Brief: The Purity of the New Testament Text

A brief is a short summary of relevant details within a given source of academic material. The purpose of my research briefs is to aid in the composition of a larger (and more formal) volume. However, I want to include some of them in this blog for those who are looking for a condensed, memorable treatment of important topics.

What follows is a brief on the Purity of the New Testament as argued by Craig Blomberg in Can We Still Believe the Bible? If you enjoy this content, and even if you dont, remember to click ‘like’ and subscribe!

The Purity of the New Testament Text

  • Through the science of textual criticism, we can reconstruct the original New Testament documents with a high degree of confidence.  Of the 300,000 to 400,000 manuscript variants that are said to bring the purity of the New Testament text into question, only .1% of them are both viable and meaningful [1]. Moreover, no such variant affects a central doctrine of Christianity.

    • The 400,000 variants figure is far less impressive when we consider that they are spread out over 25,000 manuscripts! That equates to only 16 variants per manuscript [2]. It is precisely because we have such outstanding and numerous manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents that, naturally, there is a large number of variants.

    • Moreover, 75% to 80% of variants are spelling differences or errors. The most common of which is the “movable nu”.  This is a common error in Greek and is similar to the use of the English words “a” and “an” [3] – We use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound.

    • Other categories of variants include transposed words, meaningful but not viable, and viable but not meaningful [4].
      • A variant is meaningful if it changes the meaning of the passage.
      • A variant is viable if it has support accross a significant number of early manuscripts.

    • Remarkably, there are only 2 passages of more than 2 verses in length that are in dispute! And those can also be resolved by contextual analysis and other methods of textual criticism [5].

  • In fact, the New Testament stands alone in its credibility and manuscript support. If one accepts the authenticity of other major works of antiquity, they are obliged on pain of irrationality to accept the authenticity of the New Testament.

    • We have more than 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts and the earliest fragments we have may be within 10 to 60 years of the original documents [6].

    • By way of comparison, the New Testament’s closest competitors are Homer’s Epics of which we have less than 2,000 Greek manuscripts and the oldest copy we have comes 350 years after the original writing [7].

[1] Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible, pg 27
[2] Ibid., pg 16-17
[3] HBU Michael Licona Manuscripts, approx 7:00
[5] Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible, pg 18-19
[4] HBU Michael Licona Manuscripts, approx 8:30
[6] Ibid., approx 1:40 
[7] Ibid., approx 3:25

What do YOU think about the reliability of the New Testament? Do you think this format is helpful? What other briefs would you like to see? Should Rose have made room for Jack on that door? If she had stayed on the boat in the first place, would they both have lived?

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