How did We Get the New Testament?

From Issue: Discovery 10/1/2002

Almost 1,900 years ago, God inspired the writers of the New Testament to pen their books and letters. The actual letters and books written by these men were known as “autographs.” Unfortunately, we do not have any of the original autographs that these men wrote. Why didn’t God preserve these original documents so that we could see them and possibly touch them? We cannot be sure. Maybe He knew that some people might value the actual piece of papyrus and not the words and ideas written on it. For whatever reasons, God did not preserve the original documents that the New Testament writers produced. So, the question arises: “How do we know that the New Testament we read in the 21st century is the same one that God inspired almost 1,900 years ago?”

Check the Time

Understanding when the original documents of the New Testament were written will help us determine how well they have been preserved. The earliest events recorded in the New Testament are those surrounding the birth of Jesus. He was born in approximately A.D.1 (we date our calendars from the birth of Christ). He lived almost 33 years, and then was crucified. Therefore, since the New Testament tells about His life and death, it could not have been written much earlier than A.D.33. In fact, one book (Acts) tells about things that happened around A.D.50-60. When, exactly, was the New Testament written? We cannot be sure of the exact date when each book was written, but we do know that the entire New Testament was written between approximately A.D.35 and A.D.100.

Many Manuscripts

Thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament exist. A “manuscript” is a hand-written copy of an old document that was copied in its original language. Since the New Testament originally was written in Greek, the manuscripts also are written in Greek. Over 5,300 old manuscripts exist that contain all or part of the New Testament.

The fact that so many old copies of the New Testament exist is truly amazing, especially when it is compared to other ancient books. What is even more amazing is the time that they were produced. Some have been found that were copied only a few years after they were written. One manuscript known as the John Ryland’s Papyrus has portions of the gospel of John written on it. It was found in Egypt, and dates back to A.D.130—just a few years after the New Testament was completed.

To tell the truth, uninspired books do not have a fraction of the evidence that the New Testament does to support its accuracy. God made sure that the Bible was passed down faithfully from one generation to the next. So the next time you read the New Testament, you can be sure that it is the Word of God.


A copied sheet of paper

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