Ancient New Testament Manuscripts

You may have noticed that recently I posted a picture of a page from an ancient New Testament manuscript.  It’s called “Codex Sinaiticus.”  “Codex” is another word for “book” (as distinct from scroll).  The name “Sinaiticus” reminds us that it was discovered at St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai.  This is the oldest complete New Testament manuscript.  It also contains a large portion of the Old Testament in Greek.  The page that I posted includes John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Good news.

Last night I finished reading another book that questions Christian teachings.  The book was “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan.  Born in Iran, his family moved to the USA and he came to faith in Christ as a teen.  He later returned to the religion of his homeland and now looks at Christianity as misunderstanding who Jesus is and why he came.  He actually finds little support for his current perspective from the New Testament.  It is all really very sad.  To believe and have hope in Christ, and then to later lose that hope for no good reason.

Manuscripts like Sinaiticus remind us that our faith in Christ is built on the firm foundation of Scripture, and that contrary to people who claim that the Bible has been tampered with, we have many early manuscripts that provide the same message as the Bibles we have today.  As of 350-375 A.D. (only 25-50 years after the Council of Nicaea), when Sinaitius was made, we have all of the New Testament.  Prior to that, we have many ancient manuscripts and fragments from before the Nicaea council.  The number catalogued is now approaching 6,000, though most are rather fragmentary.  In fact, prior to Nicaea, only about 58% of New Testament verses are represented.  That may not sound like a lot, but it is really quite reassuring.  Where portions are missing from these manuscripts, we can compare what is missing with is present in other Greek manuscripts using stichometry.  “Stichometry” (standardized numbers of characters and lines that were printed on a page) lets us estimate whether these gaps in some manuscripts “fit” what we have in other manuscripts.  Not even one Christian doctrine is in doubt because of differences between ancient manuscripts.

We can also compare various ancient translations of the New Testament.  Long ago, a monk traveling through Spain and visiting monastery libraries estimated that we have over 30,000 ancient copies of the Latin Vulgate (translated by St. Jerome in about 400 A.D.).  Nearly two thousand years after Jesus died for our sins and rose again, we can still confidently affirm that  because of Christ, we are forgiven and bound for heaven.  We know this, but that’s what God wrote in the Bible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s