Ancient Scribes and the WORD OF GOD
Matthew 350A.D
Matthew dates to about A.D. 350
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
scribe is a person who writes books or ...
relics with scenes, personages, or hieroglyphic text. A scribe was exempt from the heavy manual labor
required of th...
] Egyptian and Mesopotamian functions
Besides the scribal profession for accountancy, and 'governmental politicking'...
Until 1948, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible dated back to 895 A.D. In 1947, a shepherd boy
discovered som...
Imagine for a moment the potential differences in the millions of copies of The Da Vinci Code if, instead
of being p...
count slackness...,” emp. added), only to find, several years later, that at some point I had incorrectly
made “prom...
As you can see, it would be easy for a weary scribe to copy “Cainan” inadvertently f...
into their manuscripts on the basis of certain copies of Luke’s Gospel to which they then had
access” (1976, p. 282,...
Samuel 3:3). The number “four” also agrees with such ancient versions as the Septuagint, the
Syriac, the Arabic, an...
grace of God and the conscientiousness of copyists, “[t]he New Testament...has not only
survived in more manuscript...
The Old Testament
The Dead Sea Scrolls make up one of the greatest archaeol...
Twenty-first-century Christians can be confident that the New Testament has been transmitted
faithfully through the...
Is there ample evidence from surviving manuscripts, versions, and early quotations of the New
Testament documents t...
18. Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
(Electronic Database: Bi...
that we can't trust the Bible? Not at all. The copies are so accurate that all of the biblical documents are
98.5% ...
If the Bible cannot be trusted as being reliable because it has only a small percentage of copyist errors,
then nei...
With an introductory book on New Testament textual criticism, the Bible student will discover that the
early papyru...
Luke 1:1-4 Amplified Bible (AMP)
SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thoro...
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it
is the w...
It is perhaps the extraordinary high durability of the product, produced by so simple a method, which
has prevented...
However, it should be recognized that the parchment notebook was not used for literature in the first two
(2) The Christians were using the codex at the end of the first-century C.E.
(3) Point 2 is because all extant (sti...
What does all of this mean? Of course, we cannot know absolutely, but textual scholars Philip W.
Comfort,[9] Larry ...
affecting the purity of the NT text must not be exaggerated. The NT books doubtless came to be
considered as “liter...
shared features with the Jewish Sopherim, those men who copied the Hebrew Scriptures in Jesus’ day.
You will find c...
4. Greenlee, J Harold. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. Peabody: Hendrickson,
5. —. The Text ...
[7] People of the first three centuries sent and received letters and books from all over the Roman
Empire. To give...
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  1. 1. Page1 Ancient Scribes and the WORD OF GOD THE EARLY SCRIBAL PROFESSION A PAPYRUS DOCUMENT Matthew 350A.D
  2. 2. Page2 Matthew dates to about A.D. 350 Scribe From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession and helps the city keep track of its records. The profession, previously found in all literate cultures in some form, lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing. The work could involve copying books, including sacred texts, or secretarial and administrative duties such as taking of dictation and the keeping of business, judicial and historical records for kings, nobility, temples and cities. Later the profession developed into public servants, journalists, accountants, typists, and lawyers. In societies with low literacy rates, street corner letter-writers (and readers) may still be found providing a service.  Ancient Egypt Egyptian scribe with papyrus scroll The Ancient Egyptian scribe, or sesh,[1] was a person educated in the arts of writing (using both hieroglyphics and hieratic scripts, and from the second half of the first millennium BCE the demotic script, used as shorthand and for commerce) and dena (arithmetics).[2][3] Sons of scribes were brought up in the same scribal tradition, sent to school and, upon entering the civil service, inherited their fathers' positions.[4] Much of what is known about ancient Egypt is due to the activities of its scribes. Monumental buildings were erected under their supervision,[5] administrative and economic activities were documented by them, and tales from the mouths of Egypt's lower classes or from foreign lands survive thanks to scribes putting them in writing.[6] Scribes were also considered part of the royal court and did not have to pay tax or join the military. The scribal profession had companion professions, the painters and artisans who decorated reliefs and other
  3. 3. Page3 relics with scenes, personages, or hieroglyphic text. A scribe was exempt from the heavy manual labor required of the lower classes, or corvee labor. The hieroglyph used to signify the scribe, to write, and "writings", etc, is Gardiner sign Y3, fromthe categoryof:'writings,,& music'.The hieroglyphcontainsthe scribe'sink-mixingpalette,avertical case to hold writing-reeds, and a leather pouch to hold the colored ink blocks, mostly black and red. Mesopotamia An account of monthly barley rations issued to adults (30 or 40 pints) and children (20 pints) written in cuneiform script on a clay tablet. Written in year 4 of King Urukagina (circa 2350 BCE). From Girsu, Iraq. British Museum, London. The Mesopotamian scribe, or dubsar,[7] received his education in the "tablet house," or é-dubba.[8] As in Egypt, he was generally male[7] and belonged socially to an elite class.[7] The youngest of the Mesopotamian students typically received their first instruction from older students.[7] The older students appear to have been bribed into proffering preferential treatment, such as to avoid punishing certain children.[7] Excavations suggest that all the male children from the wealthier families of Mesopotamia were educated.[7] Writing in early Mesopotamia seems to that the need to document economic transactions, and consisted often in lists which scribes knowledgeable in writing and arithmetics engraved in cuneiform letters into tablets of clay.[9] Apart from administration and accountancy, Mesopotamian scribes observed the sky and wrote literary works as well as the famous myth The Epic of Gilgamesh. They wrote on papyrus paper[10] as well as clay tablets. They also wrote and kept records. Scribe's writing tools were made of reeds and were called a stylus. Babylonian scribes concentrated their schooling on learning how to write both Akkadian and Sumerian, in cuneiform, for the purposes of accountancy and contract dealings, in addition to interpersonal discourse and mathematical documentations.[8] The Mesopotamian scribal profession was associated with the goddess Nisaba, who later would become replaced by the god Nabu.[8]
  4. 4. Page4 ] Egyptian and Mesopotamian functions Besides the scribal profession for accountancy, and 'governmental politicking' , the scribal professions immediately branched-out into the socio-cultural areas of literature. The first stories probably related to societal religious stories, and gods, but the beginning of literature genres were starting. In ancient Egypt an example of this is the Dispute between a man and his Ba. Some of these stories, the "wisdom literatures" may have just started as a 'short story', but since writing had only recently been invented, it was the first physical recordings of societal ideas, in some length and detail. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians had one of the beginnings of this literature in the middle to late 3rd millennium BC, and besides their creation stories, and religious texts, there is a series of debates. An example from the small list of Sumerian disputations is the debate between bird and fish.[11] In the other Sumerian disputes, in the debate between Summer and Winter, summer wins. The other disputes are: cattle and grain, the tree and the reed, Silver and Copper, the pickax and the plough, and millstone and the gul-gul stone.[12] Ancient Israel Scribes in Ancient Israel, as in most of the ancient world, were distinguished professionals who could exercise functions we would associate with lawyers, government ministers, judges, or even financiers, as early as the 11th century BCE.[13] Some scribes copied documents, but this was not necessarily part of their job.[14] The Jewish scribes used the following process for creating copies of the Torah and eventually other books in the Tanakh. 1. They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts. 2. Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines. 3. The ink must be black, and of a special recipe. 4. They must say each word aloud while they were writing. 5. Theymust wipe the penandwashtheirentire bodiesbefore writing the most Holy Name of God, YHVH every time they wrote it. 6. There mustbe a reviewwithinthirtydays,andif asmany as three pagesrequiredcorrections,the entire manuscript had to be redone. 7. The letters,words,andparagraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document. 8. The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc.). 9. As nodocument containing God's Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah. Sofer Main article: Sofer (scribe) A Sofer (Hebrew: ‫סת”ם‬ ‫)סופר‬ are among the few scribes that still ply their trade by hand. Renowned calligraphers, they produce the Hebrew Torah scrolls and other holy texts by hand to this day. They write on parchment. Sofer accuracy Further information: Dead Sea Scrolls
  5. 5. Page5 Until 1948, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible dated back to 895 A.D. In 1947, a shepherd boy discovered some scrolls inside a cave West of the Dead Sea. These manuscripts dated between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. Over the next decade, more scrolls were found in caves and the discovery became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Every book in the Hebrew Bible was represented in this discovery except Esther. Numerous copies of each book were discovered, such as the 25 copies of Deuteronomy that were found. While there are other items found among the Dead Sea Scrolls not currently in the Hebrew Bible, the texts on the whole testify to the accuracy of the scribes copying down through the ages, though many variations and errors occurred.[15] The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently the best route of comparison to the accuracy and consistency of translation for the Hebrew Bible, due to their date of origin being the oldest out of any Biblical text currently known. Inspired Writers and Competent Copyists by Eric Lyons,M.Min. If you were to open your Bible and read Mark 14:16, you would learn that Jesus’ disciples went into Jerusalem to prepare the final Passover meal before His crucifixion. The wording of the verse is as follows: “So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover” (emp. added). The highlighted conjunction “and” (kai in Greek) is found in the Greek manuscripts of Mark. It also appears in most English translations of the Bible. However, in one particular copy of the Bible that I possess, the stem of the “d” in “and” is missing, causing the word to be misspelled: “So His disciples went out, ano came into the city...” (emp. added). Most people who read Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) learn of the king asking one particular attendee a very specific question: “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” (vs. 12, emp. added). A colleague of mine has a reliable translation of the Bible that words Jesus’ question as follows: “Friend, now did you come in here without a wedding garment?” Obviously, the “now” should be “how” (Greek pos). Similar to how the “d” in “and” was skewed so as to look more like an “o”, the “h” in “how” lost its stem, causing it to look more like an “n.” Question: Whose fault is it that “and” has been incorrectly printed as “ano,” and “how” has been copied errantly as “now”? Surely no one would blame such errors in a modern English copy of the Bible on God or His inspired penmen (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Almost everyone recognizes that publishing companies are responsible for such minute mistakes. Although the accurate reproduction of books nearly has been perfected during the past few centuries (thanks in large part to the invention of the printing press), still, for various reasons, slight errors can creep onto the printed page. God did not intervene and miraculously keep the aforementioned errors from appearing in copies of His Word. Instead, He gave humankind the ability and resources to understand that such errors can be resolved rationally without assuming the inspired writers erred. We know that “ano” should be “and” in Mark 14:16 and “now” should be “how” in Matthew 22:12 partly because millions of other copies of the Bible (in both English and Greek) have the correct words “and” (kai) and “how” (pos), and also because we easily can see how a printing press might occasionally leave off the stems of certain letters. COMMON SENSE AND COPYISTS’ ERRORS One of the most popular books of the 21st century has been Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. Since 2003, some 50 million copies of this book have been sold worldwide (“The Official...,” n.d.).
  6. 6. Page6 Imagine for a moment the potential differences in the millions of copies of The Da Vinci Code if, instead of being printed on a press, they all were reproduced by hand. No doubt, many copyists’ errors would have been made. Occasionally, names would have been misspelled, numbers would have been inverted, and there would have been the occasional duplication or omission of words or entire lines. However, if several million copies of The Da Vinci Code were retrieved from all over the world, and then compared, contrasted, and critiqued by hundreds of scholars over several decades in an effort to recover the precise wording of Dan Brown’s original manuscript, the text, in effect, would be restored to its original condition. Most copyists’ errors would be weeded out. Through textual criticism, the text of The Da Vinci Code eventually would be restored. Whether one is referring to secular works or the Bible, prior to the invention of the printing press, copies of books were made by hand, and thus were susceptible to errors. In the 19th century, respected Christian scholar J.W. McGarvey noted: “There is not a writing of antiquity which has come down to our age without many such changes” (1886, 1:7-8). In fact, “[a] large part of the labor of the editors of Greek and Latin classics consists in correcting as best they can the erroneous readings thus introduced into these works” (McGarvey, 1:8). Take, for instance, the comedies of Terence (c. 190-158 B.C.). Seventeenth-century English scholar Richard Bentley noted how Terence’s works were some of the better preserved classical texts, yet Bentley testified that he had witnessed “twenty thousand various lections [readings—EL] in that little author, not near so big as the whole New Testament” (as quoted in “The Text...,” 1822, 15(37):476; see also McGarvey, 1886, 1:8). Consider also the writings of Tacitus. They are known to contain at least one numerical error that Tacitean and classical scholars have acknowledged as a copyist’s mistake (Holding, 2001). Scholars recognize that, at some point in history, a copyist accidentally changed a number (from CXXV to XXV). Although such copyists’ errors are known to exist, historians around the world cite such ancient works as Herodotus, Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, etc., and consider them trustworthy, educational, and worthy of study. If scholars defend the integrity of ancient authors partly by acknowledging that many of the mistakes contained within their writings are the result of copyists’ errors, it is only reasonable for these same scholars (whether atheists, agnostics, skeptics, or Christians) to recognize that alleged problems within the biblical text may be the result of scribal errors rather than mistakes on the part of one or more of the original Bible writers. Just as those who copied secular historical documents sometimes made mistakes (e.g., misspelling names, omitting words, etc.), scribes who copied the Bible from earlier texts also had the opportunity to err. As Gleason Archer observed: “Even the earliest and best manuscripts that we possess are not totally free of transmissional errors. Numbers are occasionally miscopied, the spelling of proper names is occasionally garbled, and there are examples of the same types of scribal error that appear in other ancient documents as well” (1982, p. 27). Norman Geisler and William Nix have mentioned several ways that a scribe might accidentally change the biblical text, including: (1) omissions or repetitions of letters, words, or lines; (2) reversals (transpositions) of letters or words; (3) divisions of words in the wrong places (since words in the early manuscripts were not divided by spaces); (4) errors of hearing (such as when scribes copied the Scriptures by listening to someone read them); (5) trusting in memory instead of relying on exactly what the text says; (6) errors of judgment (possibly caused by insufficient lighting or poor eyesight); (7) poor penmanship; etc. (1986, pp. 469-475). Recently, I wrote a note asking an assistant to send a package to a Mrs. Ward. Unfortunately, the package got mislabeled “Mrs. Word,” either because my handwriting was too poor to distinguish adequately between an “a” and an “o,” or the assistant simply misread the name. This example shows how easily copyists’ mistakes can occur, even in modern times. How many Bible students have memorized passages of Scripture and quoted them for months or even years without realizing that at some point in time they mistakenly changed, added, or omitted a word from the text. I once memorized 2 Peter 3:9 (“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some
  7. 7. Page7 count slackness...,” emp. added), only to find, several years later, that at some point I had incorrectly made “promise” plural, and had quoted it that way for months. One of the occasional mistakes copyists made was to trust too much in their own memory. Instead of carefully noting every letter in every word on every line, some copyists might have memorized too much at a time without looking back at the text. Keep in mind that scribes did not have computer keys that made the same letters every time, or that allowed them to copy and paste a paragraph of text with the push of a few buttons. Copying the Bible in ancient times was a painstaking, tedious job that required constant attention and care even in the best of circumstances. CAINAN, SON OF ARPHAXAD: A CASE STUDY IN COPYISTS’ ERRORS Luke 3:36 is the only verse in the Bible where one can read of the patriarch Arphaxad having a son named Cainan. Although another Cainan (the son of Enosh) is mentioned seven times in Scripture (Genesis 5:9-10,12-14; 1 Chronicles 1:2; Luke 3:37), outside of Luke 3:36, Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, never is mentioned. He is omitted in the genealogies of Genesis 10 and 11, as well as in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles 1:1-28. When the son of Arphaxad is listed in these genealogies, the name always given is Salah (or Shelah), not Cainan. One important thing we learn from the various genealogies in Scripture is that sometimes they contain minor gaps—gaps that are both intentional and legitimate (see Matthew 1:1; see also Thompson, 1989, 9[5]:17-18). Thus, just because Luke 3 contains a name that is not recorded in Genesis 10 or 11, or in 1 Chronicles 1, does not have to mean that someone made a mistake. The fact is, terms such as “begot,” “the son of,” and “father”—often found in genealogies— occasionally have a much wider connotation in the Bible than might be implied when such words are used in modern-day English (cf. Genesis 32:9; John 8:39). Simply because one genealogy has more (or fewer) names than another genealogy, does not mean that the two genealogies are in disagreement. Still, the insertion of the name Cainan in Luke 3:36 most likely has a far different explanation— one that may be more plausible, yet at the same time is more complicated to explain, and thus less popular. It is very likely that the “Cainan problem” is the result of a scribal error made when copying Luke’s gospel account. Realizing that the New Testament originally was written in Greek without punctuation or spaces between words, the insertion of the name Cainan easily could have crept into Luke’s genealogy. Notice in the following chart, what the original text (in agreement with Genesis 10:24, 11:12, and 1 Chronicles 1:18,24) might have said: touserouchtouragautoufalektouebertousala toukainamtouarfaxadtouseemtounooetoulamech toumathousalatouhenoochtouiarettoumaleleeeltoukainan touenoostouseethtouadamtoutheou If a scribe happened to glance at the end of the third line at toukainan, he easily could have written it on the first line as well as the third. Hence, instead of reading only one Cainan, what we read today is two Cainans: touserouchtouragautoufalektouebertousalatoukainan toukainamtouarfaxadtouseemtounooetoulamech toumathousalatouhenoochtouiarettoumaleleeeltoukainan
  8. 8. Page8 touenoostouseethtouadamtoutheou As you can see, it would be easy for a weary scribe to copy “Cainan” inadvertently from Luke 3:37 as he was copying 3:36 (see Sarfati, 1998, 12[1]:39-40; Morris, 1976, p. 282). Although some apologists reject the idea that the insertion of Cainan in Luke 3:36 is a copyist’s error, the following facts seem to add much credence to this proposed explanation.  As statedearlier,thispartof Luke’s genealogy also is recorded in Genesis 10:24, 11:12, and in 1 Chronicles1:18,24. All of these OldTestamentpassages,however,omitthe Cainan of Luke 3:36. In fact, Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, is not found in any Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.  Cainanisomittedfromall of the followingancientversionsof the OldTestament:the Samaritan Pentateuch,the Syriac,the Targum(Aramaictranslationsof the OldTestament),andthe Vulgate (a Latintranslationof the Bible completed between A.D. 382 and 405) (see Hasel, 1980, 7(1):23- 37).  Cainan’s name is absent from Flavius Josephus’ patriarchal listing in his historical work, Antiquities of the Jews (see 6:1:4-5).  The third-century Christian historian, Julius Africanus, also omitted Cainan’s name from his chronology of the patriarchs, and yet he had copies of the gospels of both Luke and Matthew (1971, 6:125-140).  The earliestknowncopyof Luke (a papyruscodex of the Bodmer Collection dated between A.D. 175 and 225) does not contain this Cainan (see Sarfati, n.d.). Some are quick to point out that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) mentions the name Cainan, and thus verifies that he was the son of Arphaxad, just as Luke 3:36 indicates. The problem with this line of defense is that the oldest Septuagint manuscripts do not include this reference to Cainan (Sarfati, 1998, 12[1]:40). Patrick Fairbairn indicated in his Bible encyclopedia that this Cainan does “not appear to have been in the copies of the Septuagint used by Theophilus of Antioch in the second century, by Africanus in the third, or by Eusebius in the fourth” (1957, 2:351). He further stated that this Cainan also was left out of the Vatican copy of the Septuagint (2:351). That “Cainan” was a later addition to the Septuagint (and not a part of it originally) also is evident from the fact that neither Josephus nor Africanus mentioned him, and yet all indications are that they both used the Septuagint in their writings. They repeat too many of the same numbers of the Septuagint not to have used it. Thus, Larry Pierce stated: “It appears that at the time of Josephus, the extra generation of Cainan was not in the LXX [Septuagint—EL] text or the document that Josephus used, otherwise Josephus would have included it!” (1999, 13[2]:76). As Henry Morris concluded in his commentary on Genesis: “[I]t is altogether possible that later copiers of the Septuagint (who were not as meticulous as those who copied the Hebrew text) inserted Cainan This manuscript of a portion of Matthew dates to about A.D. 350. Credit: The Schøyen Collection MS 2650
