Many critics of Christianity claim that the Bible we read today has been
changed in major ways since the originals were written. For example, some
have claimed that there are “hundreds of thousands of errors” in our
present Bibles. Some have claimed that the Catholic Church in the fourth
and fifth centuries made major revisions of the Bible in order to support
their own peculiar doctrine. Still others have claimed that certain
inspired books have been kept out of the Bible (for example the Gospel of
All of these claims rest on the assumption that we do not have available
to us the original New Testament writings. Although it is true that we do
not have actual copies of the original manuscripts of the gospels or the
letters, what we do have is very solid evidence that the current Greek
text of the New Testament is extremely reliable.
Our Greek text is based on some very ancient manuscripts. Some of the most
important manuscripts available today are listed below.
1. The Codex Vaticanus, or Codex B. The Codex Vaticanus is a vellum codex
on 759 pages in uncial script. The manuscript has been dated to around AD
350 . It contains the entire New Testament, except Hebrews 9:13-end, I and
II Timothy, Titus and Revelation. It also contains all of the Old
Testament in Greek except the first few chapters of Genesis and several
Psalms. The manuscript has been kept in the Vatican since at least 1481.
2. The Codex Sinaiticus, or Codex Aleph. The Sinaiticus manuscript
received its name because it was discovered at St. Catharines Monastery on
Mt. Sainai in 1844 by the biblical scholar Tischendorf. It was found in a
basket of old parchments which were about to be thrown into a fire. This
manuscript is now in the British Museum. Like the Vatican manuscript, it
has been dated to around 350 AD. It contains much of the Old Testament in
Greek, but most significantly, it has the entire New Testament in Greek.
3. The Alexandrian Codex, or Codex A. This is a fifth-century codex,
containing most of the Old Testament and all the New Testament except a
few pages of Matthew, two from 1st John and three from 2 Corinthians. This
manuscript was found in Alexandria in Egypt, but was given as a gift to
the king of England in 1621. The manuscript is now located on the British
4. The Washington Manuscript. This manuscript from the end of the fourth
century contains the four gospels. It is especially significant, as it
contains Mark 16:9-20, unlike the three manuscripts already mentioned.
5. The Chester Beatty Papyri. This is a collection of a number of papyrus
codex fragments, located in the Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin, Ireland.
One of the papyri contains thirty leaves of the New Testament in Greek
which have been dated to the late second or early third century (ie.
around 200 AD). Another includes 86 of 104 leaves of the letters of Paul
from around from the early third century.
6. The Bodmer Papyri. This is a group of manuscripts found in the Bodmer
Library of World Literature. Included are a complete manuscript of Luke
and John dated to 175-225 BC, as well as a manuscript of over half of the
book of John which has been dated as early as 150 AD.
7. The John Rylands Fragment. This papyrus fragment contains only John
18:31-33 and 37,38, which would make it an insignificant find except that
it has been dated to 130 AD. This fragment was copied within fifty years
of the death of the apostle John.
From this list, one can see that we have manuscripts of the entire Bible
from about 350 AD and of significant portions of the Bible from around 200
AD or before. Claims that the New Testament was added to, subtracted from
or changed in any significant way are indefensible in the light of this
Additional evidence in support of the accuracy of the New Testament we
have in our hands today is found in the writings of the early church
“fathers.” Writers such as Polycarp, Clement, Justin Martyr and many
others wrote extensively in the first and second centuries AD, quoting
from a large proportion of the entire New Testament, providing further
evidence in support of the accuracy of our New Testament text.
As to the claims that there are “hundreds of thousands of errors” in our
New Testament text, this is based on the nearly ten thousand manuscripts
which we have. Virtually all the supposed errors are minor slips of the
pen of the many scribes who copied the Greek New Testament. Through
careful analysis of the thousands of manuscripts, scholars are able to
reproduce a Greek text which is a virtually exact copy of the original. To
quote Sir Frederic Kenyon, the world famous Biblical scholar and former
director of the British Museum for twenty-one years, who sums up the
“The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hands and say without fear
or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down
without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the
The question in answered in much more detail in the article “A Remarkable
Collection,” found in the Articles section of this site.