I have seen "evidence" that we know with a great degree of certainty and accuracy what the original New Testament bible said. This is to say, we know what the original authors wrote. I'm not sure how accurate these claims are as they seem to come from biased sources. Here are a few:

The short answer is no [the bible was not corrupted]. To answer this question in more detail, let me give you some background. The New Testament is an ancient book. During ancient times, there were no Xerox copy machines, and the way the Bible was preserved was through hand by hand copying. As a result of this copying process, errors would occur by accident or intention. However, these errors in the text do not affect any major Christian doctrine such as the Trinity, Deity of Christ, salvation by faith alone, etc. Unfortunately, we do not have any original copies of any of the books of the New Testament. In other words, we do not have “the original manuscript copy” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans or an original copy of the Gospel of Matthew, etc.

There are way more copies of the biblical manuscripts, with remarkable consistency between them, than there are for any of the classics like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament." F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

To be clear I'm not asking if the events talked about in the bible are true. I'm asking: Do we know the words used by the original authors of the New Testament?

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    There is a whole Stack Exchange dedicated to questions about the accuracy of interpretations of the bible: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com. You are likely to get better answers from the biblical scholars there (Check it isn't a duplicate though.)
    – Oddthinking
    May 9, 2016 at 6:52
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    A claim that the text of bible was substantially corrupted over time might be notable. But the reverse claim about original authors is harder as we don't, usually, know the identity of the original authors (we don't know this for most ancient manuscripts either: Homer didn't write Homer for example).
    – matt_black
    May 9, 2016 at 7:26
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    You are asking two different questions here: 'Does the bible mainly contain the original wording the authors used?' and 'Do we know the words (or decidedly synonym words) used by the original authors?' Perhaps you could edit your question and limit the scope, so that one of them can be answered? May 9, 2016 at 15:02
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    "intended form" isn't going to work as a claim as it implies we can, somehow, understand motivation and intent of the original (often unknown) authors. The claim is perfectly OK without this, though, as whether the text became corrupted from what was originally written is testable (at least partially) by looking at differences in existing manuscripts.
    – matt_black
    May 10, 2016 at 9:37
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    @KimC The difference is that if you can show that at least two of the current Bible translations differ significantly from eachother (which is the case), you can prove that at least one of them differ from the original script without knowing the original script. May 10, 2016 at 10:58

1 Answer 1


Do we know the words used by the original authors of the New Testament?

The answer is a qualified yes.

As tniles09 comments, the (scientific) discipline that studies this is called Textual Criticism, and has had an enourmous development, especially during the last two centuries. You can check the current consensus of the scholars in the majority of serious books on the subject (you can discard the obviously "interested" ones, be on the christian apologetic side, in the atheist side, or in the mere sensationalist-commercial side).

To summarize, and restricting to the four gospels (main part of the New Testament), we can state with high degree of confidence:

  • The four gospels were written in Greek, in the date range 60-100 AD (first Marc, then Matthew and Luke, last John)
  • The oldest manuscripts we have now are small fragments, the earliest complete manuscripts of the gospels are from the third or fourth centuries. They are, relative to other antique texts, abundant.
  • The "original" texts can recovered with high degree of confidence (only some words or verses are in doubt). Errors in copies (both unintentional or intentional interpolations) are easily identifiable, in general. The reconstructed texts essentially coincide (translations aside) with the "official/vulgar" texts of the Bibles used always by the Christian churches.

I quote "original", because your assertion "that is, we know what the original authors wrote" needs some qualification. We need to relativize our modern ideas of literary autorship and originality (the individual that sits alone in his study, and writes "his" own words). Twenty centuries ago, things were different, in many senses: oral tradition played an important part (not only as a trasmissions of facts/tales/ideas, but as a trasmission of texts), the tasks of literary creation (and reelaboration, conservation, trasmission) was more a community thing. Think for example of the "synoptic problem": parts of the first three gospels seem like copy-paste from others, and yet they differ (even sometimes contradict) with each other, and each one has its own style: this would be almost incomprehensible in our modern frame of "autorship" (either we have four individual and honest authors... or we have not; if they are narrators of the life of Jesus, we expect them to tell us the same things using different words; the gospels, instead, sometimes seem to be using the same words to tell different things).

We don't need to go to the extreme, and reject the notion of individual authors: textual criticism asserts that, in spite of the above, each one of the gospels has an individual author, in the literary sense. But this must be weighted against the other elements: they were antique authors, they regarded themselves as faithful voices of a community. Granted this, then yes, we can be reasonably sure that when we read the current texts of the New Testament, we read "what they wrote".

We are not here saying that

  • the original authors were indeed named Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - or that they are some identifiable persons (that Mt. and J. were disciples, for example). We don't know that, we know practically nothing about the concrete authors, and we know that is was an antique custom to use pseudonyms to enhance a book authority. (What we know is that Luke was the same author of the Acts book)
  • the events narrated are strictly historical, in the modern sense of the word
  • the authors were (or claimed to be) "inspired by God" or that the texts are somehow "inerrant" (those are theological questions)
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    @DJClayworth John is generally dated later, and it is commonly accepted that Matthew and Luke borrow from Mark. So I would say that is the commonly accepted order, if not generally agreed. It is an area in flux, though. Matthew and Luke do have material that is possibly (probably?) older than Mark, but the books as a whole are likely younger. May 13, 2016 at 15:15
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    The idea that John was written later than other Gospels is widely held but disputed. The logic is often that its theology looks more "developed". But serious scholars have argued that it was actually the first written. Also most scholars agree that the Pauline letters were written before any gospels.
    – matt_black
    May 15, 2016 at 11:37
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    @matt_black Everything is disputed. But the scholar consensus is that John was written around 90AD (see eg books.google.com.ar/… ). And, yes, some Pauline letters seems to have been written around 50-60, i.e, before the gospels.
    – leonbloy
    May 15, 2016 at 14:23
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    This needs to be supported by better references. While wikipedia is great for definition and high-school level stuff, you might want to link scholarly articles on the matter.
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:01
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    @leonbloy this answer has been largely unreferenced for a year. Do you intend to fix it soon?
    – Sklivvz
    Apr 17, 2018 at 21:20

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