What are New Testament Manuscripts? (14 articles)
- What Media has the Bible been Written On? (1 of 14)
- What is a Manuscript? (2 of 14)
- Why were the Early Christians More Likely to Write on a Codex Rather than a Scroll? (3 of 14)
- Do I Need a Dictionary to Study Ancient Manuscripts? (4 of 14)
- Where are Biblical Manuscripts Found? (5 of 14)
- What is the Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments? (6 of 14)
- What is the Gregory-Aland Numbering System? (7 of 14)
- How Many New Testament Manuscripts Exist? (8 of 14)
- How does the Quantity of New Testament Manuscripts Compare to Other Ancient Manuscripts? (9 of 14)
- How does the Quality of New Testament Manuscripts Compare to Other Ancient Manuscripts? (10 of 14)
- What’s the Difference Between an Autograph and an Original? (11 of 14)
- How Long did the Autograph or Original New Testament Manuscripts Last? (12 of 14)
- Why Didn’t God Preserve the Autographs of the Bible? (13 of 14)
- What is Scriptio Continua? (14 of 14)
My last two articles have been What’s the Difference Between an Autograph and an Original? and How Long did the Autograph or Original New Testament Manuscripts Last?. Now I want to address a common question: Why Didn’t God Preserve the the original Bible?
In my last article, I showed that some of the autographs lasted over 200 years, according to Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (martyred in A.D. 311). Since God is all-powerful, and since he inspired the Bible, why didn’t he allow the autographs, written by the Prophets and the Apostles themselves, to last through all eternity? I want to quickly present a few reasons why it’s unnecessary for them to still exist.
Detriments to having the Autographs
People tend to worship important items, whether it’s a religious book or something a famous an actor or actress owned. Would having the autographs be any different? A case in point are all the relics that churches have, including many fragments of what people claim is the True Cross. Is there any reason to think the autographs of the New Testament would be treated any differently? Worshipping relics instead of God a sin.
How would the autographs be authenticated? How could we be confident that the manuscripts people claimed were written by the Apostles actually were written by the Apostles? There would have to be a continuous chain of records showing the locations of the autographs since they were written. Any break in the chain, no matter how small, could cause doubt about their authenticity.
What if someone (or some group) made forgeries of the autographs, but subtly changed them to promote a different teaching? Several cults have made changes to their own version of the Bible in attempts to make the Bible to conform to their beliefs. Having the autographs wouldn’t stop these attempts, but would give weight to the heresies they are promoting.
By having the text of the New Testament in particular explode across the known world, ending up in the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in relatively short order, God protected that text from the one thing we, centuries and millennia later, could never detect: wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control over the text at any one point in its history…there was never a time when anyone or any group could gather up all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in the text itself.1
Autographs are Unneeded
Would Christians have a different form of faith if the autographs still existed? Would we be stronger in our faith? Would we face fewer temptations? Would we be more reliant on God in our everyday lives? I think all of these are doubtful.
By some estimates, there have been over 6 billion copies of the Bible distributed since Johannes Gutenberg first printed the Bible in 1455. It’s unknown how many copies of the Bible were hand written prior to that event, but it was certainly in the tens of thousands (that number is based on the fragments that still exist). Those early copies of the Bible were used to ensure later copies were created accurately. Having the autographs wouldn’t make the teachings in them more true.
The Constitution of the United States still exists. Does that make the words and intents of the signers more true? If someone takes a picture of the Constitution, it’s a copy. Is the copy less true than the original? What if the original was destroyed? Would that make all of the copies suspect? What’s makes the Constitution valuable is not the parchment and ink used to create it, but the ideas written on it. If the Constitution was destroyed, the ideas that govern the United States would still exist, and would still be the law of the land. The Bible is no different in that regard.
The early Christians knew the message of salvation through Jesus Christ was important, not the means that message was passed from one person to another. The Gospel was taught to people for years before the New Testament was written (Could the Gospel Message have been Accurately Transmitted Orally?), so the manuscripts the Apostles themselves wrote have no intrinsic value. The meaning of the words the Apostles wrote are what have eternal value.
- Brake, Aaron. Does the Lack of Original Autographs Make Biblical Inerrancy Irrelevant? (Stand to Reason; 03/02/2018)
- Mauser, Bernard. How Should I Respond to the Claim We Don’t Have the Original Bible? (Bernard J Mauser, January 10, 2019; blog) Accessed 01-Feb-2019.
- White, James R. The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009) Page 78. Quoted by: Brake, Aaron. Does the Lack of Original Autographs Make Biblical Inerrancy Irrelevant? (Stand to Reason; 03/02/2018) Accessed 09-Jan-2020.