Bible Manuscripts (Part 1)

Questions to think about during this lesson…

  • What is a Bible manuscript?
  • What material was most commonly used for “paper” in the first couple centuries of Christianity and what did people use for ink?
  • Since papyrus was fragile, what other kind of writing material was used in antiquity that was much more durable?
  • What is a scroll and how was it used?
  • What is a codex?
  • What does it mean to say that Christians “invented” the book?
  • What was the only way a book could survive in antiquity?
  • How does the number of copies that exist for a book relate to the book’s popularity?
  • Which biblical books do we have the most number of manuscripts for?
  • Which biblical book do we have the least number of manuscripts for?
  • In total, there are about 60,000 ancient Greek manuscripts throughout the world. Of that number, about 12% (or 7,300) are biblical manuscripts. The remaining 88% of ancient Greek manuscripts are the works of over 2,100 ancient authors — including philosophers, playwrights, mathematicians, historians, Church Fathers, etc. Of these 2,100 authors, there are about 600 pagan authors and about 1,500 Christian authors. What are your thoughts on this information?
  • Biblical manuscripts are preserved in about 380 different libraries and collections worldwide. Where are some of the largest holdings of biblical manuscripts found?
  • Biblical manuscripts preserve a far greater number of copies per book or author than any other ancient author. Most ancient Greek works exist in only one to 10 copies. This includes important works from authors like Aristotle and Plato. The only exception to this is Homer: the Iliad exists in 190 copies and The Odyssey exists in 80 copies. The works of non-biblical Christian authors, like St. John Chrysostom and St. John of the Ladder exist in many hundreds of copies. The Rudder, liturgical books and the lectionary (the Church cycle of readings) exist in many, many copies. The Bible is, without question, the greatest book in the world (also in terms of richness of its manuscript tradition). What are your thoughts on this information?
  • What does it mean to say that the Bible contains the oldest books in the world? (Hint: it has to do with when we think the Torah — the first 5 books of the Bible — was first written down.)
  • What is the oldest translated book in the world and when was it translated? (Hint: it’s also the oldest and most extensive surviving text written in the Demotic Greek language — the “everyday language” before Christ).
  • How is it that the Bible is the oldest work in existence in the language of the Germans, Arabs, Syrians, Armenians, Ethiopians, Persians, Georgians and Slavs?
  • With the exception of just a handful of authors, the oldest works of all non-biblical authors before or after Christ exist in manuscripts that date from the 9th through the 17th century. Compare this to biblical manuscripts: there are 280 Bible manuscripts older than the 9th century. What are your thoughts on this information?
  • What is the oldest manuscript in the world of a complete book, and when is it from?
  • What are the two oldest complete manuscripts/copies of the Christian Bible and when are they from?
  • Why are most Bible manuscripts from the 4th century and after?
  • Why isn’t it likely that we have any “autographs” of biblical writings?
  • How do we know that some of the original New Testament writings (“autographs”) continued to exist into the 3rd and 4th centuries?
  • What is the oldest existing autograph of ANY ancient document? What date does it go back to?
  • How can Christians have hundreds of copies of ancient Torahs, yet the Jews don’t?

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