Ancient Texts Compared to the Bible

by Max Andrews

Below is a chart that compares popular ancient texts with the Bible in when it was written, the earliest copy we have, and the number of copies there are.  This information is about a decade old so the number of NT manuscripts has most likely increased by now.  This may serve as a simple illustration of a component to the textual reliability of the Bible.

Author Book When Written Earliest Copy Time Gap No. of Copies
Homer Iliad 800 BC 400 BC 400 yrs 643
Herodotus History 480-425 BC AD 900 1,350 yrs 8
Thucydides History 460-400 BC AD 900 1,300 yrs 8
Plato   400 BC AD 900 1,300 yrs 7
Demosthenes   300 BC AD 1100 1,400 yrs 200
Caesar Gallic Wars 100-44 BC AD 900 1,000 yrs 10
Livy History of Rome 59 BC – AD 17 4th Cent. (Partial)Mostly 10th Cent. 400 yrs1,000 yrs 1 Partial19 Copies
Tacitus Annals AD 100 AD 1100 1,000 yrs 20
Pliny Secundus Natural History AD 61-113 AD 850 750 yrs 7
New Testament   AD 50-100 AD 114 (fragment)AD 200 (books)

AD 250 (most of NT)

AD 325 (complete NT)

+50 yrs100 yrs

150 yrs

225 yrs

5,366

Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1999.


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5 Comments to “Ancient Texts Compared to the Bible”

  1. This has nothing to do with historical reliability. It is evidence for *textual* reliability.

  2. You may want to follow this up with an explanation of why a greater number of manuscripts of the kind we have for the New Testament documents, despite increasing the number of known variants (as people like Bart Ehrman are keen to point out) increases our confidence about what the original manuscripts said.

  3. Often, many researchers who doubt the history of the Bible may say things like: “In the real world, miracles have never occurred.” These statements may influence people’s minds. They may say that the issues described in the Bible are unreliable.
    However, it is good to note that such statements are nothing new: They have been presented over the course of the past two hundred years. Actually, it is interesting to note that as Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the theory of the Ice Age became well-known, criticism of the Bible simultaneously began to gain ground. Researchers began to spring up who questioned the writings about the life of Jesus and other Biblical events. They may have thought that if the Creation and the Flood are not true in light of these theories, we would then have no reason to believe information about Jesus. So it is certainly not by chance that all three issues were raised almost simultaneously.
    In any case, it is good for us to study this. The purpose is, especially, to help those people who want to know more about the reliability of Biblical information, and to show how reasonable it is to trust in the truth of described events. If you struggle with this issue, it is worth your while to read further.

    More info; http://www.jariiivanainen.net/canwetrustcriticismoftheBible.html

  4. What you don’t mention is that it was actually the early Catholic Church fathers that engaged in massive destruction of the ancient Greek and Roman works. Actually, this destruction continued throughout the Middle Ages.

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