  9. 9. Page9 into their manuscripts on the basis of certain copies of Luke’s Gospel to which they then had access” (1976, p. 282, parenthetical comment in orig.). Although it is possible that “Cainan” in Luke 3:36 merely supplements the Old Testament genealogies, when all of the evidence is gathered, a better explanation is that the name Cainan in Luke 3:36 is the result of a copyist’s error. MORE EXAMPLES OF POSSIBLE COPYISTS’ ERRORS Jehoiachin’s Age When He Began to Reign In 2 Kings 24:8, we read that Jehoiachin succeeded his father as the 19th king of Judah at the age of eighteen. However, 2 Chronicles 36:9 informs us that he was “eight years old when he became king.” Fortunately, there is enough additional information in the biblical text to prove the correct age of Jehoiachin when he began his reign over Judah. There is little doubt that Jehoiachin began his reign at eighteen, not eight years of age. This conclusion is established by Ezekiel 19:5-9, where Jehoiachin is described as going up and down among the lions, catching the prey, devouring men, and knowing the widows of the men he devoured and the cities he wasted. As Keil and Delitzsch observed when commenting on this passage: “The knowing of widows cannot apply to a boy of eight, but might well be said of a young man of eighteen” (1996). Furthermore, it is doubtful that an eight-year-old child would be described as one having done “evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 24:9). The simple answer to this “problem” is that a copyist, not an inspired writer, made a mistake. A scribe simply omitted a ten (the Hebrew numeral letter ‫ח‬ [yod], which made Jehoiachin eight (Hebrew ‫)י‬ [heth]) instead of eighteen (Hebrew ‫.)חי‬ This does not mean the inspired penmen erred. Rather, it indicates that minor scribal errors have slipped into some copies of the Bible. Indeed, if you ever have seen the Hebrew alphabet, you doubtless recognize that the Hebrew letters (which also were used for numbers) could be confused quite easily. The Spelling of Hadadezer Should the king’s name be spelled with a “d” (2 Samuel 8:3; 1 Kings 11:23) or an “r” (2 Samuel 10:16; 1 Chronicles 18:3; KJV and ASV)? It would appear that the difference in spelling came about through the mistake of a scribe. Most likely Hadadezer (with a “d”) is the true form since, “Hadad was the chief idol, or sun-god, of the Syrians” (Barnes, 1997; cf. Benhadad and Hadad of 1 Kings 15:18; 11:14; etc.). As William Arndt stated, “D and R may be distinct enough in appearance in English, but in Hebrew they are vexingly similar to each other” (1955, p. xv). The Hebrew daleth = ‫,ד‬ while resh = ‫.ר‬ There should be little doubt in our minds that Hadarezer simply is a corrupted form of Hadadezer. One can see how easily a copyist could have made this mistake. When Did Absalom Commit Treason? When David’s son Absalom finally returned after killing his half-brother Amnon, 2 Samuel 15:7 indicates that “after forty years” passed, Absalom left home again and committed treason. Anyone who knows much Israelite history quickly realizes that Absalom most certainly did not spend 40 years at home during this time, for David’s entire reign was only 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4). The number given in 2 Samuel 15:7 likely should be four years, which is more in keeping with the lifetime of Absalom, who was born in Hebron after David’s reign as king began (2
  10. 10. Page10 Samuel 3:3). The number “four” also agrees with such ancient versions as the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate. There is little question that the number “forty” represents a copyist error. CONSCIENTIOUS COPYISTS Although scribes are mentioned in the Bible as far back as 1000 B.C. (e.g., Samuel 8:17), history records three general periods of Jewish scribal tradition: (1) the period of Sopherim (from Ezra until c. A.D. 200); (2) the Talmudic period (A.D. 100–c. 500); and (3) the period of the Massoretes (c. 500–c. 950) (Geisler and Nix, 1986, p. 502). Jewish copyists were aware of the importance of their work and took it very seriously. They were not flawless in their transcription work (as noted above), but the evidence shows that they were very conscientious. Infinitely more important than students copying spelling words, cooks copying recipes, or secretaries copying a boss’s memo, scribes understood that they were copying the Word of God. Even the important work of medical transcriptionists cannot compare with the copyists of old. McGarvey noted how copyists in the Talmudic period “adopted for themselves very minute regulations to preserve the purity of the sacred text” (1886, 1:9). Later, the Massoretes took even more stringent steps to insure top- quality manuscripts. With a deep reverence for the Scriptures, they went above and beyond the “call of duty,” laboring under ultra-strict rules in order to make the most accurate copies possible. In his Introduction to the Old Testament, Professor R.K. Harrison addressed the approach of the Massoretes to the Scriptures and their professionalism, saying: They concerned themselves with the transmission of the consonantal text as they had received it [Hebrew has no vowels—EL], as well as with its pronunciation, on the basis that the text itself was inviolable and every consonant sacred. The detailed statistical work that the Massoretes undertook on each book included the counting of verses, words, and letters, establishing the middle of the book (a procedure which was useful in the case of bifid, or two-part, compositions) noting peculiarities of style, and other similar matters (1969, pp. 212-213, parenthetical item in orig.). By taking such precautions in the copying of letters, words, and verses (by sections and books), it could be known if a word or letter had been omitted or added. Indeed, as Eddie Hendrix affirmed: “Such minute checks contributed to a high degree of copying accuracy” (1976, 93[14]:5). No other group of ancient copyists is more renowned than those of the Old Testament. Although much less is known about New Testament copyists, according to Philip Comfort, who wrote The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament, paleographic evidence has revealed that “several of the early manuscripts were copied carefully with precision and acumen...,” no doubt “by educated and professional scribes” (1992, p. 51,50). New Testament copyists also had grave motivation to copy the Scriptures with care. Although not typically quoted with copyists in mind, consider the words of Revelation 22:18-19: For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. In the second century A.D., Irenaeus applied this condemnation to copyists who knowingly contribute to the initiation and perpetuation of textual errors (5:30:1). Undoubtedly, due to the
  11. 11. Page11 grace of God and the conscientiousness of copyists, “[t]he New Testament...has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in purer form than any other great book” (Geisler and Nix, p. 475). NO AUTOGRAPHS? NO PROBLEM. Some may wonder how Christians can be confident that we have God’s Word today, when the original manuscripts (called autographs) are no longer available for our viewing. How can one know the Truth, if the Truth comes from copies of copies of copies...of the autographs, many of which contain various minute transcriptional errors? Should we simply give up and declare that attempts at finding the Truth are futile? It is highly unreasonable to think that truths can be learned only from autographs. Learning and forming beliefs based on reliable copies of various written documents, objects, etc. is a way of life. To conclude that a driver in a particular state could not learn to drive adequately without having in hand the original driving manual produced by the state years earlier is absurd. To assert that no one could measure the length of one yard without having the standard yard in hand from the National Institute of Standards and Technology is ridiculous. Even if the standard yard was lost, the millions of copies of the yard in existence today would be sufficient in finding (or measuring) exactly what a yard is. Consider also McGarvey’s example of an autograph, which eventually was destroyed. A gentleman left a large estate entailed to his descendants of the third generation, and it was not to be divided until a majority of them should be of age. During the interval many copies of the will were circulated among parties interested, many of these being copies of copies. In the meantime the office of record in which the original was filed was burned with all its contents. When the time for division drew near, a prying attorney gave out among the heirs the report that no two existing copies were alike. This alarmed them all and set them busily at work to ascertain the truth of the report. On comparing copy with copy they found