[CF Devotionals] 2009-08-17 - The New Testament Background

Study on the Bible, Part 5

Before getting too technical, let me give a summary of the history of the New Testament from The New Unger's Bible Handbook:

"The gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4) was first preached by word of mouth and interpreted in the light of OT history and prophecy. Oral accounts of the life and work of Christ were written down and finally gave way to the inspired synoptic gospels sometime before ad. 70. The need for doctrinal interpretation of Christ's person and work soon became a necessity, accentuated by the need to define Christianity against such errors as legalism and antinomianism. The Pauline and other epistles were written to meet this need. The demand for a historical sketch of the development of the church was met by the book of Acts. The Apocalypse was penned to consummate the revelation of God's plan and purposes for time and eternity." 1

Now a bit more detail from Bruce:

"The NT documents were all written in Greek within the first century. Some transmission of individual documents took place before they began to be collected together. When, however, early in the second century the fourfold Gospel and the Pauline corpus began to circulate as two collections, it was mainly as collections that they were transmitted from then on. Somewhat later, Acts and the catholic Epistles were commonly collected in a single codex; Revelation occupied a slim codex by itself.

The earliest surviving Manuscripts of the NT belong to the second century. The oldest is a fragment of a papyrus codex of John 18 … dated c. A.D. 130. … its main value is its witness to an early date for John. More substantial are some NT papyri … from the late second and early third centuries: a codex of John (P66), another containing the latter part of Luke and the first thirteen or fourteen chapters of John (P75), and yet another that is our oldest witness to the Greek text of 1 and 2 Peter and Jude (P72).

… From the fourth century onwards we can distinguish types of NT text associated with various geographical centers or areas: Alexandria , Caesarea, Antioch , and the West. …

The witnesses to the Greek NT text are commonly classified as manuscripts in Greek, early versions in other languages, and citations in early Christian writers. The manuscripts run to well over 5,000 in all, containing either part or the whole of the NT. Even after the invention of printing in Western Europe in the middle of the fifteenth century, the production of NT manuscripts continued into the next century. The great majority of the manuscripts are medieval, and exhibit what is commonly called the Byzantine type of text. This is based on a fourth-century revision of the Greek text, incorporating features from most of the already existing text types. The revision aimed at producing a smoother and more lucid text, at combining variants from two or more text types, and at harmonizing parallel passages. It was probably produced in Syria , but from the late fourth century onward it was disseminated from Constantinople or Byzantium , the new Eastern capital of the Roman Empire , whence it has come to be known as the Byzantine text. Since it appears in most of the later manuscripts, it is reproduced also in the earliest printed editions of the Greek NT, and so is the parent of the Textus Receptus ("Received Text" [TR]). This expression was used by the Leiden printing house of Elzevir in 1633, to commend the second edition of its Greek NT, and has come to be used of the text of the early printed editions in general." 2

  1. Larson, Gary N., reviser, The New Unger's Bible Handbook, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1984, p. 679.
  2. Bruce, F. F., "Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament," Revelation and the Bible, Edited by Carl Henry, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids , 1969.

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