Bibliographical Evidence

of the

New Testament

Era Abbot, a member of the American Revision Committee, wrote about the various readings in his Critical Essays: 'The number of 'various readings' frightens some innocent people, and figures largely in the writings of the more ignorant disbelievers in Christianity. 'One hundred and fifty thousand various readings!' Must not these render the text of the New Testament wholly uncertain, and thus destroy the foundation of our faith?

Philip Scaff in Comparison to the Greek Testament and the English Version concluded that only 400 of the 150,000 caused doubt about the textual meaning and only 50 of these were of great significance. Not one of the variations Schaff says altered "an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passage, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching."

That textual errors do not endanger doctrine is emphatically stated by Sir Frederic Kenyon (one of the great authorities in the field of N. T. textual criticism.): "One word of warning, already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion. No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant reference to mistakes and divergences of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the substance, as well as the language, of the Bible is not open to question.

"It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet out knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands."

The editors of the Revised Standard Version say that: "It will be obvious to the careful reader that still in 1946, as in 1881 and 1901, no doctrine of that Christian faith has been affected by the revision, for the simple reason that, out of the thousands of variant readings in the manuscripts, none has turned up thus far that requires a revision of Christian doctrine."

A.T. Robertson, the author of the most comprehensive grammar of New Testament Greek, wrote, "There are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate and at least 1,000 for the other early versions. Add over 4,000 [Bruce Metzger says we now have close to 5,000.] Greek manuscripts and we have 13,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament. Besides all this, much of the New Testament can be reproduced from the quotations of the early Christian writers."

Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, who was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum and second to none in authority for issuing statements about MSS, says," … besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors, and this time the difference is clear gain. In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts( trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century-say from 250 to 300 years later.

"This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles (5th c BC); yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poet's death."

Kenyon continues in The Bible and Archaeology: "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."

The following is taken from F. W. Hall, "MS Authorities for the Text of the Chief Classical Writters," Companion to Classical Text (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913)


When Written

Earliest Copy

Time Span

No. of copies


100-44 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,000 yrs.



59 B.C. - A.D. 17




Plato (Tetralogies)

427-347 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,200 yrs.


Tacitus (Annals)

also minor works

100 A.D.

100 A.D.

1,100 A.D.

1,000 A.D.

1,000 yrs.

900 yrs.



Pliny the Younger (History)

61-113 A.D.

850 A.D.

750 yrs.


Thycydides (History)

460-400 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,300 yrs.


Suetonius (De Vita Caesarun)

75-160 A.D.

950 A.D.

800 yrs.


Herodotus (History)

480-425 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,300 yrs.



496-406 B.C.

1,000 A.D.

1,400 yrs.



54 B.C.

1,550 A.D.

1,600 yrs.



480-406 B.C.

1,100 A.D.

1,500 yrs.



383-322 B.C.

1,100 A.D.

1,300 yrs.



384-322 B.C.

1,100 A.D.

1,400 yrs.



450-385 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,200 yrs.


* All from one copy

+ Of any one work

Greenlee writes in Introduction to New Testament Criticism about the time gap between the original MSS (the autograph) and the extant MSS (the old copy surviving) saying that " the oldest known MSS. of most of the Greek classical authors are dated a thousand years or more after the author's death. The time interval for the Latin authors is somewhat less, varying down to a minimum of three centuries in the case of Virgil. In the case of the N. T., however, two of the most important MSS. were written within 300 years after the N. T. was completed, and some virtually complete N. T. books as well as extensive fragmentary MSS. of many parts of the N. T. date back to one century from the original writings."

Greenlee adds that "Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest MSS. were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant MSS. is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the N. T. is likewise assured."

Extracted from, 'Evidence that demands a Verdict', by Josh McDowell, Campus Crusade for Christ International, California, USA, 1972.

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