How can we know the gospels we have today are similar to the originals?


I posted another thread similar to this one, but I feel as if my real question wasn’t being totally answered. So wallah! Here it is anew, phrased a bit differently.


There are thousands and thousands of copies out there in various languages of different ages written on various materials in fragments, pieces and what not. They agree in essence. We would have a major problem if Matthew in one edition/language/age is different from another. Moreover historical figures have quoted the gospels throughout the ages. These remained the same.


The Gospels obviously come from oral tradition. They were not written at once, but were enriched with additional information throughout history.


You’re thinking of the Old Testament. The Gospels were (each) written down and then carefully copied from manuscript to manuscript. There’s some evidence of editorial influence in a few locations, but “enriched with additional information throughout history” far overstates the extent to which this occurs in the texts.


How do we know that Xenophon’s *Oeconomicus * is accurate? (No earlier than 401 BC) There are twenty-three manuscripts that survive. None of them is older than the thirteenth century. They may be checked against fragments that date to the first century, but in general, you’re looking at a 1700-year gap.

How do we know that Herodotus’ *Histories *is accurate? (450’s-420’s BC) There are nine principal manuscripts that survive. Four are from the 14th century; the oldest is 10th c. There are various fragments dating to the first, second, third, and fourth centuries A.D… but it was originally written c. 440 BC, so at least 400 years separates these fragments from the original, but if you want a complete manuscript, you’re looking at an 1400-year gap.

How do we know that Caesar’s Gallic War is accurate? (Caesar wrote the first 8 books; he died in 44 BC.) There are ten manuscripts that survive. There are maybe ten manuscripts that survive. The oldest of these dates to AD 900. 900 years’ worth of gap.

How about Plutarch’s Lives? Late first century. Six manuscripts. The earliest is 10th century. You’re looking at a 900-year gap.

You have about 4000 surviving handwritten manuscripts of the Greek NT. You’re looking at about 20-30 years’ gap between the original John manuscript (called the “autograph”) and the earliest fragments discovered. Suppose Matthew was written around AD 60-65, the earliest fragments date to about AD 200, a gap of about 140 years. You have about 10-15 manuscripts dating to the first 100 years of the NT’s completion; you have almost 70 copies by 300 years after.

When you deal with that many copies, you’ll have various differences between them: spelling mistakes and copyist errors that don’t make much sense; word order changes that don’t affect the message being conveyed; meaningful changes that aren’t viable; and meaningful and viable variants (about 1% of the differences). That’s where scholarship and textual criticism come into play.


I think your unwritten assumption here is that there were “original” versions of the gospels; and that those would have been fully inspired; and that what we have are modified versions, so therefore less reliable, or less inspired than the original. I don’t know you, but other people I know who raise this question often also assume there is a “seniority” principle, that there was a core message presented in the earliest version, and only that earliest version is fully inspired.

I know one priest who dissented from the Magisterium, who taught that “scholars now believe that the verses referring to Peter’s authority were likely added on by the Church” to the original gospel". Of course someone who wanted to stop helping the poor might “discover” that the Sermon on the Mount was an add-on, or modification, etc, etc. Of course, bible scholars have revised their estimated dates of when books were written many times, and will continue to do so. But a better way to put it is that the whole Gospel of Mathew was “added on” to the Bible by the Church. In fact the whole NT is an “add-on” by the Church, none of it was originally part of Scripture. Even if you found the first rough draft of the Gospel of John and that the version we are using is draft 9, so what?

If God wanted us to have a first draft of Luke, He would have supplied it to us. We have no way of knowing if the first draft - if any - is more reliable than later version that He did supply us. Apart from the Magisterium we don’t know what makes a book inspired, or reliable, either in 90 AD or today. For that matter apart from the Magisterium we don’t know which books are inspired at all. This is not just an academic exercise, some very liberal churches are cautiously starting to add books to their NT).

