Agreement of Multiple Copies of Manuscripts of Bible Texts

Why Believe the Bible? Internal Evidence

“If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.” —F.F. Bruce, New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable?

Our Bible has been translated from manuscripts that are copies of the original writings. No originals survive. Does this mean there is no sure evidence that the Bible speaks the truth?

The accuracy of the Bible is confirmed by the existence of multiple copies of the original text, some of them more than a thousand years apart, yet Bible scholars report that above 99% of the text agrees exactly. Newly found manuscripts differ hardly at all from those discovered years ago—more evidence that God was at work, preserving His message.

Consider a few facts. Most people think of Julius Caesar as one of the founders of the Roman Empire. How is Caesar known to us? Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars shortly before the birth of Christ; today there are nine or ten good manuscripts in existence, the oldest of which was copied some 900 years after Caesar’s day.

Another Roman known to us today was a historian named Livy. Of 142 books by Livy, about 35 survive in some twenty manuscripts, only one of which is as old as the fourth century AD. A history by Herodotus, a Greek writer of the fifth century BC, is known to us through eight manuscripts, the earliest belonging to the tenth century AD. Yet no one questions whether Livy or Herodotus lived.

Now compare this with the evidence for the New Testament. Bible scholars tell us there are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, and at least 1,000 for the other early versions. Add over 4,000 Greek manuscripts and we have 13,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament! And many of these copies are from very early dates. Two of the best date from the fourth century, and both are complete New Testaments. Fragments of certain books survive from the third and fourth centuries. A few papyrus fragments of the Gospel of John date from less than a century after John lived.

Further evidence for the New Testament is found in the writings of other first century authors who quoted heavily from the various books of the New Testament—so heavily, in fact, that it is said that if the manuscripts of the New Testament books had been entirely lost, they could have been completely reconstructed from the quotations in these early Christian writings alone!

How Much Evidence for Ancient Documents?

Author(s) When Written Date of Earliest Surviving Copy Time Lapse from Date of Writing Number of Known Copies

Julius Caesar (“Gallic War”)
Roman historian Livy
Tacitus (“Histories”—14 books)
History of Thucydides
History of Herodotus

New Testament (Greek)*

58-50 BC
59 BC-17 AD
ca 100 AD

460-440 BC
480-425 BC
384-322 BC
496-406 BC

Pre AD 70**

ca. 900 AD
ca. 400 AD
ca. 900 AD

ca. 900 AD
ca. 900 AD
ca. 1100 AD
ca. 1000 AD

ca. 200 AD

900 yrs
400 yrs
800 yrs

1300 yrs
1300 yrs
1400 yrs
1400 yrs

<100 yrs



Over 5,000

*There are also some 36,000 quotations of Scripture by the early church fathers prior to the third century. In fact, it has been observed that if all of the New Testament manuscripts were to disappear overnight, it would still be possible to reconstruct the entire New Testament with quotes from the Church Fathers, with the exception of fifteen to twenty verses! –

**“We can say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about AD 80.”—Dr. William Foxwell Albright, distinguished archaeologist.

Contrary to prior supposition, evidence seems to favor dates for the writing of the New Testament prior to AD 70 (see John A. T. Robertson, “Redating the New Testament”).