Abuse and misuse of Evidence by a Greenhorn:

2. The text and Manuscripts of the New Testament

 [Part 1]


We continue with our exposition of a greenhorn's abuse of evidence and propagation of blatant disinformation in a shoddy propaganda tract.

Previously (*), we examined his misuse and exaggerated claims about the non-Christian references to Jesus (peace be upon him). In contrast, this time, we will consider his indubitably dubious assertions about the manuscripts of the New Testament.

New Testament manuscripts

The greenhorn presents a table listing the earliest and most important New Testament manuscripts. We reproduce the table below but with slight changes so readers can easily understand the data therein:

Biblical Manuscripts

Date Written

Earliest Copy

Time Span

Magdalene Ms (Matthew 26)

1st century

50-60 AD


John Rylands (John)

90 AD

130 AD

40 years

Bodmer Papyrus II (John)

90 AD

150-200 AD

60-110 years

Chester Beatty Papyri (NT)

1st cen.

200 AD

150 years

Diatessaron by Tatian (Gospels)

1st cen.

200 AD

150 years

Codex Vaticanus (Bible)

1st cen.

325-350 AD

275-300 years

Codex Sinaiticus (Bible)

1st cen.

350 AD

300 years

Codex Alexandrinus (Bible)

1st cen.

400 AD

350 years

We will begin by making nine preliminary points in response to the above:

1. There is no manuscript/fragment of Matthew from the first century. The earliest evidence for Matthew comes from c. 200. These are p64, p67 and p104. Therefore, the neophyte committed a factual error here.

The neophyte later cites Carsten Thiede as saying (his emphasis in all instances, unless otherwise stated):

".we either have a portion of the original gospel of Matthew, or an immediate copy, which was written while Matthew and the other disciples, and eyewitnesses to the events were still alive. This would be the oldest manuscript portion of our Bible in existence today, one which co-exists with the original writers!"

There is no "portion" of the "original" Matthew in existence, nor is there an "immediate copy" of it in existence.  This marvelous re-dating of p64 was first proposed by Carsten Thiede, an evangelical freelance academic researcher, who attempted to show that papyrus 64 (known as p64), consisting of three small scraps containing parts of Matthew 26: 7-8, 10, 14-15, 22-23, 31-33 (these tiny scraps do not constitute a "copy" of Matthew!), were first-century fragments. The scholarly community universally rejects Thiede's arguments. Therefore, the greenhorn's claim that this fragment dates from "50-60 AD", as if this were an accepted indisputable fact, is nothing short of gross disinformation.

There are a number of scholarly refutations to Thiede, some of them available online:

A simple search on the internet would have made it quite clear that Carsten Thiede does not have much of a reputation in the scholarly arena and that scholars universally reject his dating of p64. But then again, we are dealing with a greenhorn!

According to evangelical textual critic Prof. Holmes:

The claim by C. P. Thiede that fragments of Matthew should be dated to "c. A.D. 66" is based on a rat's nest of fanciful hypotheses and unsubstantiated assertions ... (Michael W. Holmes, Textual Criticism, in, David Alan Black & David S. Dockery (Editors) Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, 2001, Broadman & Holman Publishers,  p. 66, footnote No. 11.)

(More on the greenhorn's use of Thiede below).

2. John Rylands, also known as p52 - the earliest fragment of the New Testament - may be placed up to around 150 AD. The amount of text found in this fragment is hardly of any value in determining how much of the Gospel, according to John, at this stage, agreed with the present canonical version or any earlier phase. Prof. Ehrman says:

...the fact is that we can only approximate the date of this fragment's production within fifty years at best (it could as easily have been transcribed in 160 as 110). Moreover, we do not know exactly where the fragment was discovered, let alone where it was written, or how it came to be discarded, or when it was. As a result, all extravagant claims notwithstanding, the papyrus in itself reveals nothing definite about the early history of Christianity in Egypt. One can only conclude that scholars have construed it as evidence because, in lieu of other evidence, they have chosen to. (Bart D. Ehrman, The Text as Window: New Testament Manuscripts and the Social History of Early Christianity, in The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 372.)

3. There is no "Biblical manuscript" known as the "Diatessaron" used by textual critics to restore the New Testament text. Instead, the Diatessaron was a gospel harmony composed by Tatian (around 170 AD); the distinctive phrases of the gospels were combined by Tatian to produce a single narrative. Where Tatian could not harmonize the accounts, he ignored them (for example, the genealogies in Matthew and Luke). In this way, Tatian managed to produce a single gospel book that consisted of distinctive phrases from multiple gospels but lacked some of their contents.

Nor is there a "copy" of the Diatessaron in existence. Unfortunately, the Diatessaron is now lost. The late William L. Petersen, an authority on the Diatessaron, explained:

No direct copy of Tatian's Diatessaron exists. Instead, the scholar must be content with a wide array of sources, and attempt to reconstruct the Diatessaron's text from them. These sources, called "witnesses" to the Diatessaron, range in genre from poems to commentaries, in language from Middle Dutch to Middle Persian, in extent from fragments to codices, in date from 3d to 19th century, on provenance from England to China. Mastering these sources is the key to Diatessaronic scholarship. (Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International, p. 408.)

A challenge for scholars is to reconstruct the text of the Diatessaron as best they can. Doing so would enable them to understand the state of the gospel texts during the time of Tatian and may even make it possible to access the text form contained in manuscripts of around the mid-second century. (Reference and discussion have been taken and adapted from this paper). As should be obvious by now, it is impossible to systematically reconstruct the New Testament text based on the Diatessaron.

Additional observations:

4. Chester Beatty, consisting of p45 (which contains parts of the four Gospels and Acts), p46 (which contains parts of the Pauline Epistles, including Hebrews), and p47 (which contains Revelation 9:10-17:2), is placed between 200 and 250 C.E.

Helmut Koester notes:

However, this manuscript is very fragmentary. Only chapters 20. 21. 25-26 of the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 4-13 of the Gospel of Mark, chapters 6-13 of the Gospel of Luke, and chapter 10 of the Gospel of John have been preserved. (Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International, p. 241.)

Bodmer papyri are also a papyrus collection, some as late as the seventh century. p66 (late 2nd to early 3rd century - preserves most of John), p72 (3rd century - contains 1-2 Peter and Jude), p74 (7th century - portions of Acts, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John and Jude), p75 (late 2nd or early 3rd century - one of the earliest manuscript of Luke - containing portions of chapters 3-5, all of 6-17, half of 18, and almost all of 22-24, together with nearly all of John 1-12, and portions of 13-15), p73 (7th century - contains only three verses of Matthew).

5. 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Philemon, James, 2 Thessalonians, Acts, and Mark appear for the first time in fragments or completely (3 John, 1 and 2 Timothy) in witnesses from the third and/or fourth centuries. Matthew (p64) and Luke (p4), on the other hand, appear in fragments which are placed in the late-second to early-third century period. The time gap for Pauline's writings is considerable. Paul wrote sometime in the 40s and 50s, and the earliest fragments of his letters are from the late-second to early-third century period (p46). According to John, the shortest gap for any New Testament writing is that for the gospel.

Interestingly enough, the 3rd/4th century
p72, the earliest witness for 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, also contains the Nativity of Mary, the apocryphal correspondence of Paul to the Corinthians, the eleventh ode of Solomon, Melito's Homily on the Passover, a fragment of a hymn, the Apology of Phileas and Psalms 33 and 34.

6. Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries - are removed from the autographs by centuries. Furthermore, they either contain extra books or lack some canonical books:  Sinaiticus contains both the Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas; Vaticanus lacks 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Revelation, and Alexandrinus contains I and II Clement. More differences are to be observed when we consider the Old Testament books in these codexes. For example:

Codex Sinaiticus includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and IV Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach.

Codex Vaticanus contains Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach.

Codex Alexandrinus includes Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Psalm additions (I), Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, I, II, III and IV Maccabees.

7. The earliest New Testament manuscripts are fragmentary and completely lacking from the first century. For the major part of the second century, there is nothing save the tiny p52 and p90. Substantial witnesses only begin to emerge from around c. 200.

The vast majority of manuscripts date from the 9th century and onwards. Forty or forty-six manuscripts/fragments may be placed before the fourth century.