With that understanding, yeah, it’s also somewhat interesting to look at the history of the texts of Scripture. The Bible has been examined more than all other ancient and medieval texts combined. Just keep in mind half of today’s new theories will be superceded by the next generation of scholars.


oh really, where do you get your information about thousands and thousands ??? God Bless Memaw


Trust the Catholic Church, she is guided by the Holy Spirit !!! God Bless, Memaw


My post had a citation for at least 4000 handwritten manuscripts and fragments in Greek, fwiw. :wink:


That doesn’t tell me anything, What is your post??? God Bless, Memaw


St. Jerome, b. about 340 A.D., was scholar of Greek, Hebrew, and other languages of the bible. He translated the bible into Latin. In the 1500’s, this Latin Vulgate was translated into the Duoay Rhiems English version that was still around today.

When Martin Luther broke away from the Church, he created his own version of the Bible. This is what the King James Protestant bible is based on. Ironically, King James never approved the the King James bible because it had too many errors and discrepancies. It became popular anyway, because it was the first bible that people with a small amount of education could read and understand.

A book that I think you may find useful on Church History is The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Aikens. It discusses the early church with quotes from the second generation of apostles, (Saints who were chosen as replacements for the apostles and disciples.)

To understand how things progressed in the Church, start with Acts in the bible. Then read through the book mentioned above.

If you can’t afford a copy of the book mentioned above, you can interlibrary-loan it to your local public library.


Wow! I would expect the courtesy of reading the whole thread where you will find his very relevant post.


The Council of Trent made this decree concerning the canonical scriptures:

"The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,–lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic Sec presiding therein,–keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both --as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession…[a list of the canonical books follows]

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema."

Concerning the mention of the Latin vulgate, it was not the intention of the council fathers that the then present text of the vulgate could not be corrected if need be by biblical scholars. Pope Pius XII in the encyclical, DIVINO AFFLANTE SPIRITU (1943) makes this clear:
“Nor should anyone think that this use of the original texts, in accordance with the methods of criticism, in any way derogates from those decrees so wisely enacted by the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate.[24] It is historically certain that the Presidents of the Council received a commission, which they duly carried out, to beg, that is, the Sovereign Pontiff in the name of the Council that he should have corrected, as far as possible, first a Latin, and then a Greek, and Hebrew edition, which eventually would be published for the benefit of the Holy Church of God.[25] If this desire could not then be fully realized owing to the difficulties of the times and other obstacles, at present it can, We earnestly hope, be more perfectly and entirely fulfilled by the united efforts of Catholic scholars.”

In the last century the popes have really opened the way for biblical scholarship that has been very beneficial to the Church and for our present editions of the bible.

The point though about the decree from the Council of Trent I think is that it says that the Sacred Scriptures as well as Sacred Tradition “have come down even unto us, transmitted as were hand to hand” and “preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession”. Then it says that we are to receive, “as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition” So it appears that on the authority of the Catholic Church, the Sacred Scriptures as we possess them even today are the authentic Sacred Scriptures as they have been given to the Church. The Church uses the Holy Scriptures in the divine liturgy and in all its celebrations, of course, constantly. We have the liturgy of the word before the liturgy of the eucharist at every mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (#133).

When I read Holy Scripture, I certainly do not read it as if I’m wondering if I’m actually reading the original inspired word of God but some kind of lost uninspired translation. I read it as the very word of God as the Church says it is and this is how all the saints read it too. Holy Scripture is food for the soul and it is the best kind of reading and meditating over anybody could do. Difficult passages can be studied or ask light from the Holy Spirit.


The Dead Sea Scrolls prove the accuracy.


F F Bruce in his The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable says:

“There are in existence about 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part.”

On top of these Greek manuscripts, Bruce M. Metzger in his THE EARLY VERSIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT says there are Syriac versions, Coptic versions, Armenian version, Georgian version, Ethiopic version, Minor Eastern versions( Arab, Nubian Persian, Sogdian, Caucasian Albanian) , Latin versions, Gothic version, Old Church Slavonic version, Minor Western versions( Anglo-Saxon, Old High German, Old Saxon).

