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Article 0136 - Integrity of the New Testament

The Genuineness and Integrity of the New Testament

  From the standpoint of historical verification no other books known to man compare with the writings of the New Testament. The existence of these books can be categorically traced through the years to the days of their origin in the first century. In this regard all other books of ancient origin pale by comparison. The following material is the substantive evidence of this and represents the research of many who have gone before me. Jon Gary Williams 

Evidence One
The books contain no marks of spuriousness

A writing can be deemed bogus based on various criteria:
a) when there are doubts about the writings from the beginning;
b) when the author's contemporaries generally deny the writings to be his;
c) when the writing fails to be quoted for long periods of time after the author's death;
d) when the style is different from that which is found in an author's other writings;
e) when historical events recorded in a writing occurred later than the time of the author;
f) when an author advances opinions in a writing which run contrary to those voiced in his other writings.
The New Testament contains no marks of spuriousness, and no proof to the contrary. If the New Testament were presented as a legal document, it would be readily received in any court of justice.

Evidence Two
The New Testament books are quoted by an unbroken string of secular writers reaching back to the days of the apostles, establishing their genuineness and integrity.

From the present back to the fourth century AD, there is no doubt of the existence of the New Testament books. Three great and notable manuscripts have come down to us from the fourth and fifth centuries: Codex Sinaiticus (British Library); Codex Alexandrinus (British Museum); and Codex Vaticanus (the Vatican). The New Testament writings have had played a continuing role in civil and religious controversies and are also interwoven with great literature through the centuries.

I. Evidence of the fourth century
- Innumerable quotations from all New Testament books can be produced.

- No fewer than eleven catalogues of New Testament books have been produced, two by large councils (Carthage, 397 AD, and Laodicea, 350 AD), and the other nine by individuals (Augustine, Rufinius, Jerome, Philastrius, Gregory, Epiphanius, Athanasius, Cyril and Eusebius).

- The New Testament could be wholly reproduced from the writings of Augustine and Eusebius alone.

- Eusebius' testimony establishes three propositions: a) that when he wrote there were only four gospels; b) that these gospels bore the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; c) that these gospels and other books of the New Testament were accepted by all as authentic.

II. Evidence of the third century

Testimony of Origen of Alexandria
Origen wrote: "As I have understood from traditions respecting the four gospels, which are the only undisputed ones in the whole church of God throughout the world, the first is written according to Matthew, the second according to Mark, the third is according to Luke, and, last of all, the gospel according to John."

Of Origen, Eusebius says, "If we had all his works remaining, we should have before us almost the whole text of the Bible."

In his writings, Origen cited a great many quotes from every New Testament book:
Matthew - 1,352 quotes
Mark - 195
Luke - 649
John - 775
Acts - 147
Romans - 731
I Corinthians - 610
II Corinthians - 239
Galatians - 130
Ephesians - 135
Philippians - 68
Colossians - 94
I Thessalonians - 48
II Thessalonians - 36
I Timothy - 92
II Timothy - 55
Titus - 19
Philemon - 3
Hebrews - 154
James - 5
I Peter - 48
II Peter - 5
I, II & III John - 77
Jude - 5
Revelation - 60.

Many other writers are just as convincing - - Julius, Africanus, Ammonius, Caius Romanus, Cupian, Firmilian, Apollonius, Dionysius of Alexandria and Malchion.

III. Evidence of the last half of the second century

Since the New Testament was well known in the third century, it must existed at the close of the second century. These books did not burst on the scene in the third century - - they had been around for some time.

Testimony of Clement of Alexandria (160-220 AD)
Clement turned away from a study of Plato to become a Christian. He calls the scriptures "divinely inspired" and "holy" books. He referred to the "blessed gospels." Eusebius says that Clement ascribed the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in that order. In his works are preserved no less than 389 quotations from all 27 books of the New Testament.

Testimony of Tertullian (160-220 AD)
Tertullian was a Roman lawyer and a pagan, but later turned to Christianity. He recognized the gospels as written by evangelists. He made a knowing distinction between the apostles (Matthew and John) and Mark and Luke, who were not apostles yet known to the apostles. Tertullian gives evidence that the Latin version of the New Testament circulated in his own locale of North Africa. He quotes some 1,802 passages from 24 of the 27 New Testament books.

Testimony of Irenaeus (120-202 AD)
His five books, "Against Heresis," are all that remain of Irenaeus' works. In these he refers to 767 passages from all but one book of the New Testament.

(The combined testimony of Clement, Tertullian and Irenaeus reveals almost 3,000 quotations from the New Testament, pointing again to its authenticity.)

Athenagoras of Athens (about 177 AD) quotes Luke 6:27,28 and Matthew 5:44,45 and also quotes twice from the Gospel of John.

Claudius (about 161 AD) refers to John 19:34.

Dionysius (date unknown) provides testimony similar to that of Claudius.

Testimony of the Muratorian Canon
This fragment was discovered in 1740. It was translated into Latin in about 160-170 AD. It contains a catalog of the New Testament books and bears special testimony to the 

Ancient versions

Peshito: Written in the Syric language, it is given the date of 150 AD. It contains all but five of the New Testament books.

Itala: In the Latin language, it is given the date of 160 AD (some place it as early as 150 AD). This version was cited by Jerome (4th century) and became the Vulgate or Common 

Ancient Harmonies of the gospels

Theophilus referred to the gospels as inspired. He quotes from Matthew 5:30-32,44; Luke 18;27; John 1:1.

Titian's work, entitled, "Address to the Greeks," contains references to Matthew 13:34 and John 1:1,3,5; 4:24.

(The harmonies of both Theophilus and Titian were referred to later by Jerome and Eusebius.)

Regarding the testimonies of this period, two observations are in order:
1) The entire Roman world is represented (Antioch in Syria; Alexandria in Egypt; Carthage; Athens; Corinth; Rome.
2) The evidence is of wide variety (harmonies, versions, catalogues, thousands of quotations and a number of direct claims supporting the genuineness of the New Testament).

IV. Evidence of the first half of the second century

The New Testament was in existence and held in high esteem over the entire Roman Empire during the last half of the second century. It is estimated that there were probably more than 60,000 copies of the 27 books by 150 AD. From this testimony two points can be drawn: 1) There was a history of these books prior to the last half of the second century; 2) The evidence suggests that these books had been extant for more than a short period of time prior to 150 AD.

Testimony of Justin Martyr (95-167 AD)
Justin Martyr was a scholar in Greek literature before becoming a Christian. Three of his great works have been preserved: Two Apologies and one Dialogue (one Apology was given as a gift to the emperor Antonius in 139 AD, and the Dialogue was a gift to Marcus Aurelius in 169 AD.) He bears testimony to the gospels in passages regarding the virgin birth and the Lord's supper.

Justin Masrtyr had in his possession a history of Christ which can only be accounted for by realizing that this history came from the Gospels. His writings contain 40 quotations from the book of Matthew, 20 passages from Mark and several passages from John. He quotes a total of 125 passages from the New Testament books.

The testimony of Papias
Papius lived in the early part of the second century and was a contemporary of disciples of the apostles. In his work "Interpretations of our Lord's Declarations," he quotes from both Matthew and Mark.

Testimony of the letter to Diognetus (about 117 AD)
The writer (unknown) shows that he was familiar with the writings of the apostles John and Paul. He refers to the books of Romans, I Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, I Timothy, Titus and I Peter.

The testimony of Basilides (about 130 AD)
Basilides wrote a contemporary on the gospels. Our knowledge of his works comes through the writings of Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. He said that during his time the New Testament writings were known as "inspired." He quotes from Romans 8:22 and II Corinthians 12:4 and was acquainted with the books of Ephesians, Colossians, I Timothy and I Peter.

The fact that there were New Testament books held in high esteem during the last half of the second century, gives reason to believe that they were also in existence during the first half as well. This reasoning, along with the specific evidence cited above, is ample testimony of the existence of the New Testament back into the first century, the apostolic age.

V. Evidence for the apostolic age - - the last half of the first century

Evidence from this period comes from five sources: Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius and Polycarp.

Testimony of Clement of Rome (35-99 AD)
Clement was familiar with the writings of Peter and Paul. He copied their style and used their words. He was familiar with John's gospel and alluded to the book of Hebrews many times. Clement quotes 31 passages from 17 New Testament books.

Testimony of Barnabas (dated sometime after 70 AD)
Barnabas' letter, "Epistle of Barnabas," discovered in 1859, was written sometime after the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 AD. Barnabas was familiar with the Judaizing tendencies which existed in the first century and which are discussed in several of the New Testament books. He refers to the observance of the Lord's supper and the facts of the gospel, and attests to being knowledgeable of New Testament literature. He quotes 24 times from 12 of the 27 books of the New Testament.

Testimony of Hermas
Hermas' work, "Shepherd of Hermas," is dated about 100 AD. He quotes 23 times from 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament.

Testimony of Ignatius
Born in 37 AD, Ignatius was martyred in 108 AD. He wrote several short letters in which he quoted 19 passages from the New Testament books.

Testimony of Polycarp (69-155 AD)
Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John. His letter to the church at Philippi quotes a total of 40 passages from the New Testament.
The summary of the evidence from the apostolic age is more than adequate. More than 200 quotations come from all the New Testament books. We have all that could be expected from these five men, since the apostles were then alive and were writing themselves. The way in which these men quoted scripture shows that the New Testament was not yet in a canonical form, and this is exactly what we would expect. The evidence - - in quantity and harmony - - is strong support for the existence, genuineness, and integrity of the New Testament books.
In view of the testimony of these many writers, it can be reasonably inferred that there were also others who quoted from the books of the New Testament - - men whose writings have not been preserved.

