by Ernest O'Neill

New Testament Documents vs. Ancient Manuscripts

Program 44

What is the meaning of life? Why are you alive? Why are you here? Why do you work all day? Why do you sleep? Why do you eat? Why were you born? What will happen to you? That's the kind of question we're talking about on this program at this time each day.

What we've been saying is, the only way you can get any sensible answer to that question is, if you somehow can discover what the purpose was when the world was originally made. Of course, if it was just a result of time-plus-chance, and is just a result of an explosion somewhere in the universe, then you can't hope that there'd be any meaning in it at all.

Because we can see no meaning in the bombs that explode. They create nothing but destruction and chaos. If that's what caused this universe to come into existence then there's no point in life. There's no purpose and there's no reason to it at all.

Yet, one of the difficulties with that view is that there does seem to be so much reason and so much order and so much design in the universe. We've only to look at the way the planets orbit each other year after year, century after century, without colliding, to see that there is some great order in the way the planets move in space.

We can see also, there is tremendous design evident in our body, in the blood circulation, in the way the heart works, the way the brain works. So it seems to us there is reason, and there is order, and there is design, and there is evidence of planning and intellectual purpose in the whole universe.

So we have come to the same conclusion as Einstein that there has to be a personal intellect behind this universe. What we've been discussing is whether this personal intellect has ever communicated with us or not. In other words, have we ever had a visit from outer space?

What we've been saying is that even though all the great religious leaders, like Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and Zoroaster claim to be able to tell us what is behind the universe and what the Creator had in mind, yet they all died like ordinary human beings. There is only one person who did not die like an ordinary human being.

There's only one person who seems to have been able to leave the earth for a period of forty days, go out beyond where even our space shots go, come back and tell us what the Creator of the universe actually is like and what He had in mind when He made the whole universe, and what He had in mind when He made you. That man, of course, is the man called Jesus.

What we've been talking about is the very reliable evidence that we have that He existed...historical evidence that is more reliable than any of similar period in those days. That evidence is of course found in the New Testament. It's that evidence that we have been discussing.

We talked first of all about how we could trust the men that wrote that history and how they themselves, have made an impression of integrity and honesty upon our world. How they, in fact, died for what they wrote, which argues for believing them. How what they wrote is corroborated by non-Biblical writers like Tacitus and Tertullian and Porphyry and Selsus and Pliny and Josephus.

So the question that we have been discussing over the past few days is, "Let's accept that what they wrote was what they actually saw, and therefore, it is historically correct. Do we have what they wrote? That's the question. Do we have what they wrote? After all, it was written, you say, 2000 years ago. Now, this is 2000 years later. How can we be sure that somebody did not change it all in the meantime?"

What we have been sharing is that that is a charge all the classical authors are open to because we've been studying a few, like Plato's REPUBLIC, which we all regard as absolutely reliable. We believe that when we read Plato's REPUBLIC, we read what he actually wrote, even though he wrote it in 400 B.C., even though he wrote it almost 2400 years ago. We believe that what we have in our copies of Plato's REPUBLIC is what he actually wrote.

It's the same with most of the other classical writings. Caesar's GALLIC WARS was written by Caesar somewhere between 100 and 44 B.C., somewhere around 80 B.C. Yet, the earliest manuscript we have of Caesar's GALLIC WARS is dated 900 A.D.

In other words, there was a period of one thousand years between the earliest manuscript we have of Caesar's GALLIC WARS and the original manuscript that Caesar himself wrote. Yet, we do not question that when we read Caesar's GALLIC WARS we're reading what he actually wrote.

Now, perhaps you say, "Well, maybe there is a great deal of manuscript evidence. Maybe it's late evidence, but maybe there's a great deal of it." Do you know how many ancient manuscripts, that is manuscripts as old as 1,000 A.D., how many manuscripts we have for Plato's Republic? We have seven. Do you know how many we have for Caesar's Gallic Wars? We have ten.

In other words, we believe that what we have in our hands in the present copies of Caesar's Gallic Wars and Plato's Republic, what we have in our hands is exactly the manucript that Caesar and Plato originally wrote...in spite of the fact that the earliest manuscript we have is actually one thousand years later than when they wrote the original manuscript. And we have only seven to ten such manuscripts.

In other words, we believe that we have ostensibly the manuscript that was originally produced by the author even though we have only from seven to ten manuscripts and some of them are as old as one thousand years after the manuscript was originally written by the author.

It's the same with all the other writers. Tacitus' History was written about 100 A.D. The earliest manuscript we have is about 1,100 A.D. That's a thousand years. We do have nineteen other manuscripts of that, twenty of them altogether. When we go to Pliny, we have seven manuscripts, the oldest one is 850 A.D. That is seven hundred and fifty years after Pliny wrote his manuscript.

It's the same with Lucretius. He died in 55 or 53 B.C. Yet, we believe the writings we have of his are what he actually wrote, in spite of the fact that we have only two manuscripts. The earliest one is 1100 years after Lucretius wrote his manuscript. Aristotle is the same; he wrote his writings somewhere between 384 and 322 B.C. The earliest manuscript we have is dated 1100 A.D. That is 1400 years after Aristotle wrote his manuscript. We have a manuscript, and we have four others like that. We have five altogether.

This is the kind of manuscript evidence we have for the classical writers. What kind of manuscript evidence have we for the New Testament? Do we have 7 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament? Do we have 10? Do we have 15? Do we have 20, like Tacitus? Do we have 10 like Caesar? Do we have 7 like Pliny? Eight like Thucydides? Eight like Setonious? Two like Lucretius? Nine like Euripides or five like Aristotle?

We have 4,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, 4,000 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament to convince us that what we are reading in the New Testament is what the eye-witnesses originally wrote in the first century.

What about the age of those manuscripts? Let's look at that startling information tomorrow.


Next Document