Has the New Testament been corrupted?

By Ryan Turner

It never ceases to amaze me how often various people in cults or false religious systems always state that the Bible has been corrupted.  Muslims, Mormons, and Wiccans are three of the most common religious groups which I have encountered that make such claims.1

Why do they claim this? Well, I suspect that it is because the teachings of the New Testament specifically are at extreme variance with their beliefs.  For Muslims, they do not believe that Jesus is God since the Qur’an claims that it is an unforgivable sin to “assign partners with God” (Surah 10:30).  Also, the Qur’an claims that Jesus was not crucified (Surah 4:156-157). However, the New Testament teaches that Jesus was Divine (cf. John 1:1; 8:24, 58; 10:30; 20:28; Rom. 9:5) and He literally was crucified (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Mormons believe that there are many gods in existence and salvation is not being saved from the wrath of God upon sinners, but being exalted to the highest degree of heaven through keeping the sacraments and ordinances of the church.  In other words, salvation is by works.  However, the Bible clearly teaches that there is one God in the entire universe (cf. Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; Mk. 12:29) and salvation is actually receiving forgiveness from the wrath of God upon sinners (John 3:36), not being exalted to a higher degree of heaven.  Furthermore, the Bible teaches that salvation is a free gift, not attainable by works (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9).   

Wiccans, though an extremely diverse conglomeration of religious beliefs, generally believe that there are many paths to “the One” or “the All” as they refer to their deity.  “The One” or “the All” actually is part of the universe and is not distinct from it.  However, the Bible teaches that there is one God who is separate from space, time, and matter since He created them from nothing (ex nihilo) (Gen. 1:1; cf. Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17).  Furthermore, the Bible teaches that there is only one way to be saved, and that is through Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).   

Has the New Testament been Corrupted?

The short answer is no.  To answer this question in more detail, let me give you some background.  The New Testament is an ancient book.  During ancient times, there were no Xerox copy machines, and the way the Bible was preserved was through hand by hand copying.  As a result of this copying process, errors would occur by accident or intention.  However, these errors in the text do not affect any major Christian doctrine such as the Trinity, Deity of Christ, salvation by faith alone, etc.  Unfortunately, we do not have any original copies of any of the books of the New Testament.  In other words, we do not have “the original manuscript copy” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, or an original copy of the Gospel of Matthew, etc.

The way Ancient Texts were Copied

A helpful way to look at the New Testament’s textual history is to compare it to other documents of antiquity.  For most ancient documents, we have about a thousand year gap between the writing of the document and the first available copy that archaeologists find.  For example, with a Roman historian called Tacitus, our first manuscript copy of his work comes from around 1100 A.D. and we have 20 total manuscript copies today.  Interestingly, Tacitus actually wrote his works around 100 A.D.  Most historians do not doubt that we have a really good idea what Tacitus actually wrote, even though we only have about 20 total partial or complete manuscripts and the earliest manuscript comes about 1,000 years after the original writing.

In comparison, our first manuscript copy of the New Testament (John Ryland’s Papyri, dates from 117-138 A.D.) comes about 30-40 years after the original book was written (i.e. the Gospel of John in about 90-95 A.D.).  Also, we actually have over 5,700 Greek New Testament manuscripts!  In addition to all of the Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages, we have about 25,000 total New Testament manuscripts!  This literally blows the competition out of the water!

Go ahead, destroy the New Testament Manuscripts

However, if these 25,000 manuscripts were destroyed, we still would know what the New Testament writers actually wrote.  We would then go to the writings of the Church Fathers.2  These early Church Fathers wrote numerous books and letters in which they made over 38,000 quotations from the New Testament.  From their writings alone we could reconstruct the entire New Testament minus about 11 verses.

So for religions and cults to claim that the Bible has been inaccurately copied to such an extent of corrupting the entire message of the Bible, is just blatantly ridiculous due to the 25,000 manuscripts and numerous early quotations.  In spite of the misinformed claims of the critics, the Bible that you hold in your hand is an accurate copy of what the original Biblical authors actually wrote. 

  • 1. Interestingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the Bible has not been corrupted, though maybe mistranslated. They have their New World Translation (NWT) which is supposedly a more accurate “translation” of the Bible. However, Biblical scholars, both liberal and conservative alike, reject the NWT as an inaccurate and doctrinally biased “translation.”
  • 2. The Church Fathers is a name which describes various early church historians and theologians who defended Christianity against heresies, endured persecution from Rome, etc. during the time periods after the writing of the New Testament.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison