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How Significant Are New Testament Manuscripts?

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:6).

Pentecost exploded onto the ancient world with such suddenness and power that it forever altered the work of scribes and the production of books. The overwhelming demand for the written account of Jesus had no precedent in world history. As a result, the New Testament numerically eclipsed all the combined works of Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Euripides, Homer, and other ancient writers. Here is a fact you should know: There are no original manuscripts of any of the following ancient writers, scholars today accept them without hesitation.

  1. Plato: Greek philosopher. His writings are found in a mere seven manuscripts, the oldest copy was written twelve hundred years after his death.
  1. Aristotle: Greek philosopher, a student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great. Only five copies of any one work of Aristotle exist, and none of these were written less than fourteen hundred years after his death.
  1. Herodotus: Greek historian. Only eight manuscripts survive; these were copied thirteen hundred years after the original.
  1. Euripides: Greek playwright. Nine manuscripts exist, dated thirteen hundred years after they were first written.

Papyrus 46: A portion of Second Corinthians.

One is immediately struck by the scarcity of copies of these authors and the vast time lapse between the originals and today’s reproductions. Yet no one questions their authenticity.  Contrast the scarcity of works done by these secular writers to the abundance of New Testament copies. Renowned scholar and professor, Dr. F.F. Bruce, verified approximately 4,000 ancient Greek New Testaments still in existence. Two complete manuscripts are dated less than three hundred years after the original. Most of the New Testament is preserved in copies written less than two hundred years after Jesus. Some existing manuscripts were composed about one hundred years after the originals. Part of one book came within a generation of the first-century.

If approximately four thousand ancient New Testament manuscripts survived the ravages of time, we are overwhelmed with this question: How large was the original number of others, now lost, that exploded upon the public in the first centuries? What was the motivation—the power—that excited early believers into mass production of this book? The answer, of course, is that the book itself was composed by the Holy Spirit and contained His miraculous anointing. Those who read it became motivated to copy and preserve it. The Bible’s claim to authenticity is totally beyond the reach of all other writers of antiquity. As believers, we stand secure in its reliability.

Pentecost exploded onto the ancient world with such suddenness and power that it forever altered the work of scribes and the production of books. The overwhelming demand for the written account of Jesus had no precedent in world history.

But there is more to tell. Besides Greek copies, there are some 19,000 ancient New Testament transcripts in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. This support-base of 24,000 historic New Testament manuscripts gives scholars the opportunity to compare them for accuracy. The result: These books are about 99.5% textually pure. No other ancient writing has such a record.  Not only so, but these copies are better preserved than any other document from the past.  Also, keep in mind that when the original New Testament documents were written there were numerous people still alive who had heard Jesus for themselves and would have protested loudly had the writing been inaccurate. No such complaint exists. None of Plato or Aristotle’s hearers were present to edit the copies we now accept as valid.


Questions: If thousands of New Testament books survived the ravages of time when secular ones did not, how many more must there have originally been written?!  What was the motivation behind such an explosion of books?

Answer: Pentecost impacted the world of its day with such cataclysmic power that the urgent copying of thousands of New Testaments was undertaken. For example, only 30 years after the death of Jesus, Christians in the city of Rome had become so numerous that when Emperor Nero set fire to the city, he blamed them for the destruction. In the frenzy that followed, thousands were crucified and slaughtered. These Roman Christians experienced the Holy Spirit’s same invincible power that had come upon disciples in the Upper Room. Bibles were desperately needed.

  1. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” John 14:26-27
  1. “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
  1. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9
  1. And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor 3:4-6



Jesus said: “But he answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

Jesus said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words will by no means pass away.” Matthew 24:35

God the Father said: “My Covenant I will not break nor alter the Word that is gone out of my lips.” Psalm 89:34.

Jesus said to the Father: “For I have given to them (the disciples) the words which You have given Me, and they have received them …” John 17:8

Peter said: “But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:25.

Paul said: “Be diligent … rightly diving the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Peter said again: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

Paul said again: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” 2 Timothy 3:16

Paul said once more: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8

David said: “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in Heaven.” Psalm 119:89

“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the Covenant which God has commanded you.’” Hebrews 9:19-20

John the Apostle said: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18-19


Adapted from Charles Carrin Ministries monthly newsletter, Gentle Conquest (March 2019). Used with permission.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2023

About the Author: Charles Carrin, D.D., has served the body of Christ for over 65 years. Educated at University of Georgia and Columbia Theological Seminary, he denied, in belief and practice, the contemporary ministry of the Holy Spirit until a personal crisis opened his eyes to what he had been missing. He is the author of Spirit-Empowered Theology (Chosen, 2017), The Edge Of Glory: Receiving the Power of the Holy Spirit (Creation House, 2002), Sunrise of David Sunset of Saul: A Message to the Church in the End-time (1985, 2014), On Whose Authority?: The Removal of Unwanted Scriptures (Burkhart Books, 2014), a revival novel with Dorothy Easley: Island in the Sun (Xulon, 2010), and a contributor to Word Spirit Power: What Happens When You Seek All God Has to Offer (Chosen, 2012) with R.T. Kendall and Jack Taylor. Today his ministry centers upon the visible demonstration of the Spirit and imparting of His gifts. Read his biography at

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