Purity of New Testament Text


Chapter 7 - Purity of New Testament Text

Is each of the known Greek manuscripts and manuscript fragments, of a particular New Testament book, a "pure" representation of a unique autograph? This question cannot be answered with certainty since no autographs have been found. However, the available evidence supports a "yes" answer.

By 1968, the existence of approximately 5358 Greek New Testament manuscripts and manuscript fragments had been documented by scholars. Among these, more than 200,000 variants have been detected. To put this in perspective, the following facts should be considered:

  • If a single word is misspelled in 3000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments, this single word is listed as the cause of 3000 variants.
  • The more than 200,000 variants can be assigned to about 10,000 locations in the New Testament; serious controversy exists concerning the legitimacy of words found at approximately 400 of these locations.

Because the New Testament contains roughly 200,000 words and only 400 are the subject of serious controversy, it must be concluded that the Greek New Testament text, derived from all 5358 manuscripts and manuscript fragments, is more than 99% "pure." This compares with a 95% "purity" for the Iliad based on 643 manuscripts and a 90% "purity" for the Mahabharata (the national epic of India). Even the Koran, which originated in the seventh century A.D., suffered from a large collection of variants that necessitated the Orthmanic revision. The New Testament has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other ancient writing but it has survived in a much "purer" form than any other great book. In addition, it is interesting to note that not one shred of Christian doctrine hangs on debatable text.

The documented high degree of agreement, among the Greek manuscripts and manuscript fragments of a particular New Testament book, cannot logically be viewed as accidental. More likely it implies that each manuscript and fragment reflects a unique autograph as its ultimate source. (11)