early manuscripts of the Bible exist today?
spite of all the yearnings of men, no one can produce a single fact or
reason to support the belief in God and in personal immortality."
have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if
I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly
give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any
proposition ever submitted to the mind of man. 1"
8.1 The Old Testament: the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
are perhaps the greatest archaeological find of our time. Produced by Jewish
monastic Essenes, the scrolls number about 800; 200 of which are of biblical
material. In 1947, shepherds discovered them quite by accident in caves
above the Wadi Qumran Valley, northwest of the Dead Sea. A few of the scholars
and archaeologists who contributed to their discovery and verification include
E. L. Sukenik, G. Lankester Harding, Roland G. de Vaux, Yigael Yadin and
William F. Albright.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
contain at least fragments of every book in the Old Testament except the
book of Esther. More than ten scrolls were beautifully preserved intact
including two copies of Isaiah. 2
Professor Millar Burrows of Yale University assigns these copies to the
first century BC. Johns Hopkins University Professor William F. Albright
places them more conservatively in the second century BC.3
These copies of Isaiah,
written 1,000 years earlier than the previously oldest known copies have
proven to be "word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible
in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted
chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. [emphasis
mine] " 4
Great respect must therefore be given to the interim copyists. Diligently
slaving for accuracy, they apparently achieved it:
Of the 166 words in
Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters
are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four
more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining
three letters comprise the word 'light' which is added in verse 11, and
does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported
by the LXX [Septuagint] and IQ Is [first cave of Qumran, Isaiah scroll].
Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters)
in question after a thousand years of transmission - and this word does
not significantly change the meaning of the passage. 5
Today, much of the Dead
Sea Scrolls collection remains with the many individual scholars to whom
the various scrolls and fragments were assigned and named after. Some of
the documents are owned by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and are on
display in the Shrine of the Book Museum in West Jerusalem. These include
one Isaiah scroll which was written between 150-100 BC, another around 50
BC, a commentary on Habakkuk penned between 100-50 BC, and two other documents.
8.2 The Old Testament: the Septuagint.
or LXX, is the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament. It
was begun around 247 BC by seventy scholars in Alexandria, Egypt for an
expanding community of Greek speaking Jews, and was completed no later than
117 BC. 7
R. K. Harrison confirms
its early use: "While there are certain differences in New Testament usage,
there is no doubt that of all Greek versions the LXX was employed predominantly
and that it enjoyed independent existence in the period just prior to the
time of Christ." 8
The Septuagint was also most likely the standard Old Testament text used
by the early Christian church. Early LXX material is included in the Rylands
Papyrus 458, which dates back to 150 BC. 9
8.3 The Old Testament: the Masoretic Text and others.
The Masoretic Text
includes many copies of Old Testament books and works dated between AD 500-1000.10
One is the Codex Leningradensis: a complete copy of the Hebrew Old
Testament dated at AD 1010 11
(a codex is a bound volume of cut sheets). It is the source on which the
Hebrew texts of today are based. It resides in the Public Library of Leningrad,
although the State of Israel has reportedly sought to acquire it. Another
collection is the Allepo Codex which contains the entire Old Testament
from the early tenth century AD.
Other early copies of
scripture from the first centuries AD include the Freer Greek Manuscript
V from the third century, Origen's Hexapla from AD 240, the Lucian
Recension and the Hesychian Recension.12
The Samaritan Pentateuch is also an early copy of the Old Testament,
but its value for comparison is disputed. This is for fear that unlike the
Hebrews, Egyptians, or many other Eastern cultures, the "Samaritans did
not possess a body of professional scribes as such at any given period in
8.4 The New Testament: various...
There are over 6,000
early manuscript copies or portions of the Greek New Testament in existence
today. When we include the Latin Vulgate and other early versions, we have
over 24,000 early copies or portions of the New Testament (twice that many
when including quotes by early church fathers). Some of these date only
twenty to thirty years from the original autographs. By comparison, of works
by Plato and Aristotle very few copies exist at all, and those were written
1,200 to 1,400 years after the autographs. 14
According to a former director of the British Museum,
The interval then
between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence
becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation
for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as
they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the
general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as
finally established. 15
The Chester Beatty
Papyrus II is the earliest piece of the New Testament known to exist.
This contains most of Paul's letters copied circa AD 100.
The John Rylands
Manuscript contains part of the Gospel of John copied in AD 130. It
can be found in the John Rylands Library of Manchester, England.
The Codex Vaticanus
is a Greek copy of the entire Old Testament and most of the New Testament.
Copied between the years 325 and 350 16,
the Codex Vaticanus has resided in the Vatican's library since 1481 as one
of the most trustworthy witnesses to the New Testament text. 17
The Codex Sinaiticus
was discovered in the Mt. Sinai Monastery in 1859 by Dr. Constantin Von
Tischendorf. It was penned circa AD 375-400 and contains all of the New
Testament and most of the Old Testament. It was presented to the Russian
Czar and in 1933 was bought by England. Today, it is in the British Museum
The Codex Washingtonianus
may be found in the Smithsonian Institution, having been written about AD
450. It contains the complete four Gospels.
The Bodmer Papyri
and Bodmer Papyri II are manuscripts dating from AD 150 to 200. These
various parts of the New Testament, discovered in Egypt, now exist in the
Bodmer Library of World Literature. Other significant collections include
the Codex Alexandrinus which is an Egyptian text circa AD 450, the
Codex Ephraemi, and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.
Notable Latin versions
of scripture include the Itala Version completed around AD 200 in
the North Africa region, the Wurzburg Palimpsest Codex circa AD 450,
and the Lyons Codex from about AD 650. The most famous Latin version
is Jerome's Vulgate from AD 390-404. 18
This overwhelming quantity
of New Testament documents is appreciated even more when we realize that
the Diocletian persecution of AD 303 sought to eradicate Christianity, including
all of its churches and historical writings. The persecution's failure to
do so is underscored by the United Bible Society's estimates that, since
1815, an unbelievable four billion Bibles have been published worldwide.
NEXT: Have critics discredited the early manuscripts?
The history of the English-reading