I was watching a YouTube video by Rook Hawkins, one of the proponents of the Jesus-as-myth hypothesis. In the video, he asks viewers to “send research” so he can write a book claiming that Luke and Acts were not written until the mid-second century.
It doesn’t bother him that Clement the Bishop of Rome writing at about 95 AD quoted Luke and Acts in his letters. The 19th century liberal view that parts of the New Testament were written 100 years after Jesus death was refuted in the early part of the 20th century, but it continues today, strangely promoted by liberal academics, self-appointed Internet “scholars” and the popular media.
To understand the widespread misperception, a few facts need to be examined.
No original manuscript of any document from the first century or earlier exists today. There are a couple of reasons for this. The papyrus books and scrolls that make up the earliest manuscripts of the Bible were extremely fragile and subject to decay. At most, they could be expected to last only a few hundred years before they began to disintegrate into dust. The job of the scribe was to be in a mode of continual copying, since the entire body of literature in the entire world needed to be recopied in every generation. Scribes would often destroy the older copies to differentiate them from the newer ones. Or if the papyrus was usable but faded, he would copy another sometimes entirely different work over the older one. As a consequence, most of the works from ancient times have been lost forever.
A more durable material called vellum had been invented by the first century but didn’t come into frequent use until about 300 A.D. The life expectancy of vellum is about 1000 years or longer. Prior to this time, we find remarkable preserved fragments containing excerpts from many books in the New Testament. There is no single New Testament compilation from the first two centuries, but we find surprisingly numerous fragments that taken together form the content of much of the New Testament.
After the period when vellum came into use, we find an explosion of manuscripts. The majority of the extant manuscripts of the New Testament from 300 until 1000 AD are much earlier and more numerous than the manuscripts of any other ancient literary work of importance. Many of these compilations, called codices, contain the entire text of the New Testament.
When we look at manuscript evidence for works from ancient times, the New Testament is by far the most reliable document we have. There are more extant manuscripts of the New Testament than of any other work from antiquity.
In fact, there are over 24,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts, the earliest existing manuscript fragment, known as P52, a portion of the text from the Gospel of John chapter 17, was copied within 35 years of the Apostle John’s death. Many other partial and complete manuscripts exist within the first three centuries after Christ.
This is quite amazing when we compare the New Testament with the closest contenders from this time period.
Homer’s The Iliad. About 600 copies of exist. The earliest was made 1,300 years after the originals were written.
The works of Plato. Only seven copies exist the earliest being 1,200 years removed from the original autographs.
The works of Julius Caesar. Only 10 copies still exist, and they were made 1,000 years after he died.
The works of Tacitus. Only 20 copies exist over 1000 years after the originals.
That any of these early papyrus fragments exist today is a providential circumstance if not a miracle. There are simply no complete manuscripts or any fragments left of Homer, Plato, Caesar, Tacitus or any other work from this time period.
In addition, most ancient manuscripts have widely variant copies and much of the text has suffered corruption. About five percent of the lines from the Iliad are corrupted due to variations in extant copies. Compare that with the most reliable New Testament manuscripts that have variations of less than one half of a percent.
The Internet has changed scholarship forever. Compared to the problem that first century scribes faced, we are living in a Golden Age of communication that the ancients would have thought to be miraculous. What I am typing at this moment could conceivably last forever without any corruption in transmission. What is published on the Internet is immediately viewable by millions of people in every country in the world in a matter of seconds.
We have more information at our fingertips than ever before, but unfortunately we moderns are less capable of discerning the media material we view, hear and read. As R.J. Rushdoony has written, we are the “New Barbarians” – a generation of semi-literates barely able to think logically. It is sad and yet encouraging. Take the hubbub over the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” special on the History Channel on Sunday night. Even the liberal commentator Ted Koppel was openly disgusted at the lack of credibility of these filmmakers. At least they admitted Jesus was a real person. The Jesus Mythists are one step beyond left field.
This is actually the best time in history to be a Christian apologist. If you can think logically and read on a college level, you are already head and shoulders above the average 21st century American. Add to this the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things and you won’t find too many arguments against Christianity that are not a veritable house of cards.