These forty-three oldest papyri, by century, are p52, p90 (2d); p32, p46, p64/67, p66 (ca. 200); p77 (2d/3d); p1, p4, p5, p9, p12, p15, p20, p22, p23, p27, p28. p29, p30, p39, p40, p45, p47, p48, p49, p53, p65, p69, p70, p75, p80, p87, p91, p95 (3d); and p13, p16, p18, p72, p78, p92 (3d/4th). 7 (Eldon Jay Epp, Chapter 1 The Papyrus Manuscripts of the New Testament, in, The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 6)

Less than 2.5% are from the first five centuries:

In all, something over five thousand witnesses to the Greek New Testament are extant today. Many (if not most) of these, it should be noted, are fragmentary or incomplete. Only 3 majuscules ... and fifty-six minuscules contain the entire New Testament; another 2 majuscules and 147 minuscules lack only Revelation.16 As for content, the Gospels are found in just over 2,300 MSS, the Acts and Catholic letters in about 655, and the Pauline letters in about 780, and Revelation in about 290. With regard to date, over 65 percent are from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries, while less than 2.5 percent are from the first five centuries.17 (Michael W. Holmes, Textual Criticism, in, David Alan Black & David S. Dockery (Editors) Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues,  2001, Broadman & Holman Publishers,  p.49.)

8. Not all New Testament writings are attested by 5000+ manuscripts. Take Acts, for example. It is found in around 573 manuscripts. Thus, by stating that there are 5000+ manuscripts of the New Testament, a misleading impression is given as if there are 5000+ manuscripts of all the individual New Testament writings. Consider also the book of Revelation. This book has probably the lowest number of manuscripts. The Alands write:

. . . the Gospels are preserved in 2,361 manuscripts, the Apostolos in 662 [Acts + Catholic epistles], the Pauline letters in 792, and Revelation in 287 Greek manuscripts. (Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism,  1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 78-79.)

Of the 792 manuscripts of the Pauline letters, 71 are fragmentary. We can see that Acts, the Catholic epistles, and Revelation appear in only a few hundred manuscripts, which is not an impressive figure. In contrast, the Pauline letters appear in less than a thousand manuscripts.

According to Michael Holmes:

As for content, the Gospels are found in just over 2,300 MSS, the Acts and Catholic letters in about 655, and the Pauline letters in about 780, and Revelation in about 290. (M. W. Holmes, "Textual Criticism", in D. A. Black & D. S. Dockery (Eds.), Interpreting The New Testament: Essays On Methods and Issues, 2001, Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville, p. 49.)

Christian apologist David Stone writes:

... by far the majority [of Greek manuscripts] ... contain just the text of the Gospels. The Epistles are found together with Acts, in about 400 copies, while the Pauline Epistles alone appear in about 300 copies. There are 250 or so surviving copies of the Book of Revelation. (David Stone, The New Testament (Teach Yourself Books), 1996, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd UK, p. 96.)

When we consider the writings individually, the numbers vary, with the gospels having the most manuscripts and other writings, such as Acts, Revelation, Pauline, and the Catholic epistles, having few witnesses.

Helmut Koester notes:

... the manuscript tradition for the NT writings is uneven, and, for the first century of the manuscript transmission, even completely lacking. There are only about four dozen manuscripts which contain the entire NT anyway, and only the smaller portions of these are uncials from V to X CE, the others medieval minuscules. All other manuscripts contain but a part of the NT, and among these the majority are manuscripts of the gospels, while the Pauline epistles are represented less frequently, and manuscripts of the Catholic Epistles - not the mention the Revelation of John - are comparatively rare.  (Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity (Vol. 2), Walter De Gruyter, 1982, p. 19.)

