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The manuscript fidelity of the New Testament according to F.F. Bruce

June 6, 2014

Many atheists suggest that the Gospels can’t be trusted. A key reason for this is the unreliable textual transmission process. For example Richard Dawkins claims that the Gospels, once written, were ‘recopied through fallible scribes’.[1] Sam Harris suggests the texts have not retained their integrity over time.[2] Christopher Hitchens suggested the New Testament shows, ‘unmistakable signs of having been tampered with’.[3]

Yet this is misleading.

Renowned New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce applied the same criteria for assessing the reliability of other ancient documents to the New Testament.[4] He highlights the overwhelming numbers of extant manuscripts and their closeness, relative to other ancient historical documents, to the time of the events they purport, as a powerful argument for the manuscript fidelity of the New Testament.[5] Bruce notes, ‘[t]here is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.[6] He concludes, ‘if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.’


[1] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 93.

[2] Harris, The End of Faith, 20; The Moral Landscape, n82, 252.

[3] Hitchens, God is not Great, 110.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?,  (5th Ed.; London: IVF, 1960), 5.

[5] Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, 14-16.

[6] F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, (2nd Ed.; London: Pickering & Inglis, 1953), 170.

From → Bible, New atheism

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