The Original New Testament Writings and Documents
Unlike the Old Testament, which was compiled over several thousand years, the New Testament was compiled within one lifetime, comprising of the historical accounts of the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the correspondence of the apostles with the early church body.
These early manuscripts would have been written on papyrus, leather or parchment roll, and evidence suggests that the early church also used ‘codex’, or book, form.
Were the New Testament Documents written soon after Jesus death or are they mythical remembrances concocted years after the actual events?
There is much debate over the dating of these early works of Christian writers, but evidence points to the early formation of the entire New Testament.
The early dates of the documents is suggested by conspicuous omissions from the writings. These include:
- Nero’s persecutions, after A.D. 64.
- Execution of James, A.D. 62.
- Jewish Revolt against Romans, A.D. 66
- Destruction of the Temple, A.D. 70
Even conservative scholars place the dating of the original documents between 64-100 AD, the latest of these being the writings of John.
The New Testament Authors
Many of the books are personally introduced and signed by their writers, such as Paul or James. John clearly says in his gospel account, “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24 NKJV), leaving no question as to the author.
Luke, the companion of Paul on many of his mission trips, introduces both his historical works personally. The authorship of other two gospels, Mark and Matthew are also confirmed by external witnesses.
The historian Eusebius preserves the writings of Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis (AD 130). In one letter he states:
“The Elder [Apostle John] used to say this also; “Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he [Peter] mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required, not as though he were making compilation of the sayings of the Lord. So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way some things as he mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.”
Iraneus, Bishop of Lyons in AD 180, a student of John’s direct disciple, Polycarp, wrote concerning the gospel accounts:
“Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue …Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”
All of the New Testament writers were either directly acquainted with Jesus Christ, or were the close disciples of His disciples. The New Testament was formed in the passion and drama of early Christian witness, within the lifetimes of these men. Indeed, what we have in our hands are eyewitness accounts!
“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,”Luke 1:1-3 NKJV
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”2Peter 1:16 NKJV
“that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”1John 1:3 NKJV
They also appealed to their often hostile audience, who were also eyewitnesses of the same events:
““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—”Acts 2:22 NKJV
“Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.””Acts 26:24-28 NKJV
These accounts are also verified by external writers, further persuading us of their reality and historical accuracy.
William F Albright, recognised as one of the world’s outstanding biblical archaeologists, wrote:
The Greek Language
The New Testament was written almost entirely in koine (common) Greek. This was the international language at the time of Jesus. As with the statements concerning the Hebrew tongue, we quote again from Geisler and Nix:
“Greek was an intellectual language. It was more a language of the mind than of the heart, a fact to which the great Greek philosophers gave abundant evidence. Greek was more suited to codifying a communication or reflection on a revelation of God in order to put it into simple communicable form. It was a language that could more easily render the credible into the intelligible than could Hebrew. It was for this reason that New Testament Greek was a most useful medium for expressing the propositional truth of the New Testament, as Hebrew was for expressing the biographical truth of the Old Testament. Since Greek possessed a technical precision not found in Hebrew, the theological truths which were more generally expressed in the Hebrew of the Old Testament were more precisely formulated in the Greek of the New Testament.
Furthermore, Greek was a nearly universal language. The truth of God in the Old Testament, which was initially revealed to one nation (Israel), was appropriately recorded in the language of the nation (Hebrew). But the fuller revelation given by God in the New Testament was not restricted in that way. In the words of Luke’s gospel, the message of Christ was to ‘be preached in his name to all nations’ (Luke 24:47). The language most appropriate for the propagation of this message was naturally the one that was most widely spoken throughout the world. Such was the common (Koine) Greek, a thoroughly international language of the first century Mediterranean world.
It may be concluded, then, that God chose the very languages to communicate His truth which had, in His providence, been prepared to express most effectively the kind of truth He desired at that particular time, in the unfolding of His overall plan. Hebrew, with its pictorial and personal vividness, expressed well the biographical truth of the Old Testament. Greek, with its intellectual and universal potentialities, served well for the doctrinal and evangelistic demands of the New Testament.”
Scholar, Chuck Missler further notes concerning the precision of the Greek language:
“Greek verbs have five aspects: tense, mood, voice, person, and number and will convey far more than a lexicographical definition: i.e., who is performing the action; whether just one or more than one is doing it; when it is done; whether it is a single event or process; whether it is an actual happening, a command, or something wished for; whether the subject of the verb is an active or passive participant (or both!). A single Greek word may thus require a phrase or even a sentence or more in another language.” The Bible in 24 Hours, Chuck Missler
New Testament Manuscripts From Which Our Bibles Derive
New Testament manuscripts are so numerous, and quotations from them so replete in the early literature of the Christian church, that we are left without any doubt that the documents we now hold, are extremely close to those that were first penned in the first century after Christ.
Early manuscript reliability is strongly supported by more than 15,000 existing copies of versions in other languages. With Syraic and Latin translations of the New Testament dated back as far a AD150, very close to the times of the originals.
The writings of the early church fathers also contain so many references to the New Testament documents that even if all the manuscripts themselves were lost or destroyed, almost the entire New Testament could be collated from this broad resource.
Josh McDowell in his book, A Ready Defense, records the following statement from Sir David Dalrymple, who, after a great deal of investigation, concluded:
“As I possessed all the existing works of the Fathers from the second and third centuries, I commenced to search, and up to this time I have found the entire New Testament, except eleven verses.”
The studies of Biblical archaeology expert, Sir Fredric Kenyon state:
“It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other book in the world.
Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.”
The Internal Evidence Test
Having established the reliability of the texts one still has to determine that the written record we are presented with is credible, and to what extent. The historian would consider such things as scientific statements contained in the documents, archaeological proofs that the geography and history presented in the documents are accurate. We would ask, did the people spoken of actually exist and do and say what these documents record? Is there evidence of fraud, or are there clear contradictions within the text which disqualify it?
Both Old Testament and New Testament documents have withstood rigorous scrutiny and critical examination in all these points. Archaeology, over the past century, has confirmed the Biblical records again and again, further establishing their trustworthiness.
Science has often claimed to be at odds with what the Bible presents, but again, the findings of science over the past century has done more to confirm the Biblical record than undermine it. Unlike many other religious texts, which present outlandish theories for the origin of the universe and its sustenance, the Biblical record is clear and precise in what it presents, and an integrated scientific philosophy can be built upon its statements. We will consider just a few of these in our sessions concerning the Science of Creationism later in the course [Module 3: Genesis].