Sunday, July 17, 2005

There is a God (round 2)

Before we can determine if what is said in the Christian bible corresponds to reality we must first determine if what we have in the Bible is in fact what was said. If the modern Bible does not reflect the original writings then a corresponding reality would be impossible.

Back in my elementary school days we used to play a game called telephone. (I don't know why it was called telephone, but that's another story.) The game starts with the first person thinking of a word or statement and whispering it to the next person. This process continues until the last person gets the message and it is compared to the original. Almost as a rule the message has changed to some degree.

For Christians there is a situation that appears to parallel the kids game on a much larger scale. We have a Bible that has been copied and translated numerous times over a span of thousands of years. Plus we have the additional inconvenience of not having the original for comparison. How can we make any claim to the authenticity of the Bible?

We can make that claim by objectively comparing the Bible to the existing ancient manuscripts. This is the way all ancient documents are verified. As mentioned previously, I am not a scholar and I haven't the time or expertise to verify the authenticity of the Bible. But that's OK because proffesionals have already done the hard work. All I have to do is relay the information.

Scholars have a generally accepted method for the study of ancient manuscripts. Chauncy Sanders in Introduction to Research in English Literary History gives us three basic test in the study of ancient text. First is the bibliographical test, then the external evidence test and finally the internal evidence test.

In the bibliographical area we start by noting the number of New Testament materials available for research. If we include all manuscripts from ancient Greek, Latin Vulgate, old Latin, and others we find that there are almost 25,000 manuscript pieces of the New Testament (NT). This is the largest number of manuscripts available for any ancient work. Homers Iliad is second with 643 known manuscripts in existence. With so many NT manuscripts available it is possible for scholars to cross-check and determine the accuracy of our modern translation.

With few exceptions scholars agree that the original New Testament documents were written before the close of the 1st Century AD. What follows is a sample listing of some of the more important manuscripts available.

Codex Sinaiticus (A.D. 350) British Museum contains almost all of the New Testament.

Codex Vaticanus (A.D. 325) Vatican Library contains almost all of the New Testament.

Chester Beatty Papyri (A.D. 200) C. Beatty Museum contains major portions of the New Testament.

Bodmer Papyrus II (A.D. 150-200) Bodmer Library of World Literature contains most of Johns Gospel.

John Ryland's MS (A.D. 130) John Rylands Library of Manchester, England contains several verses from Johns Gospel.

John Ryland's MS is the oldest known manuscript fragment of the NT. It's discovery location, Egypt, was some distance from the traditionally accepted location of the original. This evidence helps to confirm the date of the original at the end of the first century.

Because of the overwhelming number of ancient sources available most biblical scholars agree that the modern bible is almost 100% accurate. There is also agreement that newer translations are even closer to the original text because of the continued discovery of new evidence.

Based on the work of experts we can safely conclude that most modern translations of the Bible do in fact reflect the original writings.

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