the report true, but on close inspection it was discovered that the differences consisted in errors in spelling or grammatical construction; some mistakes in figures corrected by the written numbers; and some other differences not easily accounted for; but that in none of the copies did these mistakes affect the rights of the heirs. In the essential matters for which the will was written the representations of all the copies were precisely the same. The result was that they divided the estate with perfect satisfaction to all, and they were more certain that they had executed the will of their grandfather than if the original copy had been alone preserved; for it might have been tampered with in the interest of a single heir; but the copies, defective though they were, could not have been (1:17). Everyday, all around the world, individuals, groups, businesses, schools, etc. operate with the conviction that autographs are unnecessary to learn the truths within them. Copies of wills, articles, books, etc., can be gathered, inspected, and scrutinized until new copies are published that virtually are identical to the original. “[A]ccurate communication is possible despite technical mistakes in copying” (Archer, 1982, p. 29). So it is with the Bible. Even though copyists were imperfect in their transcription work, more than enough copies of the Scriptures have survived so that, as Sir Fredric Kenyon remarked, “it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world!” (as quoted in Lightfoot, 2003, p. 204).
  12. 12. Page12 EVIDENCE OF RELIABLE BIBLE TRANSMISSION The Old Testament The Dead Sea Scrolls make up one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all times. In 1947, a number of ancient documents were found by accident in a cave on the northwest side of the Dead Sea. This collection of documents, which has become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, was comprised of old leather and papyrus scrolls and fragments that had been rolled up in earthen jars for centuries. From 1949 to 1956, hundreds of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts and a few Greek fragments were found in surrounding caves, and are believed by scholars to have been written between 200 B.C. and the first half of the first century A.D. Some of the manuscripts were of Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings (e.g., 1 Enoch, Tobit, and Jubilees); others often are grouped together as “ascetic” writings (miscellaneous books of rules, poetry, commentary, etc.). The most notable and pertinent group of documents found in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea is the collection of Old Testament books. Every book from the Hebrew Bible was accounted for among the scrolls except the book of Esther. The Dead Sea Scrolls serve as strong evidence for the integrity of the Old Testament text. Prior to 1947, the earliest known Old Testament manuscripts went back only to about A.D. 1000. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Bible scholars have been able to compare the present day text with the text from more than 2,000 years ago. Textual critics have found that these ancient copies of Old Testament books are amazingly similar to the Massoretic text. Indeed, they serve as proof that the Old Testament text has been transmitted faithfully through the centuries. As Rene Paché concluded: “Since it can be demonstrated that the text of the Old Testament was accurately transmitted for the last 2,000 years, one may reasonably suppose that it had been so transmitted from the beginning” (1971, p. 191). What’s more, if copies of the Old Testament in the first century were sufficiently accurate for Jesus and the apostles to quote them and teach from them, and we possess Old Testament manuscripts that date back to (or before) the time of Christ, then Christians should feel extremely confident about the condition of the Old Testament in the 21st century—at least as confident as was Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:31). The New Testament How confident can Christians be that the text of the New Testament is essentially the same today as it was in the first century? Could it be that one of the central tenets of Christianity (e.g., Jesus’ deity) is the result of a person’s manipulation of the New Testament text centuries ago, as is alleged in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code (2003, pp. 233-234)? Did someone come along in the Middle Ages and drastically change the text of the New Testament? Just what evidence do we have for the reliability of the New Testament? One of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered
  13. 13. Page13 Twenty-first-century Christians can be confident that the New Testament has been transmitted faithfully through the centuries in large part because of the vast amount of manuscript evidence in existence today, some of which goes back to the early second century A.D. When F.F. Bruce published the sixth edition of his classic book The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? in 1981, he noted that “there are in existence over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part” (p. 10). Nearly 25 years later, Michael Welte of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Munster, Germany, indicated that the number of Greek manuscripts stood at 5,748 (2005). This number represents a far greater body of manuscripts than is known to exist for any other ancient volume (cf. Westcott and Hort, 1964, p. 565; Ewert, 1983, p. 139; Kenyon, 1951, p. 5). For example, The Histories of Herodotus, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and the Annals of Tacitus, three well-known and oft’-quoted ancient historical works, are backed by a combined total of 38 manuscripts (Geisler and Nix, p. 408). The most documented book of antiquity next to the New Testament is Homer’s Iliad. Some 643 manuscripts of the Iliad are in existence today (p. 475), which is still 5,000 less than the number of extant copies of the New Testament. Equally impressive as the number of manuscripts of the New Testament in existence is the age of the manuscripts. Whereas the extant copies of Plato, Thucydides, Herodotus, Tacitus, and many others are separated from the time these men wrote by 1,000 years, manuscript evidence for the New Testament reaches as far back as the early second century, and possibly earlier. In The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, a 700-page volume edited by Philip Comfort and David Barrett, more than 60 of the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts are transcribed (2001). Many photographs of these early manuscripts (the originals of which are housed in museums throughout the world) also are contained in the book. In the introduction, Comfort and Barrett state: “All of the manuscripts [contained in the book—EL] are dated from the early second century to the beginning of the fourth (A.D. 100-300)” (p. 17). In fact, “[s]everal of the most significant papyri date from the middle of the second century” and thus “provide the earliest direct witness to the New Testament autographs” (p. 18). They even suggest that “it is possible that some of the manuscripts thought to be of the early second century are actually manuscripts of the late first” (p. 23). Thus, we can have great confidence in the transmission of the New Testament, not only because of the great number of extant copies, but because of how closely these manuscripts date to the time when the autographs were written. But, that’s not all. To the manuscript evidence, one also can add the ancient versions of the New Testament (e.g., Old Syriac, Old Latin, Coptic, etc.), as well as the “more than 36,000 patristic citations containing almost every verse of the New Testament” (Geisler and Nix, p. 467). Non-inspired Christian writings from the first few centuries (by men such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and many others) are saturated with quotations from the New Testament apostles and prophets. “Indeed, so extensive are these citations,” wrote the eminent New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger, “that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone in reconstructing practically the entire New Testament” (1968, p. 86). These witnesses, along with the ancient versions, speak voluminously on behalf of the integrity of the Bible’s transmission. Old, worn page of a papyrus document
  14. 14. Page14 Is there ample evidence from surviving manuscripts, versions, and early quotations of the New Testament documents that indicates the New Testament is essentially the same today as it was in the first century? Most certainly. The former director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon, summed up the matter: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries” (as quoted in Lightfoot, 2003, p. 126). CONCLUSION Considering the potential over the past 1,900 years for the text of the Bible to be grossly corrupted, and the fact that such did not occur, Christians can be confident that God, though not inspiring the copyists in their transmission of His Word, used them in His providential preservation of it. Isaiah assured his listeners 2,700 years ago of the permanence of God’s Word, saying, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6). Then, after more than seven centuries of transmission, the apostle Peter echoed Isaiah’s sentiments, describing the Word of God as “incorruptible,” and that which “lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23-25). REFERENCES 1. Africanus, Julius (1971 reprint), “The Extant Writings of Julius Africanus,” Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). 2. Archer, Gleason L. (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan). 3. Arndt, William (1955), Does the Bible Contradict Itself? (St. Louis, MO: Concordia). 4. Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft). 5. Brown, Dan (2003), The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday). 6. Bruce, F.F. (1981), The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), sixth edition. 7. Comfort, Philip (1992), The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker). 8. Comfort, Philip W. and David P. Barrett (2001), The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House). 9. Ewert, David (1983), From Ancient Tablets to Modern Translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonder- van). 10. Fairbairn, Patrick (1957 reprint), “Genealogies,” Fairbairn’s Imperial Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan). 11. Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix (1986), A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody), revised edition. 12. Hasel, Gerhard F. (1980), “Genesis 5 and 11: Chronologies in the Biblical History of Beginnings,” Origins, 7[1]:23-37, [On-line], URL: 13. Harrison, R.K. (1969), Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). 14. Hendrix, Eddie (1976), “What About Those Copyist Errors?” Firm Foundation, 93[14]:5, April 6. 15. Holding, James Patrick (2001), “Copyist Errors,” [On-line], URL: 16. Irenaeus (1973 reprint), “Irenaeus Against Heresies,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). 17. Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
