- Jun 18, 2017
- Reaction score
- Sunni Muslim
- strict Hanafi
How accurate and reliable is the text of the New Testament? This article takes a comprehensive look at the issue.
When discussing the numerical superiority and ancientness of the New Testament manuscripts, the missionaries' blunders become apparent when their conclusions are evaluated by examining the various methodologies for reconstructing the Greek New Testament and how these competing methodologies understand and use external (i.e., manuscript) evidence. Contrary to missionary and apologetical claims, nowhere in these reconstructive methodologies can we observe an axiomatic principle whereby the numerical amount of Greek manuscripts function in a manner that automatically allows us to have a greater degree of confidence in the reliability or trustworthiness of the resultant New Testament text. In fact, the claims made by the missionaries show similarity with the reconstructive methodology with a preference for the Byzantine text-form. These advocates of the "Majority" text appeal to the numerical superiority of the Byzantine text-form among the Greek manuscripts whilst simultaneously claiming this text-type represents more closely the "original" text. Unfortunately for the missionaries and apologists, this form of scholarship has been rejected by the vast majority of textual critics who as early as the 1880's in the form of the two Cambridge scholars Westcott and Hort, recognised the corrupt, secondary nature of these texts.
We have seen misquoted claims, misrepresented claims, incorrect claims, fraudulent claims and even claims that are mathematically impossible. None of these fantastic claims (normally in the form of percentages) show the procedure utilised to arrive at such magnificent figures. We can see that the modern day textual critics portray a very different set of statistics quite contrary to the over-hyped claims of the missionaries and apologists. The Alands, discussing the differences between seven popular critical editions of the New Testament, excluding orthographic differences and differences of only one word, calculate that 62.9% of the verses of the entire New Testament are in agreement with each other. Similarly, if we look at the statistics for the gospels, we find that there is a 54.5% agreement. If we look at the textual "certainty" of the United Bible Societies' The Greek New Testament, a text which is based on the decisions of a committee, the result is close to 83.5%. There is no mention of 99.5%, 99.8% or 99.9% agreement here. In a twist of irony further compounding the foolishness of the missionaries' and apologists' position, the Bibles they use (normally the NIV version) are based on the very same critical editions of the New Testament by the very same people who have calculated the above percentages!
The final call of the missionaries and apologists, when their attempts to over-hype the Greek manuscripts bear no fruit, is to appeal to the fact that the entire Greek New Testament can be reconstructed using only the Patristic quotations, without recourse to any other additional manuscript evidence. While it is certainly true that some modern day textual critics, including Metzger mention that such a circumstance is theoretically possible, we rarely find the missionaries and apologists discussing the numerous problems associated with this statement. In any case, what role do the Patristic citations play in today's critical editions of the New Testament? They play no more than a 'supplementary and corroborative' role, particularly in passages where the primary evidence (i.e., Greek manuscripts) is insufficient to reconstruct the text with absolute certainty. Indeed, if we examine the evidential selection principles behind the recently released Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior, it becomes apparent that readings with exclusively Patristic support struggle to make it into the critical apparatus, let alone ever being considered as an actual verse of the Greek New Testament.
Going hand in hand with the claims of numerical superiority are those claims of 'ancientness'. The manuscripts are "very old" we are told. The missionaries and apologists point towards numerous 1st century Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts for several books of the New Testament including Mark, I Timothy, James, Acts, Romans and II Peter. Also, fragments according to the Gospel of Matthew can be redated to "c. A.D. 66". Certainly one could arrive at these conclusions if the relevant newspaper articles and soundbites are collated. However, one can arrive at quite different conclusions if the opinions of New Testament textual scholars, including Baillet, Benoit, Fee, Hemer, Roberts, Aland and others are taken into consideration, as they conclusively refute these grossly inaccurate and yet popular claims. Indeed, when we compare the earliest known manuscript evidence for the twenty-seven books of the New Testament to their respective estimated dates of composition, we do not find the difference so small as to be "negligible". In fact, we can observe that several books of the New Testament find no manuscript support until the 4th century CE! Also, when we examine the palaeographic features of the entire spectrum of Greek New Testament manuscripts, the overwhelming majority utilise a form of handwriting termed minuscule. This form of handwriting started to be used in the 9th century and became widespread by the 11th century. How one can make claims of 'ancientness' when only 6% of the more than 5,000 or so Greek New Testament manuscripts date from before the 9th century, some 800 years after the birth of Jesus, points towards a desperate state of affairs.
Amphoux and Vaganay, referring to the "eternal, inerrant, infallible, unchangeable word of God" as represented by the 26th edition of Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece, aptly summarise the textual evidence:
The concern not to trouble simple minds with an uncertain or reworked text is no doubt a laudable one, but is it right to alter history? For what is implied to be the original text is in fact probably a text established in Egypt around the year AD 200, doubtless with some earlier readings but also some innovations,...