How do I know the Bible has not been changed?
How do I know we are reading what the original writers
wrote? Many critics of Christianity claim that the
Bible we read today has been changed in major ways
since the originals were written. For example, some
have claimed that there are "hundreds of thousands
of errors" in our present Bibles. Some have claimed
that the Catholic Church in the fourth and fifth centuries
made major revisions of the Bible in order to support
their own peculiar doctrine. Still others have claimed
that certain inspired books have been kept out of
the Bible (for example the Gospel of Thomas).
All of these claims rest on the assumption that we
do not have available to us the original New Testament
writings. Although it is true that we do not have
actual copies of the original manuscripts of the gospels
or the letters, what we do have is very solid evidence
that the current Greek text of the New Testament is
extremely reliable. Our Greek text is based on some
very ancient manuscripts. Some of the most important
manuscripts available today are listed below.
1. The Codex Vaticanus, or Codex B. The Codex Vaticanus
is a vellum codex on 759 pages in uncial script. The
manuscript has been dated to around AD 350 . It contains
the entire New Testament, except Hebrews 9:13-end,
I and II Timothy, Titus and Revelation. It also contains
all of the Old Testament in Greek except the first
few chapters of Genesis and several Psalms. The manuscript
has been kept in the Vatican since at least 1481.
2. The Codex Sinaiticus, or Codex Aleph. The Sinaiticus
manuscript received its name because it was discovered
at St. Catharines Monastery on Mt. Sainai in 1844
by the biblical scholar Tischendorf. It was found
in a basket of old parchments which were about to
be thrown into a fire. This manuscript is now in the
British Museum. Like the Vatican manuscript, it has
been dated to around 350 AD. It contains much of the
Old Testament in Greek, but most significantly, it
has the entire New Testament in Greek.
3. The Alexandrian Codex, or Codex A. This is a fifth-century
codex, containing most of the Old Testament and all
the New Testament except a few pages of Matthew, two
from 1st John and three from 2 Corinthians. This manuscript
was found in Alexandria in Egypt, but was given as
a gift to the king of England in 1621. The manuscript
is now located on the British Library.
4. The Washington Manuscript. This manuscript from
the end of the fourth century contains the four gospels.
It is especially significant, as it contains Mark
16:9-20, unlike the three manuscripts already mentioned.
5. The Chester Beatty Papyri. This is a collection
of a number of papyrus codex fragments, located in
the Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin, Ireland. One
of the papyri contains thirty leaves of the New Testament
in Greek which have been dated to the late second
or early third century (ie. around 200 AD). Another
includes 86 of 104 leaves of the letters of Paul from
around from the early third century.
6. The Bodmer Papyri. This is a group of manuscripts
found in the Bodmer Library of World Literature. Included
are a complete manuscript of Luke and John dated to
175-225 BC, as well as a manuscript of over half of
the book of John which has been dated as early as
7. The John Rylands Fragment. This papyrus fragment
contains only John 18:31-33 and 37,38, which would
make it an insignificant find except that it has been
dated to 130 AD. This fragment was copied within fifty
years of the death of the apostle John.
From this list, one can see that we have manuscripts
of the entire Bible from about 350 AD and of significant
portions of the Bible from around 200 AD or before.
Claims that the New Testament was added to, subtracted
from or changed in any significant way are indefensible
in the light of this evidence.
Additional evidence in support of the accuracy of
the New Testament we have in our hands today is found
in the writings of the early church "fathers."
Writers such as Polycarp, Clement, Justin Martyr and
many others wrote extensively in the first and second
centuries AD, quoting from a large proportion of the
entire New Testament, providing further evidence in
support of the accuracy of our New Testament text.
As to the claims that there are "hundreds of
thousands of errors" in our New Testament text,
this is based on the nearly ten thousand manuscripts
which we have. Virtually all the supposed errors are
minor slips of the pen of the many scribes who copied
the Greek New Testament. Through careful analysis
of the thousands of manuscripts, scholars are able
to reproduce a Greek text which is a virtually exact
copy of the original. To quote Sir Frederic Kenyon,
the world famous Biblical scholar and former director
of the British Museum for twenty-one years, who sums
up the evidence nicely;
"The Christian can take the whole Bible in his
hands 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