Evidence Three
Early adversaries of Christianity granted the genuineness of the New Testament books.

These men, who possessed much learning, hated the system of Christianity. The fact that they did not show the New Testament books to be of spurious nature is proof that they were not able to do so. Following are some of these notable antagonists.

Testimony of Julian
Julian composed his work against Christianity in 361 AD. If anything could have been said against the genuineness of the New Testament books, Julian would have pointed this out. Though he spoke against Christianity, he did not speak against any of these books. He quoted from such passages which he felt necessary to refute Christianity (Romans, I & II Corinthians and Galatians), but his attacks actually presume the genuineness of the books themselves.

Testimony of Hierocles
Hierocles was president of Bithynia in about 303 AD and was known as a cruel persecutor and sarcastic writer. Searching through the books of 6 of the 8 writers of the New Testament, he tried to find internal flaws but was unsuccessful.

Testimony of Porphyry
Porphyry (234-305 AD) was probably the most formidable adversary of Christianity. He was well acquainted with the New Testament books and makes specific references to Matthew, Mark, John, Acts and Galatians. Throughout his writings there is no trace of suspicion as to the genuineness of the New Testament. We can be sure that Porphyry would have attacked the New Testament if he could have, because he did attack the Old Testament book of Daniel.

Testimony of Celsus
Celsus did his work in about 175 AD. His work, "True World," is the earliest know criticism of Christianity and contains more than 80 quotations from the New Testament books. Yet, he did not question their genuineness.

Evidence Four
Many of the heretical sects of the ancient church accepted the New Testament as genuine. This evidence comes from the second century, but necessarily looks back to the first century.

Testimony of the Ebionites
These were Judaizing teachers who believed that Christianity was an outgrowth of Judaism. Their writers used the gospel of Matthew and regarded it as genuine. Irenaeus says of them, "So well established are our gospels that even teachers of error (Ebionites) themselves bear testimony to them; even they rest their objections on the foundations of the gospels."

Testimony of the Gnostics
"Gnostics" refers to those who considered themselves the "enlightened" ones. They often used the gospels in support of their ideas.

Testimony of prominent heretical writers

Valentinus (140 AD) shows his familiarity with John's gospel and specifically cites John 10:18. He refers to Matthew 8:9; 9:20 and Luke 7:8.

Ptolemy (about 150 AD) cites several passages from John and made reference by paraphrases to John 1:2.

Heracleon (2nd century) wrote an entire commentary on the gospel of John, using it to show that it sustained his own views.

Evidence Five
If the books of the New Testament were not genuine, they would have of necessity been forgeries.

What would be the purpose in forging such books as found in the New Testament? Multiple forgeries would have had to be made to accommodate for each one of the New Testament's 27 books. There would have to be 27 forgers collaborating to align the coincidental stories throughout the various books

Evidence Six
The New Testament books have come down to us essentially as
their authors wrote them.

That several slight changes are present in the text should not be surprising. If there were not at least the usual expected changes, we might have reason to be suspicious. Some changes are intentional and designed to improve the reading from one cultural era to the next. Some changes are unintentional and most have to do with slight variations in grammar, etc. All books of great age have encountered changes - - it is only to be expected. The utmost care will sometimes fall short in the reproduction of literature.

The New Testament has been well protected through the years and actually contains fewer variations and changes than other ancient writings. The New Testament writings were classed with Old Testament writings as sacred. The New Testament had wide distribution and was constantly appealed to by Christians throughout the Roman Empire. The documentation of the New Testament is notably preserved, while the documentation of other ancient writings fades in comparison.

The available time span in which the New Testament books could have been corrupted was actually a brief one. The available evidence shows that before the advent of the second century, there was no real attempt to contaminate the writings; and after the second century the copies of the entire New Testament were so numerous that it would have been almost impossible to completely corrupt them.

- - -

What further support is needed to establish the genuineness and integrity of the books of the New Testament? What further proof would the logician desire? The writings of the New Testament essentially have not been changed. The books are intact, both in content and in detailed matters such as spelling, tenses, cases and presence/absence of articles (minor variations of which, at any rate, do not affect aspects of doctrine or moral principles).

Through the years many have publicly rejected the integrity of the New Testament and have attempted in various ways to discredit its writings. Even today, many continue to advance their opposition to the divinely inspired Word. However it bears noting that along the way a great many have actually abandoned their campaigns to destroy the New Testament from a critical textual standpoint. While they may continue to reject its teachings, many have come to accept just how substantiated and established the text of New Testament is. Again, more credence in support of the Holy writings, even from its opponents.