9. There appear to be no more than 61 manuscripts containing the whole of the New Testament:

The number of Greek "manuscripts that contain the entire New Testament canon" has recently been set at sixty-one (including one duplicate).1 This is one more than previously calculated. In The Text of the New Testament the Alands claimed that only three uncials and fifty-six minuscules (excluding the duplicate one) "contain the whole of the New Testament"2  In the new edition of his Text of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger claims fifty-eight complete copies but provides no documentation.3 The fluctuation in count indicates the uncertainty over the actual contents of many of the minuscules.4 Even the three great uncials on the list require a disclaimer, because their contents are not limited to "the whole New Testament:" Codex Sinaiticus . also includes Barnabas and Hermas, while Codex Alexandrinus (A, 02) adds 1-2 Clement. Codex Ephraemi (C, 04) has many lacunae, including all of 2 Thessalonians, 2 John, and the ending, so it could have contained other writings as well. Codex Vaticanus (B, 03) has to be excluded because it ends at Heb 9:13, with the rest of Hebrews and Revelation supplied by a minuscule manuscript from the fifteenth century. As a result, the portion originally located between Hebrews and Revelation in the sequence of many earlier manuscripts, the Pastoral Letters and Philemon, is lacking entirely in the present combination of the two manuscripts. With such variations in mind, these "complete New Testament manuscripts" are the ones assumed to have been "originally complete" or "written as complete New Testaments,"5 so far as can be determined. (Daryl D. Schmidt, The Greek New Testament as a Codex, in, L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (Editors), The Canon Debate, 2002, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 467.)

Most Christians of the past century never saw what an entire Bible should look like!

We will continue discussing the New Testament manuscripts in the next section.

Addressing Shamounion bloopers

We must now turn our attention to a series of blatant disinformation presented by the greenhorn, beginning with his most amazing claim. He boasts:

In comparison [to the works of antiquity], we have copies of the NT which date approximately 15-20 years after the authors of scripture originally penned the autographs.

If so, why does he not present a single example of a "copy" of the New Testament dating "approximately 15-20 years after the authors of scripture originally penned the autographs"?

It is because this high-flying claim is a big lie. There is no tiny minuscule fragment - let alone a copy or "copies"! - of any part of the New Testament dating "approximately 15-20 years after the authors of scripture originally penned the autographs."

There is no fragment/manuscript of any part of the New Testament from the first century. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is COMPLETELY LACKING FROM THE FIRST CENTURY!

Sizable manuscript evidence for the New Testament only begins to surface from around c. 200. Prior to this, we have the tiny little p52. Another fragment from the second century is p90, containing John 18:36 - 19:1 and 19:2-7.

The earliest copy of the New Testament is the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. As noted above, Sinaiticus also contains the Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas, while Vaticanus is incomplete. There is no Greek manuscript before 800 AD, which has exactly 27 New Testament books.

The greenhorn proceeds:

Lukan Papyrus:

"The Lukan papyrus, situated in a library in Paris has been dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century, so it predates the John papyrus by 20-30 years (Time April 26, 1996, pg.8)."

WRONG again. There is no such papyrus in existence. The greenhorn has presented a hoax.

The ACTUAL earliest witnesses for Luke are p4 (c. 200) and p75 (late second/early third century).

The greenhorn proceeds:

Mark and Qumran:

"But of more importance are the manuscript findings of Mark and Matthew! New research which has now been uncovered by Dr. Carsten Thiede, and is published in his newly released book on the subject, the Jesus Papyrus mentions a fragment from the book of Mark found among the Qumran scrolls (fragment 7Q5) showing that it was written sometime before 68 AD It is important to remember that Christ died in 33 AD, so this manuscript could have been written, at the latest, within 35 years of His death; possibly earlier, and thus during the time that the eyewitnesses to that event were still alive!"

On the contrary, no manuscripts and fragments of Mark (and any other part of the New Testament) exist among the Qumran scrolls. The earliest witness for Mark is p45, from the early third century. Since Mark was likely composed around 65-70 C.E., this gives us a gap of over a century between Mark and its earliest witness.

One Evangelical source states:

Its [papyrus 45] approximate date is the early third century, that is, soon after AD 200. This is more than a century after the last of the Gospels was written . (Dr Richard Baukham, Rev, Dr R. T. France, Melba Maggay, Dr James Stamodis, Dr Carsten Peter Thiede (Consulting Editors), Jesus 2000: A major investigation into history's most intriguing figure, 1989, Lion Publishing plc, p. 18.)

Once again, textual critics have dismissed Carsten Thiede's claims. There are no fragments of Mark in Qumran. No Christian text is to be found in Qumran.