I didn’t tally his count. In Lee Stobel “The Case for Christ” interview with Metzger, Metzger when asked how many New Testament Greek manuscripts are in existence today said “More than five thousand have been cataloged” hence confirming FF Bruce’s numbers. (He counted 5,664 Greek manuscripts)

“In addition to the Greek documents, … there are thousands of other ancient New Testament manuscripts in other languages. There are 8,000 to 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts, plus a total of 8,000 in Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian. In all, there are about 24,000 manuscripts in existence.”


Absolutely right there is such a huge amount of proof of not only the authenticity but also the accuracy of both the Old Testament as well as the Gospels that trying to prove they are false or inventions or even deviation from the originals is a futile endeavour.

There are books from antiquity that have far less number of surviving copies and yet no one bothers to try and dismiss them as modern concoctions. It is quite tell telling that there is such resistance now days for accepting the Bible. The witch hunt for any shred of evidence to destroy Jesus and His Church has been going on for 2000 years and yet the enemy still is trying to bring it down.
What a foolish endeavour, he will not succeed Jesus will be the victor of this battle.


I try to keep in mind that the writings of Cicero, Julius Cesar and most of the material about Roman history were preserved by the same Monks that preserved the writings in the New Testament. If we discount the New Testament, won’t we have to discount much of the history of Rome that has been passed down by these same Monks? Scribes may have made mistakes here and there and some may have been sloppy, but they were not inclined to change and redo what they were assigned to copy. It was a highly skilled and respected job. They would not have lasted long as scribes if they messed with their assignments.


I trust that when the scripture scholars - who have studied the fragments and their different languages - decided and presented to the Bishops and the current translation was approved, that it is sufficiebtly reliable for me to use that paricular Bible.

I trust in the Holy Spirit having guided them.

I can drive myself crazy if I trust no one.

How do I know that my doctors are using the most up-to-date Medical Reference Library when giving me advice for my condition (for first, second opinions)? How do I know my car mechanic is up to date on recalls for my car? How can I know my tax accountant is right when telling me I can/cannot deduct that?

I trust in the Lord and His Church.

Most of what I have heard regarding ‘discrepancies’ of legitimate (not fake) fragnents, etc. the differences are not substantial. A matter of tone - or choice of slightly different words.

If you read homilies from the early Church and look at the current Bible the agreement is amazing - very little real differences.

I have stopped trying to split hairs. I have enough to occupy my mind in trying to get rid of sins, faults, etc. Whether there were 12 apostles, 72 disciples, 500 in the upper room…how does that make my seeking holiness any different? Why is the multiplying of the bread/fish in all 4 Gospels - and yet the Sermon of the Mount isn’t? Who is Mary Magdalene REALLY? Who is the beloved disciple? Is the Gospel of John by the apostle? Who is the John who wrote the epistles?

I need to follow Jesus: I was not called to read thousands of fragments and burnout trying to figure that out. It distracts me from my call: to love Him and my neighbor. I am to spend myself in His service.

Pax et bonum,


The problem is that non-Christians will subvert Christianity and its history for their own ends.

The Jesus Seminarians are an example of this. The “movement” developed as a response to fundamentalist Christian involvement in politics- and has a liberal/feminist agenda. They play fast and loose with what we know about those early times. A tip-off is they try to date the Gospels to as late as possible.

So it is useful for all Christians to be familiar with the basics of what CAN be known about early Christian events and without anti-Christian bias provided by folks like the Seminarians. Knowledge of these facts, in fact, is not at all faith-threatening for those who are guided by the Holy Spirit in these matters, and in many instances is reinforcing.

So these questions should not be dismissed out of hand. It IS a fascinating subject.

I have recommended Hagan in this regard and continue to do so.


I agree it is important for Catholics to know and understand the history of the Church. This can be a life long love affair. For me, this is the main reason to study and learn.

I have found that the strongest argument I can give when someone challenges the validity of the Scriptures is to respond with how much I love the scriptures and how much I love the history of the Church. I no longer try to respond with “facts” and “figures” because those who challenge and attack the scriptures don’t care about that at all. They won’t listen anyway.

Another way to respond is, “Oh yes, I have read about that particular theory. It is interesting to me how many off-the-wall theories there are floating around.” Then smile sweetly and drop the subject.

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