This past weekend I had the honor of attending a fundraising banquet for The Center for the Study of the New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM). CSNTM was formed in 2002 by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace. It was started to preserve and study Greek New Testament manuscripts. It has collaborated with more than 40 institutions on 4 continents to produce more than 350,000 images of the New Testament manuscripts. Remarkably, in this endeavor, they have discovered more than 90 New Testament manuscripts.
CSNTM’s goal is to photograph digitally all the existing Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research. In short, Dr. Wallace travels the world to take pictures of the New Testament manuscripts in order for them to be preserved and available for scholars across the world.
Manuscripts – There are no original documents (called “autographs”) of any book of the New Testament. In order to reproduce what was in the original you have to compare and contrast the varied manuscripts (handwritten copies). The more manuscripts you have the better you can reproduce the original autograph.
This video introduces Dr. Wallace as a Greek scholar and the work he is doing with CSNTM:
This video is a news report from ABC news local affiliate WFAA about CSNTM:
Here is Dr. Wallace (on the left) preparing a manuscript for photographing and (on the right) his team taking photographs of a manuscript:
It is arduous work. Photographing is at times in confined spaces such as a basement and the pressure of not damaging these rare artifacts adds the the stress. Their most recent expedition has been to the National Library of Greece which contains one third of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts (mss). This process is important because of the nature of textual critical studies of the New Testament. Since we do not have the autographs (i.e. original documents), scholars have to compare mss. to reproduce the original. This might sound disconcerting, but we don’t have the autographs of any ancient document such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, etc. All ancient documents are in the same boat. So, the more you have, the more you can compare and the New Testament is doing rather well in their mss. count: 5,800+. This far outstrips any other ancient document in mss. count. Homer’s Iliad has the second best mss. count with only 1,757.
The reason I put the number of NT mss. as 5,800+ is because Dr. Wallace and his team keeping finding new mss. At the National Library of Greece this past year alone they found 20 new mss. that are not catalogued by the University of Munster (which keeps the official count of NT mss).
Here is a quick example of how we compare and contrast mss. to reproduce the original:
You can obviously reconstruct the original wording from the mss. that were copied: “Jesus Christ” (the # represents a tear, hole, or damage to the manuscript). In fact, there is no doubt in the original wording. The same principle applies to the NT. Dr. Wallace in Reinventing Jesus states that “The vast majority of NT scholars would say that there are absolutely no places where conjecture is necessary. Again, this is because the manuscripts are so plentiful and so early that in every instance the original NT can be reconstructed from the available evidence.”
Quick Quotes from the Experts:
“Of the one hundred thirty-eight thousand words of the original text, only one or two might have no manuscript support. There is virtually no need for conjecture, as we already have pointed out. And even if there were, this would not mean that we would have no idea what the original text said. Instead, precisely because almost all the possible variants are already to be found in the manuscripts, there is a rather limited number of options that scholars have to contend with.” (Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus)
“The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” (Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus)
“In contrast with these figures [of other ancient works], the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by a wealth of material. Furthermore, the work of many ancient authors has been preserved only in manuscripts that date from the Middle Ages (sometimes the late Middle Ages), far removed from the time at which they lived and wrote. On the contrary, the time between the composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest extant copies is relatively brief. Instead of a lapse of a millennium or more, as is the case of not a few classical authors, several papyrus manuscripts of portions of the New Testament are extant that were copied within a century or so after the composition of the original document.” (Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed.)
“Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then” by Daniel Wallace Bible.org
“‘Misquoting’ Jesus? Answering Bart Erhman” Greg Koukl in Solid Ground (pdf)
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. Craig L. Blomberg (IVP Academic, 2007)
Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Mark D. Roberts (Crossway, 2007)
Reinventing Jesus, Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace (Kregel, 2006)
“The Bibliographical Test Updated,” Clay Jones in Christian Research Journal volume 35, number 03 (2012)