Friday, May 11, 2012

An embarrassment of riches

 In comparison with the remaining manuscripts of any other Greek or Latin literature, the New Testament suffers from an embarrassment of riches. It is almost incomprehensible to think about the disparity. When it comes to quantity of copies, the New Testament has no peer. More than 5,700 Greek New Testament manuscripts are still in existence, ranging in date from the early second century to the sixteenth century. To be sure, the earliest ones (i.e., through the third century) are all fragmentary, but they cover a substantial amount of the New Testament. And Greek manuscripts do not tell the whole story. The New Testament was translated early on into a variety of languages, including Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Arabic. All told, there are between twenty thousand and twenty-five thousand handwritten copies of the New Testament in various languages. Yet, if all of these were destroyed, the New Testament text could be reproduced almost in its entirety by quotations of it in sermons, tracts, and commentaries written by ancient teachers of the church (known as church fathers or Patristic writers). To date, over a million quotations from the New Testament by the church fathers have been cataloged.

(Grudem, Wayne A., C. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner. Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 112-3)

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