  15. 15. Page15 18. Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft). 19. Kenyon, Sir Frederic (1951 reprint), Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), second edition. 20. Lightfoot, Neil (2003), How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), third edition. 21. McGarvey, J.W. (1886), Evidences of Christianity (Cincinnati, OH: Guide Printing). 22. Metzger, Bruce (1968), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press). 23. Morris, Henry M. (1976), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker). 24. “The Official Website of #1 National Bestselling Author Dan Brown” (no date), [On-line], URL: 25. Paché, Rene (1971), The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). 26. Pierce, Larry (1999), “Cainan in Luke 3:36: Insight from Josephus,” CEN Technical Journal, 13[2]:75-76. 27. Sarfati, Jonathan D. (1998), “Cainan of Luke 3:36,” CEN Technical Journal, 12[1]:39-40. 28. Sarfati, Jonathan D. (no date), “How do You Explain the Difference between Luke 3:36 and Genesis 11:12?” [On-line], URL: 29. “The Text of the New Testament” (1822), The North American Review, 15(37):460-487, October, [On-line], URL: bin/query/r?ammem/ncps:@field(DOCID+@lit (ABQ7578-0015-27)). 30. Thompson, Bert (1989), “Are the Genealogies of the Bible Useful Chronologies?” Reason and Revelation, 9[5]:17-18, May. 31. Welte, Michael (2005), personal e-mail to Dave Miller, Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Munster, Germany), [On-line], URL: 32. Westcott, B.A. and F.J.A. Hort (1964 reprint), The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: MacMillan). Inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible by Matt Slick The Christian Church as a whole claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. This means that God is the one who moved through the writers to communicate to us the words which God wanted us to hear. This inspiration, however, is not a dictation, but a movement of God's spirit through the writer, utilizing the personality and style of the writer. Inerrancy means that all that is written in the inspired documents is without error. Now, there is a comment worth mentioning here. Inspiration and inerrancy applies to the original writings, not to the copies. In other words, it is the original writings that are without error. The copies, sadly, have copyist errors in them. Therefore, when critics of the Bible point out apparent contradictions, what they are doing is either failing to understand the context of the passages they are examining, or they have encountered a scribal copying error. The fact is that there are indeed copyist errors on the biblical documents and they account for many alleged contradictions. Remember, it is the autographs (original writings) that are inspired and inerrant, not the copies. The copies we have now are copies of inspired documents. The copies are not themselves "inspired;" that is, they have no guarantee of being 100% textually pure. Does this then mean
  16. 16. Page16 that we can't trust the Bible? Not at all. The copies are so accurate that all of the biblical documents are 98.5% textually pure. The 1.5% that is in question is mainly nothing more than spelling errors and occasional word omissions like the words "the," "but," etc. This reduces any serious textual issues to a fraction of the 1.5%. Nevertheless, nothing affects doctrinal truths. In fact, nothing in ancient history even comes close to the accuracy of the New Testament documents. If the New Testament is disallowed, then all other documents of ancient history (Plato, Aristotle, Homer, etc.), must also be disallowed because the biblical documents are far superior in their copying accuracy than any other ancient literature in existence. See the chart below for further information on this. Nevertheless, following is a list of the types of errors that have crept into the Bible:  Dittography - Writing twice what should have been written once. o A good example would be writing "latter" instead of "later." "Latter" means nearest the end. "Later" means after something else.  Fission - Improperly dividing one word into two words. o Example: "nowhere" into "now here."  Fusion - Combining the last letter of one word with the first letter of the next word. o "Look it is there in the cabinet... or Look it is therein the cabinet."  Haplography - Writing once what should have been written twice. o A good example would be "later" instead of "latter." "Later" means after something else. "Latter" means nearest the end.  Homophony - Writing a word with a different meaning for another word when both words have the exact same pronunciation. o Meat and meet have the exact same sound but different meanings. Also, there and their and they're are another example.  Metathesis - An improper exchange in the order of letters. o Instead of writing "mast," someone writes "mats," or "cast" and cats." Does this mean that the Bible we hold in our hand is not inspired? Not at all. Inspiration comes from God and when He inspired the Bible, it was perfect. Our copies of the original documents are not perfect, but they are very close to being so. The critics often mistakenly assume that even the copies are supposed to be perfect. But when I point out that God never said the copies would be perfect, they then ask how can the Bible be trusted at all? Quite simply, it is redundant in its facts and information sufficiently to guarantee accuracy. Compared to other ancient documents, the New Testament, for example, has far more textual evidence in its favor than any other ancient writing. Please consider the chart below. Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span No. of Copies Homer (Iliad) 900 BC 400 BC 500 years 643 Ceasar (The Gallic Wars) 100 - 44 BC 900 AD 1,000 years 10 Plato (Tetralogies) 427 - 347 BC 900 AD 1,200 years 7 Aristotle 384 - 322 BC 1,100 AD 1,400 years 49 Herodotus (History) 480 - 425 BC 900 AD 1,300 years 8 Euripedes 480 - 406 BC 1,100 AD 1,500 years 9 New Testament 50 - 90 A.D. 130 AD 30 years 24,000 This chart was adapted from charts in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, 1979, pages 42 and 43.
  17. 17. Page17 If the Bible cannot be trusted as being reliable because it has only a small percentage of copyist errors, then neither can the above documents be trusted that have far less textual support. Therefore, we can see that the Bible is an ancient document that has withstood thousands of years of transmission with remarkable accuracy and clarity. We can trust it to be what it says it is: the word of God. The Earliest Skilled Christian Copyist and Their Work Today there are almost two billion people that call themselves Christian, who carry a little black book around with them: the Bible. Most are unaware of just how that book came down to them, yet they would be the first to claim that it is inspired of God, and possesses no errors, mistakes, or contractions. Herein, we will take a brief look at how the early Christians went about the work of making copies of what would become known as New Testament books, books that they felt were Scripture, just like the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Such background information will not only build confidence that you have been carrying the very Word of God, but it also affords you the opportunity to ‘be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.’ (1 Pet 3:15) One might say that the 127 Greek New Testament papyrus manuscripts that have survived up unto today,[1] is hardly a notable amount. As you will see below that is hardly the case, but first, let us take a look at the process. Papyrus is writing material used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans that was made from the pith of the stem of a water plant. It was cut in strips, with one layer being laid out horizontally and the other vertically. Scholarship has suggested that paste may have been used between layers as a type of adhesive, placing a large stone on top until dry, creating a sheet of papyrus paper between 6–9 inches in width and 12–15 inches long. These sheets would then be glued from end to end until they had enough length to copy the book they were working on. Writing was done only on the horizontal side and it was rolled so that the writing would be on the inside. As you can visualize, there would be great difficulty, if one were to attempt writing across the vertical side because of the fibers of the papyrus. The scribe or copyist would have used a reed pen to write on the papyrus sheets. (3 John 13) The papyrus plant was the main product used to receive writing until about 300 C.E. It was used with the roll, as well as the codex form.
