IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- There are over five thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.
- There are zero manuscripts of a Hebrew New Testament.
Among my books, there are a number that are written using the Hebrew alphabet. Two of these are of particular interest for our study. The first is a Yiddish New Testament. Of course, Yiddish is not Hebrew. (Just like Aramaic is not Hebrew, in spite of the fact they both use the same alphabet.) Yiddish is to some extent a hybrid language. It has borrowings from German as well as Hebrew. Eastern European Jews and many of their descendants around the world speak and write this language. This New Testament is in the native language of millions of Jews. Still, we are compelled to recognize it as a translation. It was made from Greek manuscripts.
The other book related to our study is a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew. It is in the language of the nation of Israel. Large numbers of Jewish people world wide speak this language. It is also taught to thousands of Jews immigrating to Israel each year. Many of whom speak little or no Hebrew. Simply because a person is Jewish is not an indication of the language he or she may speak. You may find it amazing that more Jews live in American than in Israel.
This particular New Testament is in the official language of the nation of the Jews. But, it was not copied from an original Hebrew manuscript. It had to be translated from Greek manuscripts.
Isn't that an interesting fact? Think about it. If the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, why did this Hebrew edition have to be translated
from Greek? There is one very simple answer to this question. There are no ancient Hebrew copies of manuscripts of the New Testament. All the early manuscripts are in Greek.
Very ancient manuscripts of Old Testament books exist both in Hebrew and Aramaic. But when we want to examine a manuscript of the New Testament in either of these languages, we are unable to find one. Not even one exists. This presents a very large and difficult problem for advocates of an original Hebrew New Testament. It leaves them without a single piece of empirical evidence to back their case.
Aren't mysterious things fascinating? Are you familiar with the Loch Ness Monster? It is supposed, by some people, to be a large water creature that lives in a lake (loch) in Scotland. The best evidence for its existence is a picture taken some years ago. The man who took the picture died recently. On his death bed he confessed the picture is a fake.
Then, there is Big Foot. That's the man-like creature believed to roam the woodlands of the western United States. It is surprising how many people believe he exists. They hunt diligently for him. Some claim to have seen him. There are pictures, but there is no Big Foot.
How can I know there is no Loch Ness Monster? Why am I sure Big Foot does not exist? Because there is not a single piece of empirical evidence for their existence. Where is something for me to put my hands on? Where is something for me to look at? Capture a Big Foot and bring him home. Corner the water creature in one end of the lake. No one has done this. No one is going to. Why? It is simple. There is no Loch Ness Monster. There is no Big Foot. It is the same with an ancient Hebrew manuscript of the New Testament. It is very mysterious, not unlike those Super Market Tabloid mysteries. So far no one has brought one home.
There are hand-written copies of the New Testament in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and even Hebrew. Every manuscript in each of these languages is, like my Hebrew New Testament, a translation from Greek. Greek manuscripts do exist. They can be examined. That is empirical evidence. There is something to put your hands on. There is something to see.
Either whole or in part, there are over five thousand manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.1 These are not translations; they are copies. This number is not approached by any other ancient book. Manuscripts of the works of Josephus, a Jewish historian born about A.D. 37, number only a handful. Other ancient writers cannot be found in as large a number as that. But, of the New Testament there are five thousand plus manuscripts, all in Greek. This is an impressive amount of evidence.
KNOW BY QUOTATIONS
Many ancient writers are known only because other writers quoted them. No manuscripts of their work exist. Papias, a contemporary of the Apostle John, is an example of these. No copies of his works are extant. He is quoted in the works of Irenaeus and Eusebius. Because of these quotations we know some of what he wrote.
Most of the works of Origen, a third century writer, are lost. One of these is his Hexapla. This was a Hebrew and Greek version of the Old Testament arranged in six columns. Thanks to quotations of his writings by other men, we can know at least some of his works.
The Greek New Testament is the most often quoted ancient book. Many, many, many ancient writers quote from it. These quotations verify its authenticity repeatedly. The Greek New Testament is quoted over 10,000 times by ancient writers.
FIFTEEN THOUSAND WITNESSES
To the five thousand plus Greek manuscripts, we add more than ten thousand quotations by ancient writers.2 That is a staggering sum of witnesses to the Greek New Testament. It is especially impressive because advocates of a Hebrew/Aramaic New Testament can find exactly zero evidence of manuscripts to support their theory. If you were setting about to prove something, think of how you would feel if you had exactly no evidence.
What is the Score?
Original Greek New Testament ...........15,000 +
Original Hebrew New Testament..................0
BUT ALWAYS PRAY
The people of one sacred name group, with which I am personally acquainted, have been told by their leader to pray for God to bring to light a manuscript of a Hebrew New Testament. They think one may be hidden in the Vatican Library. They also hope more scrolls will be found in the caves around Israel. Their prayer is for a Hebrew scroll of the New Testament to be found among them.
Of course, you can see that such an action amounts to an admission there is no evidence for a Hebrew New Testament. Such an admission is correct. There is no evidence. The reason there is no evidence: there is not now nor was there ever such a New Testament. When a thing has not happened, it leaves no evidence.
THE RYLAND FRAGMENT
A very weighty piece of evidence lies in the John Ryland Library in Manchester England. It is a fragment of the eighteenth chapter of John's Gospel. It is commonly called the Ryland Fragment and is numbered p52. It was found in Egypt in 1934. While it is not the original Gospel written in John's own handwriting, it is likely a copy made directly from the original. Manuscript specialists date it in the first quarter of the second century. Some set the date as early as A.D. 100.3 An interesting note on the contents of this small piece of John's writing: it has the name of Jesus in Greek. The same Greek in which John wrote the original.
You see how all the physical evidence points in one direction. Since its writing, the New Testament has been translated into hundreds of languages. One of these is Hebrew. Without exception, the evidence that can be seen or touched, proves our Book was originally written in Greek.
Footnotes1. J. D. Douglas, ed., The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1974). p.628. [back]
2. James Hastings, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible (New York, Scribner's 1903), IV, 735. In the article, Text of the New Testament, written by Eberhard Nestle, we have these words: "from Augustine alone D. de Lagarde collected 29,540 quotations from the N. T.'' Our use of the 10,000 figure is conservative indeed. [back]
3. G. S. Wegener, 6000 Years of the Bible (New York, Harper, 1963). [back]