Scholarly Attestation That the New Testament We Read Is What Was Originally Written

I have assembled the quotes that comprise this post from accomplished and respected scholars, both living and deceased.  I do not present these quotes to demonstrate that the Bible, or the New Testament, is the word of God.  My goal here is much more limited than that.  These quotes are assembled to merely affirm that the New Testament we have today accurately represents what was originally written – that what we are reading is what the ancient authors wrote.

The common theme you will find among these scholars is that if we believe that we can know what Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, and other authors from antiquity wrote, then it is reasonable to believe that we can know what the apostles wrote.  In fact, given both the quantitative and qualitative superiority of textual evidence for the New Testament, we can be more sure of its original contents than we can practically any other writing from ancient times.  Please read on and see what I mean.  (I have listed the scholars in alphabetical order; if you want to more about them, just google their names or you can go to Authorities on New Testament Text and/or Canon.)

Craig Blomberg

By contrast [with other ancient books], the textual evidence from the first centuries after it was written is staggering.  (Source: Jesus on Trial by David Limbaugh, Kindle edition location 3979)

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Darrell Bock

We have over 5800 Greek manuscripts. The best ancient texts of other works have 100-200 copies.

This copying process can be tested in terms of its accuracy by the many manuscripts we have. Some of the examples of this are amazing. When the Dead Sea scrolls were found we discovered a manuscript of Isaiah 1000 years older than any other version of Isaiah we possessed. The discovered text was virtually identical to its 1000 year older descendant. Although some issues remain in particular spots, the text we have today is a solid reproduction of what was produced.  (Source: his guest blog post  on The Gospel ProjectHow Did We Get the Bible and Can We Trust It?“)

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F.F. Bruce

“There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”  –  F. F. Bruce in The Books and the Parchments (Revell, 1963, p. 78)

“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning.  And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.  It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians.”  –  F. F. Bruce in chapter 2 of his book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

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Philip W. Comfort

At present, we have more than 6,000 manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament or portions thereof. No other work of Greek literature can boast of such numbers. Homer’s Iliad, the greatest of all Greek classical works, is extant in about 650 manuscripts; and Euripides’ tragedies exist in about 330 manuscripts. The numbers on all the other works of Greek literature are far less. Furthermore, it must be said that the amount of time between the original composition and the next surviving manuscript is far less for the New Testament than for any other work in Greek literature. The lapse for most classical Greek works is about eight hundred to a thousand years; whereas the lapse for many books in the New Testament is around one hundred years. Because of the abundant wealth of manuscripts and because several of the manuscripts are dated in the early centuries of the church, New Testament textual scholars have a great advantage over classical textual scholars. The New Testament scholars have the resources to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament with great accuracy, and they have produced some excellent editions of the Greek New Testament.  Finally, it must be said that, although there are certainly differences in many of the New Testament manuscripts, not one fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading.  (Source:  his book The Complete Guide to Bible Versions, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1991.)

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Bart D. Ehrman

Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.  (Source:  Frank Turek’s CrossExamined.org blog post “Is the New Testament Reliable? Even Bart Ehrman Says Yes“)

Besides textual evidence derived from New Testament Greek manuscripts and from early versions, the textual critic compares numerous scriptural quotations used in commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early church fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.  (Source:  The Text of the New Testament by Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, p. 126, quoted in the Common Sense Atheism blog post “Common Sense Atheism blog post “Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (Review))

Note: You can see more on Professor Metzger’s view farther below.  As for Ehrman, he is a noted skeptic of the New Testament text and in that regard stands separate from every other expert quoted in this post.  However, these statements from Ehrman (the second being a joint statement with Metzger) are included to demonstrate that even the New Testament’s most strident and well-known critic cannot help but affirm the reliability of its text in his more sober moments – so stable is the New Testament among all ancient texts.  For more on Ehrman’s views see “Bart Ehrman Quotes.”  See also what a knowledgeable atheist says about the textual reliability of the New Testament and Bart Ehrman’s polemics.

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Craig A. Evans

Given the evidence, we have every reason to have confidence in the text of Scripture.  This does not mean that we possess 100% certainty that we have the exact wording in every case, but we have good reason to believe that what we have preserved in the several hundred manuscripts of the first millennium is the text that the writers of the Scriptures penned.  –  Craig A. Evans (Source: “Textual Criticism and Textual Confidence: How Reliable Is Scripture?”  which is the eighth chapter of The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue, page 172.)