  18. 18. Page18 With an introductory book on New Testament textual criticism, the Bible student will discover that the early papyrus manuscripts, such as P45, P46, P47, P52, P66, P73 and P75 (to mention just a few, all date before 300 C.E., from as early as 110 C.E. On the other hand, the manuscripts, like codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus from about 350 C.E. were made with parchment, a creamy or yellowish material made from dried and treated sheepskin, goatskin, or other animal hide. One may wonder why more New Testament manuscripts have not survived. It must be remembered that the Christians suffered horrible moments of persecution throughout the first 300 years from Pentecost 33 C.E. With this persecution from the Roman Empire came many orders to destroy their texts. In addition, these texts were not stored in such a way as to secure their preservation; they were used by the Christians and in the congregation, and were subject to wear and tear. Furthermore, moisture is the enemy of papyrus, causing them to disintegrate over time. This is why you will discover that the manuscripts that have survived have come from the dry sands of Egypt. Lastly, it never entered the minds of those early Christians to preserve their documents, for their solution was just to make another copy. This coupled with the transition of making copies with a more durable animal skin, which would last much longer. Of those that have survived, especially those from 300 C.E. and earlier, are the path to restoring the original Greek New Testament. From an Oral Gospel to the Written Record Jesus had commanded his disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt 28:19-20, ESV) Nevertheless, how was this good news to be made known? During the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples in the teaching of the gospel. Accordingly, he prepared them for the tremendous task that awaited them on and after Pentecost.[2] There was only ten days after Jesus ascension and Pentecost, when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus put it this way, in his own words, it being only “a few days.” This time would have been filled with the process of replacing Judas Iscariot, prayer, and the established gospel message, which would be the official oral message, until it was deemed necessary to have a written gospel some 10 to 15 years later. The gospel message was quite simple: ‘Christ died for our sins according to Scripture, was buried, and he was resurrected on the third day according to scripture.’―1 Corinthians 15:1-8. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. From Pentecost 33 C.E. up unto the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 C.E., 22 books of the Greek New Testament were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Paul, James and Jude. The five exceptions being those penned by the apostle John: his gospel, 3 letters and the book of Revelation. All of the books by John were completed toward the end of the first century, 96 - 98 C.E. Reliable history of Christianity has the Gospel of Matthew being penned first, in about 41 C.E., with the Gospel of Luke coming about 56-58 C.E., and the Gospel of Mark between 60 to 65 C.E. These are known as the synoptic Gospels, as they are similar in content, while the Gospel of John chose to convey other information, being that he wrote his gospel to the second generation of Christians in about 98 C.E. Luke informs us of just how the very first Christians received the gospel message. Very few translations make explicit the exact process.
  19. 19. Page19 Luke 1:1-4 Amplified Bible (AMP) SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us, Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [official] beginning [of Jesus' ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God], It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally [katechethes] instructed. Acts 18:24-25 English Standard Version (ESV) Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been [orally, katechethes] instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. Galatians 6:6 English Standard Version (ESV) One who is [orally, katechethes] taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. We can see clearly from the above that Both Theophilus and Apollos received the initial gospel message, just as all Christians did in the early years, and even after the written gospels were available, being taught the gospel of Jesus by oral instruction (katechethes). In time, it was deemed that there was a need for a written record, which is the reason Luke gives for his Gospel. This was not to discount what Theophilus had be orally instructed about, but to give credence to that oral message that he had received. Of course, the New Testament was not limited to these gospels. The publishing of these New Testament books in written form would have come about in the following stages: (1) the inspired author would have used a well trusted, skilled Christian scribe, to take down what they had to say, by shorthand; (2) the scribe would then make a rough draft; (3) which would then be read by both the scribe and author, making corrections; (4) thereafter, the scribe would make what is known as the authorized text, to be signed by the author; (5) which would then be used to make other copies. Romans 16:22 English Standard Version (ESV) I Tertius [Paul's scribe], who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 3:17 English Standard Version (ESV)
  20. 20. Page20 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. [Paul's comments infer that he only wrote the greeting, the rest by a scribe] 1 Peter 5:12 English Standard Version (ESV) By Silvanus [a scribe], a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. Both Tertius and Silvanus were skilled Christian scribes, who assisted the writers of the New Testament. It is unlikely that Paul literally penned any of his letters that were of great length. It is clear that Peter used the trained Silvanus to pen his first letter, and likely the second letter was the result of Jude’s penman skills, as it is very similar in style to the letter by Jude. This may explain the differences in style between First and Second Peter. As an aside, it is very likely that the inspired author would give some latitude to their skilled Christian scribe and coauthor, as to word choices. While we know that Mark was used to pen his gospel, it is likely that he wrote as Peter spoke. It is Silvanus (Silas), who penned the letter from the elders in Jerusalem, to the congregation in Antioch, which we find in Acts chapter 15. Papyrus or Parchment The Hebrew Old Testament that would have been available to the early Christians was written on the processed hide of animals with the hair removed, and smoothed out with a pumice stone.[3] It was leather scrolls that were sent to Alexandria, Egypt in about 280 B.C.E., to make what we now know as the Greek Septuagint.[4] Most of the Dead Sea scrolls that were discovered between 1947 to 1956 are made of leather, and it is almost certain that the scroll of Isaiah that Jesus read from in the synagogue was all well. Luke 4:17 English Standard Version (ESV) And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, The oldest extant leather scrolls date to about 1,500 years before Jesus was born. Both leather and papyrus was used down to the first-century Christians. Vellum is a high quality parchment made from calfskin, kidskin, or lambskin. After the skin was removed, it would be soaked in limewater, after which the hair would be scraped off, the skin then being scraped and dried, being rubbed afterwards with chalk and pumice stone, creating a fine smooth writing material. During the first three hundred years of Christianity, the secular world viewed parchment as being inferior to papyrus, it being relegated to notebooks, rough drafts, and other non-literary purposes. A couple myths should be dispelled before moving on. It is often repeated that papyrus is not a durable material. Both papyrus and parchment are durable under normal circumstances. Another often repeated thought is that papyrus was fragile and brittle, making it an unlikely candidate to be used for a codex,[5] which would have to be folded in half. Another argument that should be sidelined is, 'which was more expensive to produce, papyrus or parchment?' Presently there is no data to aid in that evaluation. We know that papyrus was used for all of the Christian codex manuscripts up unto the fourth-century, at which time you find the two great parchment codices, the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus manuscripts. Parchment of good quality has been called “the finest writing material ever devised by man.” (Roberts and Skeat, The Birth of the Codex 1987, 8) Why then did parchment take so long to replace papyrus. This may be answered by some quotations from R. Reed in Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers:
  21. 21. Page21 It is perhaps the extraordinary high durability of the product, produced by so simple a method, which has prevented most people from suspecting that many subtle points are involved… The essence of the parchment process, which subjects the system of pelt to the simultaneous action of stretching and drying, is to bring about peculiar changes quite different from those applying when making leather. These are (1) reorganization of the dermal fibre network by stretching, and (2) permanently setting this new and highly stretched form of fibre network by drying the pelt fluid to a hard, glue-like consistency. In other words, the pelt fibres are fixed in a stretched condition so that they cannot revert to their original relaxed state. (Reed 1973, 119-20) Where the medieval parchment makers were greatly superior to their modern counterparts was in the control and modification of the ground substance in the pelt, before the latter was stretched and dried… The major point, however, which modern parchment manufacturers have not appreciated, is what might be termed the integral or collective nature of the parchment process. The bases of many different effects need to be provided for simultaneously, in one and the same operation. The properties required in the final parchment must be catered for at the wet pelt stage, for due to the peculiar nature of the parchment process, once the system has been dried, and after-treatments to modify the material produced are greatly restricted. (Reed 1973, 124) This method, which follows those used in medieval times for making parchment of the highest quality, is preferable for it allows the grain surface of the drying pelt to be “slicked” and freed from residual fine hairs while stretching upon the frame. At the same time, any process for cleaning and smoothing the flesh side, or for controlling the thickness of the final parchment may be undertaken by working the flesh side with sharp knives which are semi-lunar in form… To carry out such manual operations on wet stretched pelt demands great skill, speed of working, and concentrated physical effort. (Reed 1973, 138- 9) Enough has been said to suggest that behind the apparently simple instructions contained in the early medieval recipes there is a wealth of complex process detail which we are still far from understanding. Hence it remains true that parchment-making is perhaps more of an art than a science. (Reed 1973, 172) The Christian Codex Going back to the first-century once again, let us take a moment to deal with the invention of the codex. Was it the first-century Christians, who invented the codex, or at least put it on the stage of the world scene? The writing tablet of ancient times was made from two flat pieces of wood, held together by a thong hinge, which looks something like our modern book. It had its limits, because of the impracticalness of fastening more than a few such tablets together. The center of the tablet pages would have been slightly hollowed, to receive a wax coating. A stylus is a common instrument used to write on these waxed tablets. The stylus was made of metal, ivory or bone, and was sharpened to a point on one side, while having a rounded knob on the other, for erasing, to make corrections. This is the oldest form of writing of the Greeks, who borrowed it from the Hittites. History and evidence credits the Romans with replacing the wooden tablet with the parchment notebook. The apostle Paul is the only Greek writer of the first-century C.E. to mention the parchment notebook. 2 Timothy 4:13 English Standard Version (ESV) When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments [membranai, parchment notebooks].
