he apostle Peter claimed                 that the disciples of Christ did not follow "cleverly devised myths" but were eyewitnesses to historical events. Modern critics have argued that it is impossible to separate legend from fact about Christ because of a 200 year gap between the original writings of his life and the first complete manuscripts. Historian Will Durant explains, "The oldest extant copies of the Gospel go back to the third century. the original compositions were apparently written between A.D. 60 and 120, and were therefore exposed to two centuries of errors in transcription and to possible alterations to suit the theology or aims of the copyist, sect, or time."
New Testament Manuscripts
Manuscripts are hand-written copies of a literary work. To determine the reliability of an ancient historical document the first question we ask is, how significant and numerous are the changes or errors that are found once we compare all of the available manuscripts.
  There are more than 4,000 Greek manuscripts (hand written) of the New Testament, the earliest of which go back to 300 A.D. A comparison of all these documents reveals 200,000 alterations found in 10,000 places. How do these variations affect the Gospels?
  A reconstruction text if the N.T. is 99.9% free from substantial or consequential error...Most variants are merely mechanical matters such as spelling or style...Not one variant affects an article of faith or a precept of duty.
The 200 year gap is filled with more then enough evidence that the New Testament documents have never been altered. The writings of the early Church Fathers and the early attempts to canonize the N.T. demonstrate an aggressive and successful effort to keep the life story and teachings of Christ uncorrupted. The accumulation of N.T. quotations of Church Fathers writings and the discovery of the three early fragments should remove any skepticism.
C.S. Lewis writes, "Early in
1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. 'Rum thing,' he went on. 'All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. Rum Thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.' if he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of all the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it-'safe', where would I turn? Was there then no escape?"
Historian Will Durant
Is the life story of the founder of Christianity the product
of human sorrow, imagination, and hope?
That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so
powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision
of human brotherhood, would be a miracle for more incredible than any
recorded in the Gospel.
T   H   E     G   O   S   P   E   L
AD
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320
330
Historical Manuscripts

Herodotus-Greece
Thucydides-Greece
Tacitus-Rome
Pliny-Rome
New Testament
Date
Written

480-425 BC
460-400 BC
100 AD
61-113 AD
60-100 AD
Earliest
Copy

900 AD
900 AD
1,000 AD
850 AD
300 AD
Time
Span

1,300 yrs
1,300 yrs
900 yrs
750 yrs
200 yrs
Number
Copies

8
8
19
7
4,000
Sample Number
New Testament
Quotes By Early
Church Fathers

330
1,819

2,406
7,258


1,378
17,922





  5,176
AD
100
110
120
130
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160
170
180
190
200
210
220
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240
250
260
270
280
290
Clement of Rome
Ignatius (Antioch)
Polycarp
Papias

Justin (Rome)
Irenaeus (Lyons)

Clement (Alexandria)
Tertullian (Carthage)


Hippolytus (Rome)
Origen (Alexandria)





Eusebius (Caesarea)
Paul
Mark Matthew
Luke
John
Vaticanus
Sinaiticus
N.T. Fragments are partial copies of a manuscript. The earliest New Testament fragments are the Beatty, Bodmer, and Ryland. The Beatty contains parts of the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters to the Hebrews, and Revelation, and is dated no later than 250 A.D. The Bodmer Papyri, contains parts of John's Gospel, Luke, and the letters of Peter and Jude, and is dated between 175 and 225 A.D. And the John Ryland Fragment contains fragments of the Gospel of John and is dated between 117 and 138 A.D.
  The  discovery of these fragments lead Sir Frederic G. Kenyon (former director of the British museum) to conclude, "The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed."
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Church Fathers were the leaders of the early church. Their writings confirm apostolic authorship of the Gospels. For example, Papias, a bishop (A.D. 130) said, "Mark wrote down accurately all that Peter mentioned." Irenaeus (A.D. 180) wrote, "Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Paul and Peter were preaching the Gospel in Rome... John produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia."
  Even though the church Fathers did not always make exact quotations nor agree in their interpretations, their numerous quotations of Scripture are proof of a common text found in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. "The quotations are so extensive that the N. T. could virtually be reconstructed from them." confirms textual critic J. Harold Greenlee.
Was the Gospel altered?  Does the argument that a 200 year gap between the original writings and the earliest complete existing copies of the New Testament prove that it is filled with errors and deliberate alterations? Or can it be proven that what we are reading today is what was originally written? The writings of the early church Fathers, the establishment of the N.T. Canon, a comparison of existing Greek manuscripts, and the discovery of early fragments validate its authenticity and prove that it has not been altered.
The New Testament Canon is a list of specially authorized books and letters. In order to be canonized, a book had to be written or sponsored by an apostle, be recognized orthodox in content and be publicly used by a prominent church or a majority of churches. The Muratorian Canon is the first known list and is dated around 170 A.D..
  As early  as 130 A.D. lines were drawn between true and false versions of the Christian message. The teachings of the Docetists, Gnostics and heretic Marcion were condemned outright. Known forgeries, such as the Acts of Paul were also rejected.
140
150
160
170
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210
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300
Marcion's Canon


Muratorian Canon



Barococcio Canon


Apostolic Canon
Ryland Fragment






Bodmer Papyrus




Beatty Papyri
New Testament compared to other ancient historical works
The second question we ask, in regard to the reliability of an ancient document, is what is the time interval between the original and earliest extant (existing) copies. The 200 hundred years between the completion of the New Testament and the earliest manuscripts when compared to other ancient manuscripts is unsurpassed.
  F.F. Bruce, Biblical Scholar writes, "No classical scholar would
listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals...but how different is the New Testament on this report? "Critics have applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them 100 ancient worthies would fade into legend." acknowledges Durant.
Paul
Mark
Matthew
Luke
John
Clement of Rome
Ignatius (Antioch)
Polycarp, Papias
Ryland Fragment
Marcion Canon
Justin (Rome)
Irenaeus (Lyons)
Muratorium Canon
Clement (Alexandria)
Tertullian (Carthage)
Bodmer Papyrus
Barococcio Canon
Hippolytus (Rome)
Origen (Alexandria)
Beatty Papyri



Eusebius (Caesarea)
Apostolic Canon

Codex Vaticanus
Codex Sinaiticus
AD
60
70
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120
130
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160
170
180
190
200
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290
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330
Codex Sinaiticus
Dr. Clark E. Pinnock adds, "There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies, and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made... Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational (i.e., anti supernatural) bias."
Will Durant concludes, "In essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ... After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teachings of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man."
Ryland
Bodmer
Beatty
T
Sources:
Evidence That Demands a Verdict By Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers
History and Christianity By John Warwick Montgomery, InterVarsity Press
A General Introduction to the Bible By Norman Geisler and William Nix, Moody Press
Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity, Eerdman's Publishing Co.
The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? By F. F. Bruce, Eerdman's Publishing Co.
Miracles, A Preliminary Study By C. S. Lewis, The Macmillan Co.
Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity By Josh McDowell, Tyndale House Pub.
Caesar and Christ, The Story of Civilization By Will and Ariel Durant, Simon and Schuster