This topic is adapted from the Rose Publishing YouTube channel.
How did the first copies of the New Testament (NT) make it around the world? Some argue that the Bible and the NT are not trustworthy, that they have been corrupted over the centuries or intentionally changed to control people. Find out here how the NT came to us today.
Collected by the Churches
Ancient NT documents were copied with ink and paper, and the various letters and gospels that make up the NT had not yet been bound together as one book. Christian churches across the Mediterranean world kept the letters and gospels by Peter, Paul, and others. As late as 200 A.D., the early Christian writer Tertullian recorded that Rome, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus still had in their possession the original copies of Paul’s letters to those churches. These letters were copied by hand because they would eventually wear out.
Copying the NT Documents
Churches would loan out their copies of letters to other churches if they requested them and would record the history of the text. What church loaned the letter to be copied? And who was the original author of that text? This helped them maintain a lineage of authority in the text so that Christians knew the documents they had were biblical and authoritative, not simply one person’s ideas.
Attestation of the NT
Modern scholarship possesses over 5,600 copies, fragments, or portions of the NT. No other ancient document is more well-attested than the NT, so arguments that the Bible was invented by the Catholic Church or other groups later in history are simply false. The earliest NT fragment, called the Rylands Papyrus or P52, is dated to about 100 A.D and contains portions of John 18:34-38.
Copying errors did slip in as the NT was copied over the centuries. Modern scholarship possesses enough copies of the NT that experts in this field, called text critics, are able to compare the varying texts and deduce what the original words of the NT were. This is the reason why some Bibles have footnotes with slightly altered wording for certain verses.
No cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith rests upon a dubious translation of a verse. The vast majority of issues pertaining to the copying of texts are things like: did a text say “Jesus said” or “He said?” While one is the original wording of Paul, Peter, or others and the other is not, it really makes no difference if the text says “Jesus” or “he” if we know Jesus is the one speaking by reading the surrounding verses. Many other errors are repeating a word, misspellings, and other minor copying errors. Important teachings like the divinity of Jesus or his sacrifice on the cross do not hinge upon this issue.
You Can Trust Your Bible
By now, scholarship and history have conclusively proven that the modern NT printed in Bibles represents exactly or very closely the original texts written by the apostles and gospel writers. The question for all of us, then, is not “if” we can trust the NT but “will” we trust the NT? The NT is clear that Jesus walked on the water, but believing he did it is another question entirely. This is where faith comes in.
Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Do you trust the NT? And what do you mean when you say you “trust” or “don’t trust” it? Explain.
- Was the story of Jesus made up? Explain.
- Why do you think there are so many copies of the NT that have been found?
- Read Hebrews 11:6. Even if the NT had zero text variations, would we still need faith to believe what it says? Why or why not?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.