Story Of The Text.3
So far as is known, none of the original manuscripts of the Bible are in existence. It is likely these "autographs" were worn out -- handled in reading and copy making until they were beyond use -- just as a much-used book today crumbles, loses its pages, and is finally beyond practical value. After all, it was not the paper and ink that was inspired -- but the message. God's truth "endureth forever" (1 Pet. 1:25) in a copy of the Bible as well as in its autograph; as millions of copies testify.
Some folk, with more superstition than faith, refuse to consider such obvious facts. To them, the very study of these matters is "dangerous." In reality, ignorance produces the danger, and unwarranted fears. The more facts one learns about the Bible, the more he will appreciate the Bible itself; and the more confidence he will have in its divine source and purpose.
The New Testament is, by far, the best-preserved ancient document in the world. Dr. Ira M. Price ("Ancestry of Our English Bible") says there are nearly 4,500 known Greek manuscripts of the N.T.OF course this number includes many fragments, but the entire N. T. is substantially contained in two uncials (capital-letter copies) and in about 50 cursives. (or "longhand" to a country boy.) Approximately 120 other manuscripts contain all but the Apocalypse (Revelation) and about 50 contain all but the Gospels. (Price, pp. 161)
The oldest extensive text in existence is part of a group of codices known as the Chester Beatty Papyri. "Three of these manuscripts contain portions of fifteen New Testament books written in uncial hands ascribed to various parts of the third century, The Gospels and Acts in this group have been "dated to within a century and a half of the autographs." (Price)
The Roman church has an ancient Greek mms. dating into the 4th. century, and containing the N.T. through Heb. 9:14. Although listed in a Vatican Library catalogue in 1481, an accurate copy was not available to the public until 1889-90, after the more complete "Codex Sinaiticus" was discovered by Dr. Tischendorf (1844) and published for world examination.
Tischendorf's "find" began in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai, where he saw a wastebasket full of parchment, waiting to be burned. Many years, negotiations, and "gifts" later, this valuable copy of the Bible became the property of the Russian government -- later to be sold to the British Museum. It dates back to ca. 330 A.D., and contains all 27 N.T. books, as well as 0. T., Apocrypha, and some post-N.T. material.
Before invention of the printing press (15th. century) multiple copies of the N. T. were made from copies -- and without access to the earliest manuscripts. Ancient copies would be "lost" in libraries -- coming to light centuries later, to serve as a check-and-balance system, correcting intervening copy errors. So accurate has been this system that substantial variations "can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text." (Intr. to Greek N.T., Westcott & Hort)