  22. 22. Page22 However, it should be recognized that the parchment notebook was not used for literature in the first two centuries before the Christian era (B.C.E.), this went to the roll or scroll. Even though the codex was commonly used for books, the first indication that it was going to displace the roll came toward the end of the first-century C.E. (Roberts and Skeat, The Birth of the Codex 1987, 24) Thus, again, the Jews of the late first-century C.E. and thereafter, used scrolls, while the Christians on the other hand used codices. One must consider that many of the first Christians were Jewish, and likely read their Old Testament from a scroll. Before becoming a Christian, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee and would have use scrolls. However, he also made a transition to the codex after his conversion to Christianity. Only a handful of manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence, were written on scrolls. (P13, P18, and P98) However, these were written on the back of other writings, so they were not really composed in the scroll form. P22 was written on the roll, and we await more research there, as it is an peculiarity among the group of papyri. All other New Testament manuscripts were written on codices. As there is evidence that the second century Christians were trying to set themselves apart from the Jews, so they likely made the transition in part, because they wished to be different. We say in part, because it is quite evident that the first Christians grouped their writings together, the gospels, and Paul’s letters. The codex afforded them the means of doing this, while a scroll of the gospels would be far too long and bulky. In addition, locating a portion of desired text, would be near impossible. For example, P46 dating to about 150 C.E., contained ten of Paul’s letters. P45 dates to about 225 C.E. and originally contained all four Gospels and the book of Acts. In the end, it can be said that the Christians adopted the codex (1) to be different from the Jews, (2) to have the Gospels and the Apostle Paul’s letters all in one book, (3) because of the ease of being able to find a portion of text, and this made the spread of the good news much more convenient. We do learn quite a bit from the New Testament. The apostle Peter writes, “. . . just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. . .” (2 Pet 3:15-16, about 64 C.E.) This shows the earliness of having Paul’s letters together. The apostle John wrote, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 12, about 98 C.E.) This shows that John used papyrus in writing to a sister congregation. The Greek word chartou means “papyrus,” “a sheet of paper.”[6] The apostle Paul wrote Timothy and asked him, “when you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books [likely scrolls of OT books], and above all the parchments [codices].” (2 Tim 4:13, about 65 C.E) While it is thought by most scholars that Paul was talking about two different items here, it is very possible; he was referring to only one, which is Skeat’s position. Let us look at the verse again: 2 Timothy 4:13 English Standard Version (ESV) When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments. When you come, bring . . . the books, that is my parchment notebooks. If the second version above is true, Paul was looking to get some of his notebooks, possible rough drafts that he had left behind. The Old Testament books could have been located right where he was, but he would have been highly interested in unpublished works that he wanted to get out before his execution. Of course, this latter thought is the formation of judgments based on incomplete or inconclusive information. However, one thing is certain, that Paul was asking for either codices in complete book form, or in notebook form. This tells us that Paul was the first to have his books collected into codex form. We can draw some conclusions, even on our limited evidence: (1) The codex was being used by the end of the first-century C.E.
  23. 23. Page23 (2) The Christians were using the codex at the end of the first-century C.E. (3) Point 2 is because all extant (still in existence) early Christian manuscripts were written on the codex.  The Greek New Testament  The Old Testament for Christian use  Noncanonical (not authorized or not inspired) writings  The Church Fathers  Other theological writings Were the Early Copyist Trained? The perception that early Christianity was isolated and used untrained copyists is a long held belief that is mistaken. The early Christian congregations were not isolated from one another. The Roman roads and maritime travel connected all the regions from Rome to Greece, to Asia, to Syria and Palestine and Egypt,[7] from the days of Pentecost onward, Jewish or Jewish proselyte Christians returned to Egypt with the good news of Christ. (Acts 2:10) Three years thereafter, the Ethiopian eunuch traveled home with the good news as well. (Acts 8:26–39). Apollos of Alexandria, Egypt, a renowned speaker, came out of Egypt with the knowledge of John the Baptizer, and arrived in Ephesus in about 52 C.E. (Acts 18:24, 25) The apostle Paul traveled over 20,000 miles throughout the Roman Empire establishing congregations. The apostles were a restraint to the apostasy and division within the whole of the 1st century Christian congregation. (2 Thessalonians 2:6, 7; 1 John 2:18) It was not until the 2nd century that the next generation of religious leaders gradually moved left of center. Conservative Christianity was strong and centered against Gnosticism, Roman persecution, and Jewish hatred. It is conceivable that by 55 C.E. there would have been a thriving congregation in Alexandrian, Egypt, with its huge Jewish population.[8] (Acts 11:19, ESV) “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.” While this indicates a traveling north to Antioch, it does not negate a traveling south to Egypt. Antioch is obviously mentioned because it played the major role as a commencement for first-century Christianity, especially for the apostle Paul. The Coptic Church claims the Gospel writer Mark as its founder and first patriarch. Tradition has it that he preached in Egypt just before the middle of the first-century. At any rate, Christianity spread to Egypt and North Africa at an early date. In fact, it became a prominent religious center, with a noted scholar named Pantaenus, who founded a catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, about 160 C.E. In about 180 C.E. another prominent scholar, Clement of Alexandria, took over his position. Clement really put this religious educational institution on the map as the possible center for the whole of the Christian congregation throughout the Roman Empire. The persecution that came about the year 202 C.E. forced Clement to flee Alexandria, but one of the most noted scholars of early Christian history, Origen, replaced him. In addition, Origen took this scholarly environment to Caesarea in 231 C.E. and started yet another prominent school and scriptorium.* * A scriptorium is a place where manuscripts were copied by multiple copyists as a lector read aloud.
  24. 24. Page24 What does all of this mean? Of course, we cannot know absolutely, but textual scholars Philip W. Comfort,[9] Larry W. Hurtado,[10] and Eldon Jay Epp believe that the very early Alexandrian manuscripts that we now possess are a reflection of what would have been found throughout the whole of the Greco- Roman Empire from about 85–275 C.E. In other words, if we were to discover early manuscripts from other regions (Rome, Greece, Asia, and Palestine), they would be very similar to the early Alexandrian manuscripts. This means that these early papyri are the means of establishing the original text, and we are in a far better position today than were Westcott and Hort.* * B. F. Westcot and F. J. A. Hort were two Cambridge Uiversities scholars that produced a master Greek text, which was published in 1881, a text that displaced the corrupt Textus Receptus that had dominated for hundreds of years. The Textus Receptus (Received Text) is the name given to a master Greek text of 1516 that was produced by a Dutch Scholar Desiderus Erasmus. There was a succession of edited versions of this text, but the main point is that it is the text behind the English William Tyndale translation of 1535 and the 1611 King James Version, really all English translations until 1881. Those who have abandoned all hope of establishing the original text would argue differently, saying that ‘oldest is not necessarily best.’ For these scholars, the original reading could be found in any manuscript. They continue with the approach that the reading that produced the other readings is likely the original. While on the surface this sounds great, it is not as solid a principle as one might think. On this issue, Comfort writes: For example, two scholars, using this principle to examine the same variant, may not agree. One might argue that the variant was produced by a copyist attempting to emulate the author’s style; the other could claim the same variant has to be original because it accords with the author’s style. Or, one might argue that a variant was produced by an orthodox scribe attempting to rid the text of a reading that could be used to promote heterodoxy or heresy; another might claim that the same variant has to be original because it is orthodox and accords with Christian doctrine (thus a heterodoxical or heretical scribe must have changed it). Furthermore, this principle allows for the possibility that the reading selected for the text can be taken from any manuscript of any date. This can lead to subjective eclecticism.[11] Either reasoned eclecticism or the local-genealogical method[12] will lean more heavily on internal evidence, setting off external evidence as being of less importance. However, as Ernest Colwell suggested in 1968, we need to get back to the principles of Westcott and Hort. Hort wrote in his 1882 Introduction: “Documentary attestation has been in most cases allowed to confer the place of honour as against internal evidence.”[13] Trustworthiness of Early Copyists It has become common to suggest that the earliest copyists were of two sorts: (1) semiliterate and unskilled in the work of making copies; (2) feeling the end was nigh and therefore taking liberties with the text in an attempt to strengthen orthodoxy. The former would undoubtedly lead to many unintentional changes, while the latter would certainly escalate intentional changes. J. Harold Greenlee had this to say: In the very early period, the NT writings were more nearly “private” writings than the classics . . . the classics were commonly—although not always—copied by professional scribes, the NT books were probably usually copied in the early period by Christians who were not professionally trained for the task, and no corrector was employed to check the copyist’s work against his exemplar (the MS from which the copy was made). . . . It appears that copyist sometimes even took liberty to add or change minor details in the narrative books on the basis of personal knowledge, alternative tradition, or a parallel account in another book of the Bible. . . . At the same time, the importance of these factors in
