The Myth of New Testament Manuscript Evidence
An exposure of the supposed evidence for the new testament.
All of these manuscripts - regardless of how early - date back to the time when there were already doctrinal and "Christological" debates within the early Church. Even if they had an entire New Testament manuscript that dated all the way back to (St.) Paul, that would in no way prove that it contained the correct interpretation of Jesus' mission, peace be upon him. Who's to say that Paul wasn't the real heretic?
In the Name of Allaah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
Considering the myriad of illusionary and dishonest tactics used by Evangelical Christians, it would be difficult to choose the ones that I feel are the most dishonest. One that jumps quickly to mind is using the "Jews for Jesus" (or other so-called "Messianic Jews") as "Jewish" references in the hopes that the simple-minded Muslim inquisitor won't know that these are wholly CHRISTIAN organizations (their deceptive names notwithstanding). There are quite a number of examples of this trick on the Answering Islam type site. If you want to find out more about these deceptive "Jewish Christian" cults - which are really just another front for evangelism - read what real Jews say about "the methods and practices of the deceptive missionary and cult groups" at Jews for Judaism.
Running a close second in this smoke and mirrors charade is the claim that there exists a large number of early New Testament manuscripts (mss). For the sake of consistency, we'll define "early" as 325 A.D., which is the date used in the quotation below. We're addressing this issue, even though it's rather beside the point, since even if this large number of manuscripts existed, it would not prove that the current received text of the New Testament contains the authentic words and teachings of Jesus, peace be upon him. However, what we're mainly concerned with here is the outright dishonest claims regarding the number of early New Testament manuscripts. The propaganda of the self-proclaimed followers of Jesus (peace be upon him) reads as follows: (1) New Testament Manuscripts:
We have in our possession 5,300 known New Testament Greek manuscripts,
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. These were mostly written before 325 A.D., and long before the
compilation of the Qur'an (taken from McDowell's Evidence That
demands a Verdict, vol..1, 1972 pgs.40-48; and Ostling, Time, January 23, 1995, pg.57)
In order to refute this outrageous claim (there's not one-tenth of the number mentioned!), further down in this document I provide a few quotations from The Jesus Legend, by G. A. Wells, which itself quotes other Biblical scholars. In conjunction with this information, there is the on-line Table of Greek Manuscripts, which contains a listing of all known early New Testament manuscripts and fragments. It is important to note "fragment", since many of the "manuscripts" are just that - small fragments. The reader should also be aware of the fact that the footnotes to The Jesus Legend mention some manuscripts by their papyrus identifiers (i.e. P52, P90, P45 and P75) and that these correspond to the manuscript numbers "ms. nr." listed on Table of Greek Manuscripts page. Thus by using this on-line reference, one can personally verify the truth of the claims of Christian propaganda. Not surprisingly, their claims are wholly false and deceptive. For example:
• It is interesting to see that a non-Christian scholar says that: "of all the synoptic manuscripts which can be dated to the fourth century or earlier, only two (P45and P75, both of the third century) contain more than a chapter." This can be verified by spending a little time at the Table of Greek Manuscripts page. It's true -ALL of the other pre-fourth century manuscripts contain only a few verses!!! However, don't forget that Christian author cited above claimed "24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament" which "were mostly written before 325 A.D"!!!
• Like many other Christian apologists, Jochen Katz simply parrots this claim when he says: "And I believe that with the basis of many thousands of manuscripts for comparison we can be very confident that the text is today faithfully restored and the researchers in textual criticism assert that the actual literal text is restored to 99.8% leaving only a very few uncertainties." (DejaNews) The question needs to be asked - how old are these "thousands of manuscripts" and how much of the New Testament they contain? Whether ignorance or deception is behind this statement, it's worthless none the less.
