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Comparing the New Testament with Other Ancient Books

HomeChristianity and the BibleComparing the New Testament with Other Ancient Books

The New Testament is the best-attested book of the ancient world. The manuscript copies of most Greek and Latin authors can usually be counted on both hands, with some rising in the hundreds. Homer’s writings are the second-most common, with fewer than 2500 copies of his Iliad and Odyssey combined. But Homer pales in comparison with the New Testament.

The number of New Testament manuscripts in Greek alone now stands at over 5800. Add another 10,000+ for Latin copies (which the NT began to be translated into in the second century), and several thousand more for Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, Arabic, Hebrew, and many other languages. Conservative estimates are that the New Testament weighs in at 20,000 to 25,000 manuscripts in these various languages. Scholars don’t know for sure because they haven’t finished counting them all yet.

That’s approximately ten times the amount of manuscripts for Homer, and Homer had a 900-year head start! And the average New Testament manuscript is not some small scrap: the average is more than 450 pages long. In terms of sheer quantity of manuscripts, nothing in the ancient world comes close to the New Testament.

I read quite a bit of Socrates in college (he was brilliant indeed). In spite of the fact that we have no writings from Socrates himself, most people have heard of him, many know something about him, and nobody doubts that Socrates existed.  We only know of his existence through the writings of other people. Objectively, we have more eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s existence than of Socrates.

Ancient WorkWrittenEarliest CopyTime GapCopies
Homer’s Iliad900 BC400 BC500 years~1800
Plato427-347 BC900 AD1,300 years210
Aristotle384-322 BC1100 AD1,400 years40
Caesar’s Gallic Wars100-44 BC900 AD1,000 years251
Tacitus’ Annals56-120 AD1000 AD900 years31
Herodotus’ History484-425 BC100 AD600 years109
Livy’s History of Rome59 BC-17 AD300 AD400 years90
New Testament 50-100 ADPortions: 100-150 AD
Books: 150-200 AD
Entire NT: ~300 AD
29-100 years5800+ in Greek
18,500+ early translations
~42,000 OT scrolls and codices

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