  25. 25. Page25 affecting the purity of the NT text must not be exaggerated. The NT books doubtless came to be considered as “literature” soon after they began to be circulated, with attention to the precise wording required when copies were made.[14] Greenlee had not changed his position 14 years later, when he wrote the following: The New Testament, on the other hand, was probably copied during the earliest period mostly by ordinary Christians who were not professional scribes but who wanted a copy of the New Testament book or books for themselves or for other Christians.[15] Generally, once an established concept is set within the world of textual scholars it is not so easily displaced. During the start of the 20th century (1900–1930), there were a handful of papyri discovered that obviously were the work of a copyist who had no training in making copies. It is during this time that Sir Frederic Kenyon, director and principal librarian of the British Museum for many years, said: The early Christians, a poor, scattered, often illiterate body, looking for the return of the Lord at no distant date, were not likely to care sedulously for minute accuracy of transcription or to preserve their books religiously for the benefit of posterity.[16] The first papyri discovered showed this to be the case. However, as more papyri came to light, it proved to be just the opposite, prompting Sir Frederic Kenyon to write: We must be content to know that the general authenticity of the New Testament text has been remarkably supported by the modern discoveries which have so greatly reduced the interval between the original autographs and our earliest extant manuscripts, and that the differences of reading, interesting as they are, do not affect the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.[17] Some of the earliest manuscripts that we now have show that they were copied by a professional scribe. Many of the other papyri give evidence that they were copied by a semiprofessional hand, while most of these early papyri give evidence of being done by a copyist that was literate and experienced. Therefore, the vast majority of our early papyri were done by either literate or semiprofessional copyists, with some being done by professionals. As it happened, the few poorly copied manuscripts came to light first, establishing a precedent that was difficult for some to shake when the truckload of evidence came forth that showed just the opposite. The writers of the 27 books comprising the Christian Greek Scriptures were Jews. (Romans 13:1, 2) These men were either apostles, intimate traveling companions of the apostles, or picked by Christ in a supernatural way, such as the apostle Paul. Being Jewish, they would have viewed the Old Testament as being the inspired, inerrant Word of God. When Paul said that “all Scripture is inspired of God,” he was likely referring to the Septuagint as well as the Hebrew Old Testament. These writers of the 27 New Testament books would have viewed the teachings of Jesus, or their books expounding on his teachings, as Scripture as well as the Old Testament. The teachings of Jesus came to most of these New Testament writers personally from Jesus, being taught orally; thereafter, they would be the ones who published what Jesus had said and taught orally. When it came time to be published in written form, it should be remembered that Jesus had promised them: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:26, ESV. The early first-century Hebrew Christian [or Gentile] copyists were very much aware of the traditions that the Jewish scribes followed in meticulously copying their texts. These copyists would have immediately understood that they were copying sacred texts. In fact, our early papyri show evidence of
  26. 26. Page26 shared features with the Jewish Sopherim, those men who copied the Hebrew Scriptures in Jesus’ day. You will find common features when you compare the Jewish Greek Old Testament and the Christian Old Testament with the Christian Greek Scriptures: such things as an enlarged letter at the beginning of each line, and the invention of the nomen sacrum to deal with God’s personal name. Instead of penning the Tetragrammaton* from the Greek Septuagint in front of them, the copyists invented the nomen sacrum KC. Marginal notes, accents, breathing marks, punctuation, corrections, double punctuation marks (which indicate the flow of text); all of this indicates an adoption of scribal practices of the Sopherim by Jewish Christian writers and scribes. * Tetragrammaton is from Greek tetra-, meaning “four,” and gram′ma, “letter”. These four letters (written from right to left) are transliterated into English as YHWH (or, JHVH). With the exception of Matthew, all writers of the New Testament published their books in koine, the common Greek of the day. Matthew initially published his Gospel in Hebrew, and shortly thereafter in koine Greek. In his work Concerning Illustrious Men, chapter III, Jerome says: “Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an apostle, first of all composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed.”[18] Early in the 3rd century, Origen, in discussing the Gospels, is quoted by Eusebius as saying that the “first was written . . . according to Matthew, . . . who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”[19] Initially, the primary focus of the first seven years of Christianity was to bring in fellow Jews; thereafter, the Gentile population became more the target audience. Therefore, we see that Matthew’s publishing of his Gospel in two languages was simply responding to two audience needs. We might ask if these writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures were bringing their material to their audience in any way different from the other writers of their time. The Apostle Paul’s formal letters were styled after such Greek notables as Isocrates and Plato. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John followed the form of the Greek historian Herodotus. Many of these New Testament writers used professional scribes to bring their works to market: Tertius with Paul, Silas with Peter, Silas composing the letter from the governing body of elders in Jerusalem to Antioch, Theophilus funding Luke’s two productions. Philip Comfort helps us to appreciate the following: As recorded by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:24:5–7), Irenaeus tells us that Mark and Luke “published their Gospels” using the Greek word ekdosis, the standard term for the public dissemination of any writing. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3:1:1) also said, “John, the disciple of the Lord, he who had leaned on his breast, also published [ekdoke] the Gospel, while living at Ephesus in Asia.” For John to publish his Gospel means that he (with the help of the Johannine community) made a distribution of multiple copies of his Gospel.[20] Bibliography 1. Colwell, Ernest C. Scribal Habits in Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965. 2. Comfort, Philip. Encounterring the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005. 3. Comfort, Philip Wesley. The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1992.
  27. 27. Page27 4. Greenlee, J Harold. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995. 5. —. The Text of the New Testament. Peabody: Henrickson, 2008. 6. Kenton, F. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts . London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1895. 7. Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Transmission. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, 1968, 1992. 8. Reed, R. Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers. New York: Academic Press Inc, 1973. 9. Roberts, Colin H. Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. London: Oxford University Press, 1979. 10. Roberts, Colin H., and Theodore C. Skeat. The Birth of the Codex. London: Oxford University Press, 1987. [1] First, there are close to one million papyrus fragments in various libraries throughout the world that have not been published. Since only about one percent of all papyri have been published (about 10,000), there is a very high degree of probability that some of the remainder will be NT fragments. The last NT papyrus to be published was papyrus 127 or P127, a fifth century fragment of Acts. It was discovered in 2009. Therefore, when you speak of how many have "survived," you can understand that the question is not that easy to answer. NT scholars use the term "extant" to describe MSS that have survived. It means that some have survived and are known to exist. With that definition, you might think that 127 is the number. However, there is a slight problem with that, too. Some fragments, such as P64 and P67, were later determined to belong to the same manuscript. This happens a few times for NT MSS, but mostly for minuscules (of which we now have extant about 2900). However, most scholars don't wrestle with such details. Therefore, 127 is the answer you are looking for. As for dates, the papyri range in date from early second century to early seventh century. I have worked up a chart of all NT MSS through the 8th century: as much as 43% of all the verses of the NT are attested by the end of the third century in the extant papyri.―Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. [2] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 17, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 47-48. [3] A very light porous rock formed from solidified lava, used in solid form as an abrasive and in powdered form as a polish. [4] A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible started in about 280 and completed about 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine. [5] A codex is a collection of ancient manuscript texts, especially of the Biblical Scriptures, in book form. [6] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1081.
  28. 28. Page28 [7] People of the first three centuries sent and received letters and books from all over the Roman Empire. To give just two examples: the Shepherd of Hermas was written in Rome and found its way to Egypt within a few decades; Irenaeus’ Against Heresies was written in Gaul and made it to Egypt (Oxyrhynchus) within short order. [8] Macquarie University, Ancient History Documentary Research Center (AHDRC), Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt (PCE), [9] Philip W. Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992). [10] Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). [11] P. W. Comfort (1992), 38–39. [12] This method holds that a variant can be established as original and can come from any given manuscript(s). [13] Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, Vol. 2: Introduction, Appendix, (1882), 17. [14] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Revised Edition, 1995), 51– 52. [15] J. Harold Greenlee, The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (2008), 37. [16] F. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1895), 157. [17] F. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1962), 249. [18] Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and published in the series “Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur,” Leipzig, 1896, Vol. 14: 8–9. [19] The Ecclesiastical History, VI, XXV, 3–6. [20] P. W. Comfort (1992), 45.