Refutations to Thiede are also available online:

7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus? By Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.

Higher Critical Review, Carsten Peter Thiede, Rekindling the Word: In Search of Gospel. - Review by Daryl D. Schmidt 

Refutation of Carsten Peter Thiede's Rejection of the 7QEnoch Identification by way of an analysis of the arguments put forth by Thiede in his book: "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity.  

7Q5: Is it 'Mark' and does it matter? 

Collected responses to Peter Carston Thiede 

"Early" Gospel Fragments

The above are just a few refutations we came across within minutes while surfing the net. Was the greenhorn so utterly incompetent so as to be unable to execute a simple online search to ascertain how scholars treat Carsten Thiede's novel theories and spins?

Burton Mack seemed to have the greenhorn in mind when he summed it up rather nicely and wrote:

Thiede's Dead Sea Scrolls scenario is preposterous; his theory about the Markan fragment among the Dead Sea Scrolls has been discredited; and the mass of detailed scholarship on the origins and history of early Christian movements and their writings has simply been swept aside in the eager pursuit of a chimera. From a critical scholar's point of view, Thiede's proposal is an example of just how desperate the Christian imagination can become in the quest to argue for the literal facticity of the Christian gospels. (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote The New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, 1995, HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, pp. 9-10.)

The greenhorn also mentioned

...the possible discovery of several NT quotations found in Qumran.

As was expected, the source used to put forth this huge claim is none other than Thiede and the late Jose O'Callahan, a palaeographer, whose views are quoted from the "Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics" - hardly a credible source or authority on textual criticism. Suffice it to say that scholars have unanimously rejected such claims. Even these apologists are not so confident and certain if the New Testament is quoted in Qumran and thus need to use phrases such as "possible discovery", "if valid" and "if further research confirms O'Callahan's theories" and so on. This is an indication of the weakness of their arguments and shows that, either consciously or subconsciously, they are aware of the futile nature of their theories.

For a detailed discussion of Thiede's use of the Qumran scrolls, see:

According to the greenhorn:

We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today!

A number of points can be made in response:

A. As noted in #8 in the previous section, not all New Testament writings are attested by 5000+ manuscripts. The Pauline epistles, Acts, the Catholic epistles, and Revelation appear in only a few hundred manuscripts.

B. Textual critics do not count manuscripts; they consider the quality and age of manuscripts. Of the 5000+ manuscripts, around 90% belong to the Byzantine text type. This is deemed to be the worst and the latest of the text types. As a result, manuscripts of this text type are barely used to reconstruct the earliest forms of the New Testament text.

C. As noted in #7 in the previous section, the vast majority of the manuscripts are from the Middle Ages, and hardly 2.5% from the first five centuries.

D. Besides the papyrus, the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are divided into three parts: minuscule, majuscule, and lectionary manuscripts.

i. Minuscules: these form the bulk of the manuscripts, about 2,800, and are also the latest:

There are several thousand minuscules of the NT, that is, manuscripts written in a cursive hand. Most of them were produced in the late Middle Ages, and the text of the Gospels is best represented.  (Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 29.)

The earliest dated minuscule manuscripts date from the ninth century.

The oldest dated minuscule MS is the Upsenski Gospels of the year 835 ... (Barbara Aland & Klaus Wachtel, Chapter 3 The Greek Minuscule manuscripts Of The New Testament, in Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 44.)

ii. Majuscules: The oldest majuscule manuscripts of the New Testament dates to the mid-third century. Hardly five may be placed before the fourth century. Consider their dates and contents:

Five majuscule MSS may be plausibly dated to a date before 312, although the case is not proved for all of them. The oldest is 0212, the Diatesseron fragment from Dura ... It is dated between 222 and 256 [containing part of a Passion Narrative]; 27 the terminus ante quem is established by archaeological data. The MS is unique among the majuscules in that it is a roll ... A recent commentator seems doubtful that the work can be shown to be Tatian's Diatessaron. 29
0220, containing Rom 4:23-5:3, 8-13 ... is dated by Hatch to "the latter part of the third century rather than early in the fourth." 30 ...
0171 contains verses from Matthew 10 and Luke 22. The Lukan fragment was the first to be found. 31 ... Placed by the first editor and by Cavallo in the fourth century, it is dated to about 300 by Treu and the Alands. 33
0189 is a MS of Acts (5:3-21), published just too late to be used by Ropes. 37 The script is a bookhand that had been in use since the late third century, here written well and carefully, with even pen stokes ... Attempts to bring the date down to "third/fourth" seem to be over optimistic...
0162 (P.Oxy. 847) contains John 2:11-22. It was dated by its editor to the fourth century, and had been brought down to third/fourth century by the Alands. 39
(David C. Parker, Chapter 2 The Majuscule Manuscripts Of The New Testament, in Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, pp. 28-29.)

