The importance of the sheer number of manuscripts and early patristic quotations of Scripture cannot be overstated. As with other documents of ancient literature, there are no known extant original manuscripts of the Bible. Fortunately, however, the abundance of manuscript copies makes it possible to reconstruct the original text with virtually complete accuracy.
F.E. Peters states that “on the basis of manuscript tradition alone, the works that made up the Christians’ New Testament were the most frequently copied and widely circulated books of antiquity.” (Peter, HH, 50) The authenticity of the New Testament text we have today rests on a foundation of a massive amount of historical documentation.
–evangelical authors, Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 47
Gary: So what! Even if there were 100,000,000,000,000 copies of the books of the New Testament, the existence of all these copies would not serve as proof that the stories in the originals were historically true. Modern scholarship has demonstrated that the authors of Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from Mark for their stories. And according to mainstream scholar Raymond Brown, approximately half of today’s scholars believe that John was also dependent on Mark. That means we have one source for the stories about Jesus. If the author of Mark was writing a religious Greco-Roman biography, historical accuracy was not his principle objective.
Therefore, for all we know, we have thousands of copies of…fictional stories! Jesus the man most likely existed, but the stories about him and about his disciples in the Gospels and the Book of Acts may very well be literary fiction.