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Norman L Geisler

No other ancient book is so well authenticated [as the New Testament].  (Source:  I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004, Kindle location 4347)

[T]he New Testament documents have more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts,and more abundantly supported manuscripts than the best ten pieces of classical literature combined.  (Source:  I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004, Kindle location 4275)

The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book… (Source: A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, p. 475)

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Sir Frederic Kenyon

[T]he extant materials [of the New Testament] are incomparably more plentiful in number, and more varied in kind, than in any other [ancient text]…
[B]esides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors, and…the difference is clear gain.  In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament.  (Source: Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament by Frederic G. Kenyon, p 3-5)

The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.  Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”  –  (Source: chapter 2 of F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, originally taken from Kenyon’s 1940 work The Bible and Archaeology.)  

No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergencies of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the subsance, as well as the language, of the Bible is not open to question.  It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance, the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case with the New Testament.  The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations of it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church is so large that 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.  Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Vigil, yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.  (Source: Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts by Frederic G. Kenyon, p 10-11)

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.  (Source: Philip W. Comfort, The Complete Guide to Bible Versions, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1991)

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Michael J. Kruger

[T]he more manuscripts we possess, the more certain we can be about the integrity of the [New Testament] text…Most other ancient texts from the first century (or thereabouts) are preserved in around 10-20 manuscripts (and some only in a single manuscript). Thus, the 5,500…manuscripts of the [Greek New Testament] is impressive indeed.  (Source: Canon Fodder, December 24, 2014)

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Bruce M. Metzger

[Not having the originals] isn’t an issue that’s unique to the Bible; it’s a question we can ask of other documents that have come down to us from antiquity.  But what the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived.

[The age of the documents] is something else that favors the New Testament.  We have copies commencing within a couple of generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient texts, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries elapsed between the original and the earliest surviving copy.

The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with other works of antiquity.  (Source: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, p. 59-60)

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Stephen Neill

[W]e have a far better and more reliable text of the New Testament than of any other ancient work whatever, and the measure of uncertainty is really rather small.  (Source:  p. 78 of The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1961 by Stephen Neill, as quoted in Is the New Testament Reliable? by Paul Barnett, IVP Academic, 2003, p. 47)

Anyone who reads the New Testament in any one of half a dozen recent Greek editions, or in any modern translation, can feel confident that, though there may be uncertainties in detail, in almost everything of importance he is close indeed to the text of the New Testament books as they were originally written. (Source: p. 81 in the Neill book, p. 47 in the Barnett book)

Stanley E. Porter

The impression sometimes given in discussions of the text of the New Testament is that the text itself is entirely fluid and unstable, and that it was subject to so much variation and change through especially the first two centuries that its very stability is threatened.  This simply is not true.  (Source:  quoted in Jonathan Morrow’s Has the Biblical Text Been Corrupted over the Centuries?)

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John A. T. Robinson

The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.   (Source:  Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel by David Limbaugh Kindle location 3989)

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Peter Saunders

No other book from the ancient world has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the New Testament.  (Source: How do we know the NT documents were written in the first century?)

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Mark L. Strauss

The Bible is without exception the best-preserved document from the ancient world, both in terms of age and number of manuscripts.  (Source: the ebook How the Bible Came to Be, taken from The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, ed. by J. Daniel Hays and J. Scott Duvall, Baker Books, 2011, 2012.)

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Daniel B. Wallace

[W]e have Greek manuscripts—thousands of them, some reaching as far back as the second century. And we have very ancient translations directly from the Greek that give us a good sense of the Greek text that would have been available in those regions where that early version was used. These include Latin, Syriac, and Coptic especially. Altogether, we have at least 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other ancient languages that help us to determine the wording of the original. Almost 6000 of these manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data. The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. [sic]  If we have to be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.  (Source:  his December 28, 2014 blog post “Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible“; for more of Dan Wallace’s view of the textual reliability of the New Testament vis-a-vis other ancient literature see Daniel B. Wallace on the Textual Reliability of the New Testament)

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B. B. Warfield

“If we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must..declare it to be marvelously correct.  Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied – a care which has doubtless grown out of true reverence for its holy words…The New Testament [is] unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use.  – B. B. Warfield in his Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Hodder & Stoughton, 1907, p. 12-13), quoted in The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Zondervan, 1998, p. 70)

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N. T. Wright

“There is better evidence for the New Testament than for any other ancient book.”  –  N. T. Wright in his foreword to F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

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For background on these and other authorities on this subject, see Authorities on New Testament Text and/or Canon

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