iii. Lectionaries: The bulk of the lectionaries date from the ninth to the sixteenth century, with the earliest fragment dated to the fourth century (1604). According to the Alands only ten lectionaries are known prior to the 8th century (Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism,  1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 81).

Lectionary manuscripts are important primarily in tracing the history of the New Testament text in the later Byzantine period. As for their significance for the "original" or the earliest forms of the New Testament text, the Alands write:

. . . we can only conclude that for New Testament textual criticism, so far as the original text and its early history is concerned, nearly all the approximately 2, 300 lectionary manuscripts can be of significance only in exceptional instances . . . (Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism,  1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 169.)

About 200 lectionaries contain only scattered New Testament texts.

In light of the above, the exaggerated nature of the greenhorn's claim becomes clear.

Remove most of the 2882 (as of 2008) minuscule manuscripts from the total manuscript count of 5760 (as of 2008). From the remainder, subtract most of the 2436 (as of 2008) lectionaries. Most of the majuscules (318 as of 2008) are also late and belong to the Byzantine text-type; hence, they, too, need to be removed. Ultimately, we will be left with considerably less than two thousand manuscripts. This amply demonstrates the exaggerated nature of the greenhorn's claim. Look at Table II in this paper: the most significant number of manuscripts scholars use to prepare any critical edition of the Greek New Testament is for UBS GNT-3, using 905 manuscripts.

The gap between the original and the earliest manuscript versus the gap between the alleged event and its earliest written record

There are two separate issues to consider here: 1) the gap between the date of events alleged within a document and the date of its earliest written record; 2) the gap between the original and its earliest written record. The first is of relevance here. These are two separate topics and should not be confused. Apologists such as the greenhorn try to fool the readers when they talk about a relatively insignificant issue - the gap between the original document and its earliest fragment. It is the latter gap that matters. G. A. Wells probably had Shamoun in mind when he explained:

Many play what they regard as a trump by confusing these two topics ... and if this interval [between a document and its earliest copy] is not distinguished from the interval relevant to topic 1, then apologists think they can claim not only textual accuracy, but also historicity of a Christian text's contents. (G. A. Wells, The Jesus Myth, 1998, Open Court Publishing Company, p. 3.)

Consider the issue this way: Jesus (peace be upon him) was on earth sometime in the 30's. The earliest New Testament fragment, p52, may be placed anywhere between 110-160 AD. This gives us around 80-130 years between Jesus (peace be upon him) and the earliest gospel fragment. However, we may ignore p52 since it does not contain much of a New Testament apart from five lines.  Our earliest substantial manuscript of the gospel of John (p66) is from c. 200 CE, giving us a gap of over a century between the events alleged therein and the earliest written record. 

The gap between the original and its earliest witness is less important than between the alleged events and their earliest written record. The most significant changes occurred before the textual transmission of the gospels. The textual changes are comparatively secondary (not to say they are unimportant). The primary changes occurred before the textual stage, in the period between Jesus (peace be upon him) and the writing of the canonical gospels.

This takes us to our next point.

Textual reliability and historical reliability

The unstated suggestion in the greenhorn's pile of half-truths is that textual reliability = historical reliability. But it does not follow. We can have a textually reliable document, but that does not mean that it is historically reliable, so we can accept all of its claims at face value. There can be a textually sound document with historically questionable details. Therefore, even if the New Testament texts were "generally authentic", it would not render all of its contents historically reliable and accurate, let alone to the point of inerrancy.

