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The Ancient Manuscripts

There is another most apropos and unavoidable question posed by the nonexistence today of the original manuscripts of the Bible. How can we be assured of the authenticity of the Bible without its original manuscripts to base its authenticity upon? The answer to this important question is found in the existence today of thousands of ancient copies of the Biblical texts.
These ancient copies assure us beyond any reasonable doubt that our Bible today contains the message of the original manuscripts. The abundance of these ancient manuscripts led Sir Frederic Kenyon, the Director and Principle Librarian of the British Museum for twenty-one years, to emphatically declare: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”
There are more than 5,000 ancient copies or manuscripts of the New Testament. These ancient manuscripts are of two major types. First, there are Uncials. These manuscripts are written in all capital letters without punctuation or spaces between words. They are not divided into sentences, paragraphs, chapters or verses. All such divisions have been added by the translators. The Uncial Manuscripts are considered to be most important, because they are older, dating as far back as the second and third century.
The second major type of ancient copies or manuscripts of the New Testament is the Cursives. These manuscripts, which are also called the “Miniscule Manuscripts,” are written in small letters with a running hand style. Since the cursive style of writing came into use at a later time, dating back to the ninth century, the Cursives are considered less important than the Uncials. There are thousands of these manuscripts, most dating to the period after 1000 AD. Some of them are quite ornate, being richly decorated with color, artistic works, and pictures.
The most important of the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament are the three oldest Uncials Manuscripts. These three ancient vellum manuscripts are considered to be the greatest document-treasure of Christianity.
The first of the three is the Sinaitic Manuscript. This ancient manuscript gets its name from the fact that it was discovered by Constantine Tischendorf in the ancient monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1859. Tischendorf had come to Saint Catherine’s Monastery in search of ancient manuscripts. After days of searching in vain, he was invited to the steward of the convent’s cell for refreshment. According to Tischendorf, “Scarcely had we entered the room when…he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume wrapped in a red cloth, and laid it before me…I knew [in that moment] that I held in my hand the most precious biblical treasure in existence.”  
The manuscript handed to Tischendorf on that eventful day by the steward of the monastery was the Sinaitic Manuscript. It is practically a complete copy of the entire Bible in Greek. At the time given to Tischendorf it was already 1500 years old, 600 years earlier than any manuscript used by the King James translators of the Bible. The Sinaitic Manuscript resides today in the British Museum in London.
The second of the three oldest Uncials Manuscripts, which serve as the greatest document-treasure of Christianity, is the Vatican manuscript. This ancient manuscript gets its name from the fact that it is located in the Vatican Library in Rome. It is, needless to say, the Vatican Library’s chief Biblical treasure. Like the Sinaitic Manuscript, it too is a copy of the Greek Bible written in the fourth century AD.
The third of the three oldest Uncials Manuscripts, which serve as the greatest document-treasure of Christianity, is the Alexandrian Manuscript. This ancient manuscript is a fifth century copy of the whole Greek Bible, with the exception of forty lost leaves. It was the first of the three great Uncials to become known, being presented as a gift to King Charles I of England in 1627, sixteen years after the completion of the King James Version of the Bible. Like the Sinaitic Manuscript, it too resides today in the British Museum in London.
When it comes to the Old Testament, a famous discovery of ancient manuscripts in 1946 has further assured us that our Bible today contains the original message of the books of the Old Testament. In 1946, a young Bedouin shepherd boy discovered scrolls housed in clay jars in the caves of Qumran on Israel’s West Bank near the Dead Sea. By the time archeologists were through excavating this site, 931 manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts had been discovered.
These manuscripts, known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls, are the greatest discovery of all time when it comes to affirming the authenticity of the Old Testament. These scrolls predate all other known copies of the Old Testament by 1100 years. Among them is a scroll of the Old Testament book of Isaiah that reads almost exactly like the book of Isaiah in our present-day English Bible.
Following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the late William Barclay, a well-known author and Bible scholar, said, “We need have no fear that the Massoretic text of the Old Testament—our modern Hebrew text—is anything but accurate.”
Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrian Manuscripts, as well as thousands of other ancient manuscripts, both Uncials and Cursives, we can be certain today that when we read our Bibles we are reading God’s divinely inspired Word, which has been accurately passed down through time and miraculously preserved by God through the ages.