seven, and he had tremendous influence on world culture that is present even today. Thus the Bible is documented with more conficence than any ancient writer. If the Bible is held to be inaccurate due to the manuscript evidence, we would have to dismiss all ancient writers.
- The gap between the events and our first manuscripts is shorter than with any major ancient document, by a wide margin. Thus the liklihood of myth, legend, and oral tradition creeping in is reduced so much as to be dismissed as a viable criticism.
What does this manuscript evidence teach us? No other ancient document is as debated as the Bible. Such disputes cannot be legitimately based in the quality, number, and dating of the manuscripts, for the Bible manuscripts far exceed anything in ancient history. So the criticisms of the Bible must originate somewhere else. We have a much higher liklihood that people are criticizing the Bible because they do not like what it says. While the manuscript evidence is solid, the fact remains that the Bible makes moral and spiritual demands on us that we do not like. Thus we invent reasons why we want to dismiss it.
Instead, we should learn to face the truth presented in the Bible and let it examine our lives.