Arthur Asuncion


Faith -- Is the Bible Reliable and Accurate in Transmission?

With both an Old and a New Testament, the Bible is a collection of 66 books ranging from Genesis to Revelation. Since the Bible is an ancient book that has been hand-copied by scribes for many generations, some have questioned the accuracy of the copied manuscripts that are available today. The primarily focus here will be on the accuracy of the transmisson of the New Testament text.

While variants, like stylistic changes and variations in spelling, inevitably did come into the text, the variants do not put any Biblical doctrines "in jeopardy," according to Dr. Bruce Metzeger of Princeton Theological Seminary 1 . In fact, according to Biblical scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix, the New Testament has a 99.5% purity rate in terms of accuracy -- a better accuracy rate than any other well-known book 2 .

When compared to other works of antiquity, the Bible has multitudes of manuscripts. The amount of manuscripts is important since individual manuscripts can be checked with the rest of the manuscripts for variants. Here is a breakdown of the amount of New Testament copies in comparison to other amount of copies of other ancient works:

  • Over 20,000 New Testament manuscripts exist 3 .
  • The Roman historian Tacitus wrote the Annals of Imperial Rome . There is only one manuscript of his first six books and another manuscript for books eleven to sixteen (the other books are lost) 4 .
  • Josephus's work, The Jewish War has 9 Greek manuscripts, a Latin translation, and other Russian translations 5 .
  • The runner-up to the New Testament in terms of manuscript amount is Homer's Iliad . There are less than 650 Greek manuscripts 6 .

Evincing the superiority of the New Testament text over other ancient works in terms of the number of available manuscripts, the comparison above reveals that the existing texts of the New Testament can be verified with multitudes of other copies and therefore can be trusted to be an accurate representation of the original texts.

The duration between the time that the work was first written and the conception time of the earliest existing copy is also important. If the duration is long, errors can propogate into the text. Here is a comparison of the duration times of the New Testament and other ancient works:

  • Scholars like Biblical archaeologist William Albright estimate the entirety of the New Testament to have been originally composed between 40 and 80 A.D. 7 . While the Codex Sinaiticus , a complete Greek manuscript copy of the New Testament in uncial (capital) letters, was written in A.D. 350, other existing fragments have been dated earlier. For instance, a small fragment of the gospel of John was dated to be from A.D. 100-150. Other fragments of the New Testament in papyrus have also been found and have been dated to be from the second and third centuries A.D. 8 .
  • Tacitus's Annals of Imperial Rome , which was initially written in A.D. 116, exists in only two manuscripts, one copied in about 850 A.D. and the other in the eleventh century 9 .
  • The existing copies of Josephus's The Jewish War (originally composed in the first-century A.D.) were written from the fourth century to the twelfth century 10 .
  • Homer's Iliad , which was initially composed around 800 B.C., has existing copies which were written starting from the second century A.D. 11

In comparison to other ancient manuscripts, the New Testament boasts a very short time interval between the original composition and the the earliest availiable copy's inception. This brevity in time not only reveals the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts but also gives credence to the assertion that the manuscripts availiable today are virtually identical to the original composition. Moreover, the short gap between the period of time that the actual events of the New Testament took place (from John the Baptist to the apostle John in Revelation) and the period of time of the original composition of the New Testament prevents distortions or fables from being inserted into the storyline of the New Testament.

Even an introductory look into the manuscript background of the New Testament gives a convincing picture of the reliablity of the New Testament's transmission over a span of almost two millenia. Not only does the New Testament stand above the crowd of other ancient manuscripts in terms of manuscript amount, but the New Testament also has copies of manuscripts that are very close in time to the original composition. Virtually unchanged (99.5% accuracy rate) over the centuries, the New Testament can be deemed reliable and accurate. The next logical step would be to study the content: the claims that the New Testament makes.

The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament has this claim to make about the Bible:

"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." 12


  1. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 84.
  2. ibid., 85.
  3. Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1977), 48.
  4. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ , 77.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid., 78.
  7. Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter , 42-43.
  8. ibid., 78-80.
  9. ibid., 77.
  10. ibid.
  11. ibid., 78.
  12. Bible (New King James Version), Hebrews 4:12.