• Another example of the complete deception that runs throughout the article quoted above is the statement by the Christian author that "Until two years ago, the oldest assumed manuscript which we possessed was the St. John papyrus (P52)". Unfortunately for him, we all now know what "P52" means! We can simply go to the Table of Greek Manuscripts and see how much of the New Testament that this "manuscript" contains. How much? Exactly five verses of the "Gospel of John" (18:31-33,37-38)!!! However, the author was using it as an example of a "New Testament Manuscript" - never bothering to mention how small a "portion" it really is. A reader who didn't know any better could go away thinking that this St. John papyrus - and the others referred to - are complete New Testament "manuscripts". Need I say more? Suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of manuscripts that this dishonest (and anonymous?) author refers to have no bearing on proving the textual veracity of everything in the current New Testament. All of these manuscripts - regardless of how early - date back to the time when there were already doctrinal and "Christological" debates within the early Church. Even if they had an entire New Testament manuscript that dated all the way back to (St.) Paul, that would in no way prove that it contained the correct interpretation of Jesus' mission, peace be upon him. Who's to say that Paul wasn't the real heretic? With all of the followers that Jesus, peace be upon him had, it seems strange that Almighty God did not choose someone who had actually seen and followed him to spread his message! Many studies have been done trying to decipher the relationship between Paul, Judaism and the early Jerusalem Church - and many conclude that Paul was the one who altered the true teachings of Jesus, peace be upon him. For those who want to study more on this, I recommend reading James the Brother of Jesus, Jesus and Judaism and/or The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity.
The reader should also be aware that the above Christian propaganda article heavily relies on the works of Josh McDowell for references. For those unfamiliar with him, Josh McDowell is a Christian apologist and evangelist - he is NOT a scholar. His (in)famous work Evidence That Demands a Verdict has been thoroughly refuted by numerous authors. One of the more detailed on-line refutations is The Jury Is In.
FINALLY . . . THE EVIDENCE
Well that's a long enough introduction - now it's time for the evidence. When I began writing this article, I was only planning on discussing the quotations listed below. For better or for worse, I discussed some related issues before I came to the heart of the matter. Anyway . . the quotations below are from The Jesus Legend, by G.A. Wells. Open Court, 1996, pages 70-71. Emphasis added.) "There is considerable manuscript variation in what Jesus says on divorce, and whether Luke has a doctrine of the atonement depends on which manuscripts of his account of the Last Supper are to be taken as giving the original reading...The International Greek NT's apparatus of Luke provides what the Birmingham theologian D. Parker reckons to be "upwards of 30,000 variants for that Gospel, so that we have, for example, 81 in the Lord's Prayer." He adds:
We do not possess the Greek New Testament. What we have is a mass of manuscripts, of which only about three hundred date from before A.D. 800. A mere thirty-four of these are older than A.D. 400, of which only four were at any time complete. All these differ, and all at one time or another had authority as the known text.1 Ehrman's recent and thorough discussion of the NT text leads him to conclude that, during the earliest period of its transmission, it "was in a state of flux" and "came to be more or less standardized in some regions by the fourth century, and subject to fairly rigid control (by comparison) only in the Byzantine period" (Corruption, p. 28). He adds in a note that this is the view of a wide range of scholars. His reviewer J.K. Elliott, himself a textual critic, has underlined the importance of this book.2 The footnotes that correspond to the above quotations can be found immediately below. They contain important information, so please give them at least a glance.
1 D. Parker, 'Scripture is Tradition', Theology, 94 , p. 12. Cf. P.M. Head's article 'Christology and Textual Transmission: Reverential Alterations in the Synoptic Gospels' (Novum Testamentum, 35 , p. 111), where he notes that "Gospel manuscripts from the second century are very scarce, with only two fragments of John's Gospel definitely written before A.D. 200 (i.e. P52 and P90)." He adds that, although fragmentary manuscripts of the synoptic gospels are extant from around 200, "of all the synoptic manuscripts which can be dated to the fourth century or earlier, only two (P45 and P75, both of the third century) contain more than a chapter."
(From The Jesus Legend, by G. A. Wells. Open Court, 1996, page 230. Emphasis added.)
2 Many, says Elliot, have "fondly argued that, of the myriad textual variants in our fund of extant mss., few affect key doctrinal matters". He adds that if they read Ehrman, they will find that "the text was regularly adjusted in such areas as the birth of Jesus, the agony in the garden, the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus's death, his cry of dereliction, resurrection and ascension. . . . And these adjustments were made not by those who were labelled as heretics, but by the 'proto-orthodox', the use Ehrman's term". Again, "Ehrman vividly shows how scribes have preserved or created within the mss. they were copying reflections of early Christological debates that helped to shape mainstream Christianity" (Novum Testamentum, 36 , pp. 405-06).
(From The Jesus Legend, by G. A. Wells. Open Court, 1996, page 230. Emphasis added.)