Historical Probability of a Reliable Record
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Recently in an adult class a question came up regarding the accuracy of the New Testament. In the midst of the influence of modernism and infidelity; in the age of advancing science and technology, when all parts of the Bible have been minutely dissected and examined, is it still possible to believe that the text is reliable? The question is always relevant and deserves a straightforward answer. There are many approaches to the problem. In this writing, only the historical probability is treated.
The accuracy of the present text of the New Testament is overwhelmingly demonstrated by external evidences. This cannot be said for secular works of antiquity. Caesar's Gallic War, written about 50 B.C. can only boast of nine or ten good copies, the oldest of which comes from the ninth century A.D. Evidence for its dependableness is therefore moderate and very late.1
The threefold line of evidence showing the reliableness of the New Testament records is as follows:
1. There are 4,489 Manuscripts of the New Testament books (copies of originals, or portions thereof) now in existence. They show no changes in our text since about 350 A.D. If the book of Revelation was written about the close of the first century, then there is only a gap of about 250 years to be bridged. 2
2. Ancient Versions (composition from original language into another) constitute another field of evidence. These carry us backward to within 50 years of the last book, connecting us with the apostolic age and closing 200 years of the gap. 3
3. The third class of evidence is the quotations of writers (commonly called "Ante-Nicene Fathers"). These come from the first century to the middle of the fourth. It has been found that if all of our New Testaments were destroyed, all but eleven of the verses contained therein could be reproduced from the writings of Ante-Nicene Fathers. Origen himself produces 75 percent of the New Testament. He was born in, lived and did much of his work in Alexandria during the period from 185 to 254 A.D. In his writings alone much of the New Testament is produced word for word. 4
The conclusion of Westcott & Hort is appropriate:
"the proportion of words virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt is very great, no less, on a rough computation, then seven-eighths of the whole. The remaining eighth therefore formed in great part by changes of order and other comparative trivialities, constitutes the whole area of criticismThe amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation and can hardly be more than a thousandth part of the entire text ... We desire to make it clearly understood beforehand how much of the New Testament stands in need of a textual critic's labours." 5
We conclude therefore that the literary evidence is such that the reliability of the New Testament is infinitely stronger than that for any other record of antiquity. Whether viewed from historical probability, Archaeology, or some other field of evidence, the child of God can rest secure in the confidence that the New Testament is an accurate account of the revelation of the mind of God (I Cor. 2:7-13).
1. Howard F. Vos, Can I Trust The Bible? (Moody Press: Chicago, 1963), p. 175.
2. H. S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction (Word-Bearer Press: New York, 1956), p. 190.
3. Ibid., p. 211.
4. Firm Foundation, June 21, 1960, "Do We Have The Bible As God Gave It To Us?"
5. Westcott & Hort, New Testament In The Original Greek, pp. 2-3.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 32, pp. 10-11