Elsewhere, the greenhorn appeals to Bruce Metzger for preserving the New Testament text. However, note that that does not lead Metzger to conclude that we can trust every claim made within the New Testament. For example, Metzger also wrote:

The recounting of Jesus' teaching and activities entailed a certain amount of modification in order to bring out more clearly their meaning when applied to new situations. (Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, p. 98.)

Also (p. 99):

It is obvious that it would be unwarranted to regard the Gospels as a journalists verbatim report of what happened yesterday. What the evangalists have preserved for us is not a photographic reproduction of all the words and all the deeds of Jesus, but something more like four interpretative portraits. Each of these portraits presents distinctive highlights of Jesus' person and work, and taken together, the four provide a varied and balanced account of what Jesus said and did.

Just as the gospel writers altered and modified stories to suit their needs, so did those handling the Jesus (peace be upon him) traditions prior to them (p.89)

... each evangelist has produced a distinctive presentation of the common gospel message. The most obvious reason which accounts for their variety is that each writer had access to a somewhat different body of oral traditions regarding Jesus' words and works. Moreover, since each evangelist had in mind a special reading public, he would naturally choose to emphasize those details which, in his view, were most suited to communicate the message of the Gospel to that reading public. The natural consequence is that each evangelist as a literary artist has drawn his own distinctive portrait of Jesus Christ.

Metzger admits that those who passed on the stories and words about/of Jesus (peace be upon him) in the earliest period altered them (p. 86):

There is no reason to doubt that a significant portion of the words and events included in the Gospels are there not only because they figured in the life of Jesus, but also because they served some vital need in the life of the early church. Since, moreover, many of the sayings of Jesus were preserved mainly by being preached, they were liable in this way to a certain, rather an uncertain, amount of modification with a view to bringing out the point of them in one or another set of circumstances in the primitive church. What each evangelist has preserved, therefore, is not a photographic reproduction of the words and deeds of Jesus, but an interpretative portrait delineated in accord with the special needs of the early church.

It is true that Metzger also stated that there was no "free invention" of gospel traditions and draws the reader's attention to the presence of eyewitnesses who would have acted as a "check" upon wholesale invention and distortion of Jesus' (peace be upon him) works and words (pp. 87-88). Metzger, nonetheless, acknowledged the modifications of Jesus' (peace be upon him) words and stories before the composition of the gospels. He also attributed at least some creativity on the part of the gospel writers in further adapting those words and stories for their own purposes.

Metzger also wrote that while John recorded some "valuable historical data" and supplementary information (p. 95), John was "guided by theological rather than simple historical interests" (p. 95) and implied that the Synoptics are more historical and reliable when he wrote (p. 96):

While the synoptics preserve the sayings of Jesus more exactly in their original language and form, the fourth evangelist employs more freely his own modes of thought and language in reporting and interpreting the discourses of Jesus.

If we are to accept Metzger's words (which are quite conservative), then it would mean that we just cannot take the claims of the New Testament - particularly the claims of the gospel of John -  at face value as if they convey pure historical details. We need to apply some sort of criteria to the New Testament to determine which claims are likely (or less likely) to be historical.  Therefore, just because the text of the New Testament may be "generally reliable" does not mean that, for example, the resurrection story is historically accurate.

 As Tuckett explains:

Nevertheless the nature of the Gospel tradition means that we cannot simply take everything recorded in all the Gospels as unquestionably genuine reports about what Jesus said or did in a pre-Easter situation. (Christopher M. Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers, 2001, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 203.)

Conclusion: General textual reliability does not render the New Testament historically reliable in all its claims and details. It certainly does not render it "inerrant" by any means.


In this paper, we exposed a number of high-flying pieces of blatant disinformation presented by the greenhorn on the manuscript evidence of the New Testament. Either the greenhorn lied, or he was too ignorant to get elementary facts straight and thus committed a series of embarrassing blunders. Whatever option you select reflects very badly upon the greenhorn. One wonders why he could not check an introductory book on textual criticism written by a competent textual critic to get some basic facts right while composing his propaganda. Had he even bothered to search on the internet, he would have easily discovered a number of papers exposing the disinformation and distortions we exposed above.

We will soon expose other pieces of disinformation included by the Greenhorn in his poorly composed paper .

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