Fragments of Truth explains why the Bible can be trusted
Published: 1 May 2018 (GMT+10)
“We don’t know what the New Testament originally said, because we don’t have the original New Testament. All we have are copies, of copies, of copies!” This is a common skeptical argument, and one that many Christians don’t know how to answer. A new documentary, Fragments of Truth, takes a look at the earliest copies of the New Testament to answer the question: can we trust that the New Testament we have today is what was originally written?
Featuring Craig Evans and many other scholars familiar to those who have studied New Testament text criticism, such as Dan Wallace, Larry Hurtado, and more, the documentary takes us to Dublin, Oxford, Cambridge, Geneva, the Vatican, and other places that house the most ancient manuscripts discovered. They explain why these early manuscripts are important:
- They go back to early Christianity, and may bear witness to the earliest copies or even the originals of the New Testament documents. Because papyri could be in use for hundreds of years, even a third or fourth-century manuscript could be evidence of a second or even first-century reading.
- The manuscripts do not differ in important ways. Dan Wallace explained the important criteria of readings that are both viable (they could actually be the original reading) and meaningful (they change the meaning of the text)—the variants in this category make up 0.2% of manuscript variants, showing that the scribes were attempting to make faithful copies, not to change the text in a meaningful way.
- The volume of manuscripts means that even if someone wanted to change the message of, for example, the Gospels, there would be no way to do so, because they would have to displace the hundreds of copies already in circulation. The only two significant variants affecting a whole section—the long ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery—show that the attempt to insert something into the manuscript tradition leaves clear evidence.
How do these manuscripts affect our faith today?
The manuscripts of the New Testament show that there’s no way that originals were changed. We have the original readings; it’s just that there are also variants created accidentally or intentionally (for instance, as an intended but misguided ‘correction’ of the text to restore what the copyist believed to be the original text). So it’s like having a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with 1050 pieces—all the original pieces are there, but so are some extra pieces. As Dan Wallace stated, we have the original text in our modern Greek New Testaments—either in the body of the text, or in the footnotes where other variants are recorded.
That means that Christians, indeed everyone, can have confidence that what we read in the Bible is what God originally inspired. God has preserved His Word by ensuring there were many early copies, meaning that no one could monopolize the tradition and alter the text. We have enough of these early copies to verify that this is what happened. And there are continuing amazing discoveries even today that confirm this is the case.
Fragments of Truth is a great introduction to the manuscript evidence for the New Testament and is accessible to everyone who wants to know more about the foundation for the Bible we have today.