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.
4 thoughts on “The Existence of Thousands of Manuscript Copies Does Not Guarantee the Historicity of Even ONE Story in the Gospels”
The numerous manuscripts means we can have confidence that we know what the authors wrote. We know that over a period of 1500 years the NT expanded by only 2% while being hand copied.
Compared to the works of Tacitus where we only have 3 copies we can’t be sure that Tacitus hasn’t been edited so much that maybe nothing in his works was originally written by him, but added centuries later. After all, the earliest surviving copies of Tacitus are over 800 years after he wrote. Guess we can’t trust anything written in those documents to be reliable whatsoever.
And since every single author that wrote about Caesar’s invasion of Britain was dependent on Caesar’s own contradictory, biased account – I guess that we should jettison any stories about that “mythical” event too, if you’re going to be consistent, hey Gary?
There’s a huge difference between the contents of the original New Testament, and what actually happened in reality. That we can have good certainty that the original gospels claimed that Jesus performed miracles, and rose from the dead, is not the same as having certainty the Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. We have NEVER confirmed even a single event as being supernaturally caused, and the fact that your holy book makes supernatural claims doesn’t make them true.
On the other hand, a Roman general who lead an army that invaded Britain is nowhere near the category of God raising himself from the dead. Given our background knowledge of Roman, in the first century BCE, the first has a high likelihood of truth. We have no background information to tell us that the second claim is even possibly true.
Just because we have thousands of copies of “Cinderella” doesn’t mean that a peasant girl rode to a ball in a pumpkin drawn by rats.