Common Objections to the Bible
"Is there much Evidence for the Bible's Reliability?"

1. The Manuscript Record
More than any other ancient Latin or Greek literature, the Bible has tremendous historical and manuscript evidence for its reliability. It has far more manuscripts and far earlier manuscripts. The New Testament has well over 1,000 times as many manuscripts as the works of the average classical author.1 In other words, if we deny the reliability of the New Testament we must far more strongly deny every other historical record of ancient civilization. There are more than 5,700 Greek New Testament manuscripts still in existence.

Comparison of Extant Classical Writings2

WritingTime Gap to Earliest ManuscriptNumber of Manuscripts Surviving
Plato1,300 years7
Homer's Illiad400 years643
Caesar's Gallic Wars1,000 years10
Livy History of Rome400 years27
Tacitus Annals1,000 years20
Thucydides' History1,300 years8
Herodotus' History1,350 years8
New Testament50 years5,700

5,700 refers to only the original-language Greek manuscripts—there exist between 20,000 and 25,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament in early translations to Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, and Gothic. There are three primary Greek manuscripts of the New Testament from hundreds of years before the time of Muhammad. These are:

Codex Alexandrinus – This text, preserved in the British Museum of London, was handwritten in the fifth century after Christ and contains the complete Bible except for a few missing pages.

Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Sinaiticus – This manuscript, also on display in the British Museum, dates from the late fourth century and contains the whole New Testament.

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Vaticanus – This volume, preserved in the Vatican Library at Rome, was handwritten in the fourth century.

Codex Vaticanus

Codex Vaticanus

These come from two separate "text-types" (meaning families of copies that trace from one original anscestor), yet overall they all are consistent with each other.

In addition to these complete volumes, there are many portions of the New Testament dating back as far as 40-60 years after the writing of the New Testament books. For example, Papyrus p52 contains a fragment of John 18 dating from about 135 AD. This manuscript, discovered along the Nile, provides evidence that the Gospel of John was in circulation far from Ephesus were it was composed. While the average classical author has no manuscript from the first five hundred years, the New Testament has 10 to 15 manuscripts from the first 100 years of the New Testaments' completion and 99 manuscripts from the first three hundred years.3

2. The Scribal Method
To the Jews, the Torah was the most sacred thing in creation. The scribes who transmitted and copied the Hebrew Scriptures were meticulous in detail, checking and rechecking for mistakes. In fact, the Hebrew term for "scribe" (sofer, סופר) comes from the verb "to count," for these scholars actually counted each letter of their copies to make sure that the precise text was passed on. They were meticulous in the spelling and pronunciation of each word. The accuracy of their manuscripts was vividly demonstrated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls or Qumran scrolls in 1947. Up until that time, the earliest existing manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures dated to about 900 AD. Then in 1947 a local shepherd in Palestine discovered some scrolls in a cave near the Dead Sea. Further research revealed a treasure of ancient manuscripts. They found every book of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) except Esther, dating from a thousand years earlier (100 BC – 100 AD) and identical in all the essentials to the previous texts.

3. Textual Dispersion
Immediately after the books of the Injīl were written, copies were circulated thousands of kilometers across Europe, Africa, and Asia. During these first three centuries after Jesus, the Christian community was very decentralized and had no political power. The Church had separate centers in Rome, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Persia, France, and even as far as Spain. There is abundant evidence that each center had copies of all the twenty-seven portions of the New Testament. If one Christian community had, hypothetically, wanted to change all the copies of one book, they would have been unable to, since they had no political power or ability to change all the copies thousands of kilometers across the world. It would have been impossible for them to compose an "official" version of a scripture and order all the other copies to be burned and hide the evidence for their existence. So today, we have separate "textual traditions" from each remote center of Christianity, which each testify to the reliability of the scriptures. The early translations into Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Latin provided a further barrier from someone changing all the texts. In contrast, Caliph Uthmān had the political power to decide on his own "official" version of the Qur'ān and destroy all other variant Qur'āns that were different from what he decided on. In early Christianity, even if someone was evil enough to deliberately change scriptures, he would never have had the political power nor the linguistic ability to change all the texts.

Diagram 1

Diagram 1
4. Quotations in Other Writings
If all the manuscripts were destroyed, the New Testament text could be reproduced almost entirely from quotations of it in the writings of the early Church leaders alone.4 To date, over a million quotations from the New Testament by the church fathers have been cataloged.5

Early Patristic Quotations of the New Testament6

Author (Date)GospelsActsPauline

Epistles

General

Epistles

RevelationTotals
Justin Martyr (100–165)268104363330
Irenaeus (c.125-202)1,03819449923651,819
Clement (150-215)1,107441,127207112,406
Origen (185-254)9,2313497,77839916517,992
Tertullian (160-220)3,8225022,6091202057,258
Hippolytus (170-236)73442387271881,378
Eusebius (263-339)3,2582111,59288275,176

Of these witnesses who quoted the New Testament, many of them had met and knew the apostles (Jesus' twelve disciples) who had written the New Testament. For example Ignatius (70-110) knew the apostles and quoted from half the books of the New Testament. Clement of Rome (95) was a disciple of the apostles appointed by Jesus' disciple Peter, and Polycarp (70-156) was a disciple of Jesus' disciple John. Though the New Testament has only 7,956 verses, there are 32,000 quotations of the New Testament in Christian writings from before the Council of Nicea (325) alone, and many more from afterwards.7

5. Multiple Attestation
In court, three separate witnesses close to an event that concur are stronger evidence than one single chain of witnesses. In evaluating manuscripts, the same principle rules. The more entirely separate "text-traditions" that still exist, the more sure we can be of what the original text was like. By contrast, if only one "text-tradition" exists, there is less certainty about the original. Even variants between texts can help us determine the original text with more certainty. We can illustrate this with a diagram using a hypothetical text "God is Gracious and Merciful" which developed into variants:

Diagram 2

Diagram 2
For the New Testament, there exist numerous textual traditions or chains of copying the New Testament that all stem back to the earliest manuscripts (see the map above for examples); The Byzantine, Western, Sinaitic, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic and Syrian copyist chains.

Diagram 3

Diagram 3
From Islamic history we learn that there were separate early schools of teaching the Qur'ān in various provinces and countries, led by the best reciters (Qurra) of Muhammad (pbuh); Ibn Masood, Ubayy Ibn Ka'b, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and Ibn Abbas. When Uthmān collected the first official copy of the Qur'ān , some of these authorities differed with his text, but their texts were forcibly burned by Uthmān. The variants of these early authorities are quoted verbatim in the classical commentaries and other works written by eminent Muslim scholars of the time (see page 67), but the entire variant texts were burned and lost. From Uthmān's original, seven readings or ways of recitation developed, though of these only the Hafs and Warsh remain today. This can be illustrated as follows:

Diagram 4

Diagram 4
Once again, this is not intended to discredit the reliability of the Qur'ān , for we can assume that Uthmān had the best of intentions just as the early church leaders did. But the comparison demonstrates the relative reliability of the Gospels through multiple witnesses and text traditions.


"The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts" ESV Study Bible, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2008) p.2587.
Statistics taken from: Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson, Nashville, 1999) p.38.
"The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts" ESV Study Bible, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2008) p.2587.
See J, Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1977, p.54.
Quoted from "The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts" ESV Study Bible, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2008) p.2587.
Taken from: Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson, Nashville, 1999) p.43.
Taken from: Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson, Nashville, 1999) p.44-45.