Day 5: The world’s most reliable ancient document – Part 2b

If the history is wrong the claim is wrong.

Bible References (NIV)


The reason we read John 18 today isn’t because of what it says, but because of where these verses were once found. A very old copy of those verses is the oldest recognised (‘admitted’) fragment of the New Testament in literature. Called the John Ryland Fragment (named after the man who found it), it dates to within a mere 50 years of its author — the disciple John, who died around 95AD. (The John Ryland fragment is in Greek, and includes John 18:31–33 and 37–38).

To consider the implications of this early dating, this means there was simply no time for the original accounts of Jesus’ life to be lost and changed through copying errors, let alone for details of history to be replaced by myths. (In history it takes hundreds of years for myths to replace the actual memory of an event). It is discoveries like these that show us that the Bible is an accurately preserved record of history. Multiple copies of these historic accounts date so early that there is no room left to doubt how accurately they have been preserved.

“But wait — there’s more!” The above isn’t the earliest fragment of the New Testament. It’s merely the earliest undisputed fragment. The following verses from the New Testament were found amongst the Qumran Scrolls, which dates them before 68AD when the Romans destroyed the Qumran settlement. Mark 4:28; Mark 6:48; Mark 6:52-53; Mark 12:17; Acts 28:37; Romans 5:11, 12; 1 Timothy 3:16; 4:1-3; 2 Peter 1:15; James 1:23-24. Why are these not accepted? My best guess is that those involved can’t yet convince themselves it’s possible — maybe because of prejudice. I don’t know. Concurrently, even sceptics of the Bible these days are admitting, due to the scope of evidence, that all the books of the New Testament were likely written before 65AD!

In today’s video clip, you’ll hear how there are more ancient copies of the New Testament books preserved to this day than for any other work of antiquity (meaning ‘very old document’). This enables even small copying errors like spelling mistakes to be identified and fixed through doing comparisons.

These thousands of ancient documents are also dated closer to the time of original writing than any other ancient work. When combined with a myriad of other pieces of evidence, we’re left with a defence for the historical reliability of this book that can only be called embarrassing. If evidence matters, we are looking at the most reliable ancient documents that exist!

To summarise: The historical trustworthiness of the Bible is important because this book claims to be a record of the history through which the God of the universe has revealed what he is like. If our only source of information about God was from nature, we’d think God was a mix of good and bad. The most significant thing discovered from a study of this history is that he is not.

Video clip: The world’s most reliable ancient document – Part 2b — 4:20mins

To Revise

  • About how many ancient copies of the New Testament exist today as compared to other trusted books, and what is the significance of this? (5,686 Greek copies, 25,000 from all languages)
  • How close to the time of writing are some of the ancient copies of the New Testament books – as compared to those of other trusted books? What is the significance of this? (less the 50 years)
  • How early, and by whom does evidence suggest the books of the New Testament were written – as also admitted by sceptics of the Bible? (written about 50-75AD by eye-witnesses or those who recorded their accounts) What is the significance of this?

For prayer

“Thank you, God, for putting an enquiring spirit and mind within us that is capable of questioning things. I thank you for inspiring so many to give their lives to investigating these matters of faith and history, so we can be sure of what we believe today.”

related topics

coming up in our next devotion

Day 6: The world’s most reliable ancient document – Part 2c

Bible critics have suggested various places mentioned in the New Testament never existed. For example, the Pool of Siloam where the man born blind (John 9:1-7) went to wash and was healed. Then in 2004, the pool was accidentally discovered by men digging a sewer. Its excavation was completed in 2023, after which it was opened for public viewing.

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