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Bible Studies/# of ancient N.T. manuscripts


Hello - I am very confused. For years I went by Josh McDowell's "Evidence that demands a verdict," which states we have 100,000 manuscripts of the N.T. dating from the first century. When I looked on the internet it stated we have at best only one fragment dating from the first century and the following early centuries have only small amounts of manuscripts. Could you tell me what the real numbers actually are. Thank you.


Hello Pete

Thank you for an unusual question that doesn't really lie within my area of "expertise"!  However, for what it is worth, I will share my own thoughts!

First of all, do not forget that the internet is open to anyone with a computer and a link.  This means that I can post anything I like (as I do with my own blog - details below!), and can even do so anonymously.  So, given a choice between Josh McDowall and an article on the internet, I would have no hesitation in going with the brother Josh!  Indeed, I have both "Evidence that demands a verdict" and "More evidence that demands a verdict" on my bookshelves!  Indeed, I have just checked, and I am unable to find where he claims that there are "100,000 manuscripts of the N.T. dating from the first century."  Perhaps you would be so kind as to direct me to that quotation.

So, what can I say to support Josh?  The first thing is that this is an area that is continually being updated so, even if your internet article was accurate when it was written (which, of course, may have been a long time before it was published online!) it may be well out of date.  For example, there is the Magdalen Fragments (so-called because they are kept in Magdalen College of the University of Oxford) are portions of the Gospel according to Matthew.  They shot to public fame as recently as 1994, when The Times newspaper reported that Carsten Peter Thiede, a paleographer (expert in handwriting) had re-dated the fragments to the first century, providing ‘the first material evidence that the Gospel according to St Matthew is an eyewitness account written by contemporaries of Christ’. If Thiede was correct, they would be the oldest surviving text of the New Testament and pieces of a codex. Thiede’s claim, elaborated upon in 1995 in a scholarly article and a best-selling book, has prompted much discussion - even if it has not been widely accepted by the academic community.  

I am certainly not in a position to give an accurate number - and I doubt if there is anyone who is!  The important thing is that, compared to other ancient documents, the New Testament is, using all of the accepted tests, the most trustworthy of all. The notes that I carry in one of my copies of the Bible refer to more that 13,000 - although I have a vague thought in the back of my mind that the figure is now closer to 19,000 copies and fragments.

I hope that I have not merely "muddied the waters" for you.  Do check McDowall again, as I suspect that you may have misread something!

Blessings, and shalom.

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Rev C.Brian Ross


I am happy to offer answers to anyone with a question that refers to the Christian Faith in its widest possible sense. I believe that the Bible is the living Word of God, and seek to base all of my life on its teaching. I also have some knowledge of some of the cults, and of Islam and Judaism. Of course, my answers are just one man's thoughts, and I would always advise a questioner to check with others, and with the Word of God.


Served as a full-time parish minister in Scotland for about six years, and then spent the last thirty as a teacher (now 'retired') of Religious Education in Secondary Comprehensive schools (ages 11-17) while continuing my own preaching and teaching ministry. I have spent three years as a voluntary Chaplain with Strathclyde Police Force. I also believe that learning is a life-time process, and have recently completed a Master's degree in Divinity. I now spend most of my time in France, ministering mainly to English-speaking groups.

Former Presenter on Revival FM - a local Christian, community radio station, broadcasting in west central Scotland, and online at Involved with a number of organisations that support Christians who are currently suffering persecution in some 70 countries around the world. Until the formation of the new Police Scotland Force, I was a Chaplain with Strathclyde Police Force, deployed within 'Q' and 'N' Divisions, and also responsible for the Force Training and Recruitment Centre.

Various articles in Christian magazines. I also maintain a blog - My first book, Great Words of the Faith, is available as a Kindle e-book at My second book, Foundations of the Faith, is available as a Kindle e-book at*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Diploma of The Bible Training Institute, Glasgow; Licentiate in Theology of the University of Glasgow; Associateship of The Philosophical Society of England; Bachelor of Arts Degree (Hons) in History from The Open University; Post-grad Certificate of Education - Religious Education and History; Post-grad Certificate in Learning and Teaching; Post-grad Diploma in Management and Learning in Education; Master of Science Degree from the University of Strathclyde; Master of Divinity Degree (with Distinction) from Trinity College and Seminary (accredited by the University of Liverpool)

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