|Author||When Written||Earliest Copy||Time Span||Number of Copies|
|Caesar||100-44||900 A.D.||1,000 yrs.||10|
|Plato (Tetralogies)||427-347 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,200 yrs.||7|
|Tacitus (Annals)||100 A.D.||1,100 A.D.||1,000 yrs.||20|
|also minor works||100 A.D.||1,000 A.D.||900 yrs.||1|
|Pliny the Younger (History)||61-113 A.D.||850 A.D..||750 yrs.||7|
|460-400 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,300 yrs.||8|
(De Vita Caesarum)
|75-160 A.D.||950 A.D.||800 yrs.||8|
|480-425 B.C.||900 A.D.||1,300 yrs.||8|
|Sophocles||430-406 B.C.||1,000 A.D.||1,400 yrs.||100|
|Lucretius||Died 55 or 53 B.C .||1,100 yrs.||2|
|Catullus||54 B.C.||1,550 A.D.||1,600 yrs.||3|
|Euripedes||480-406 B.C.||1,100 A.D.||1,500 yrs.||9|
|Demosthenes||383-322 B.C.||1,100 A.D.||1,300 yrs.||200*|
|Aristotle||384-322 B.C.||1,100 A.D.||1,400 yrs.||5**|
|Aristophanes||450-385 B .C.||900 A. D.||1,200 yrs.||10|
|*All from one copy. **Of any one work.|
|From Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev ed. (San Bernardino, Calif.: Here’s Life,1979), p. 42.|
The boring chart above shows the bibliographical test in which historians seek to determine how many and how far apart the copies of ancient literature are. As you can see, on average, there are only 20 copies of each book and the average year apart is about 1,000 years. In contrast to this, the New Testament documents have both a staggering quantity of manuscripts and a very short time span apart (this increases it’s internal veracity). There are approximately 5,000 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 manuscript copies of the Vulgate (a Latin translation done by Jerome from 382-405 A.D), and more than 350 copies of Syriac (Christian Aramaic) versions of the New Testament (c. 150-250 AD). On top of this, the entire new Testament could be reproduced from various citations in other works (mostly early church fathers). So you can see, there’s a bunch out there. What about the span of time between known copies? Well, many of the manuscripts are very early. The John Rylands manuscript (c. 120) found in Egypt, contains a couple of verses from John. The Chester Beatty Papyri (c.200) contains major portions of the New Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus (c. 350) contains virtually all of the new Testament. The Codex Vaticanus contains virtually the whole Bible (c. 325-350). All of these are well under the average time of 1000 years. However this, of course, does not prove the authenticity of the Bible alone. What it does show is that we can comfortably believe in an accurate representation of the New Testament. And by comfortably, I mean very comfortably because the New Testament sits very high above the other manuscripts of antiquity.
Another form of internal criticism lies on these conditions: the document is a private letter or intended for small audiences. The absence of these qualities do not, however, diminish the documents historical standing. All they do is increase the documents prima facie acceptance. Much of the New Testament, especially the apostolic letters and some of the sources behind the Gospels, is made up of personal letters originally intended for individuals and small group and thus the NT is much easier to accept historically.
Some Eyewitness Help…
Acts 1:21-22 (NIV): “21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Passages like this qualify the statement that being in an apostolic position requires eyewitness status (another one is found in Hebrews 2:3). This, compounded with the fact that the NT authors claimed to be eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4; Gal. 1; 2 Peter 1:16), makes a very good case that the NT was written to record actual events by actual witnesses. C. H. Dodd has argued that the chronological order of Jesus’ ministry as it is given in the sermons parallels nicely to the order given in Mark’s Gospel. This shows the NT authors were interested in fine historical detail. Furthermore, Paul himself showed great interest in biographical details of Jesus’ life (Rom. 15:3, 8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6-11).
Arguments For The Eyewitnesses…
1) Under the burden of proof, one must show that a historical document is false. They can’t just assume. Immanuel Kant supports this by stating that a general presumption of lying is self-refuting, since if such a presumption is universalized (one always assumes someone is lying) lying becomes pointless (lying is impossible without a general presumption of truth telling). Thus we have good reason to believe in the historicity of the NT, unless proven otherwise.
2) Did the witnesses have anything to gain from it? Nope. In fact they all suffered a life of hardship, rejection from their own community, and died martyr’s deaths (2 Cor. 11:23-29). People will die for what they believe to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie. Look at human nature throughout history. No conspiracy can be maintained when life or liberty is at stake. Dying for a belief is one thing, but numerous eye-witnesses dying for a known lie is quite another. And for what? Nothing at all.
3) The presence of fake eyewitnesses would have killed the spread of Christianity. Why? Because Christianity originated, and remained for sometime, in the various areas Jesus had ministered. If the early portrait of Him was untrue, how could the apostles have succeeded there? They would have been run out of town and the birth of the “cult” would have been choked. If Jesus did not exist, there should not have been such a rapid growth of the early Church in Jerusalem. It would like me knocking on your door and telling you that you had a new neighbor and went even further by saying he was the president, you would easily find out that this was wrong (yes, that was a terrible analogy, but you get the point). This is exactly like the early Christians in Jerusalem, they could easily find out that this man never existed on the basis that he supposedly ate, slept, and taught in the very place they lived in (not to mention the resurrection). Secondly, why would they have begun there in the first place? It would have been much easier to start in a place where nobody had an opinion on Christ or the apostles, for that matter. One of the last places a fake religion flourishes is in the place where it claims that the residence saw miraculous signs.
4) The time between Jesus’s death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for legend interpolations to happen. This point has been well-explained by A. N. Sherwin-White in his books on Roman society and law in the New Testament. According to Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations or even a couple centuries from the events they purport to record. In the face of this, he says, historians (like himself) reconstruct with confidence the course of Roman and Greek history. As an example used by many, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch 400+ years after Alexander’s death, and yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy documents. In fact the legend filled accounts of Alexander occur almost exactly two generations after the earliest biographies. According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospel accounts, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable.” More generations would have to be necessary for legend to creep in. This point is corroborated by the fact that the fanciful apocryphal writings of Jesus appeared in the 2nd century AD – almost exactly around the time biasness was predicted to creep in by Sherwin-White.