In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a man by the name of Constantin Tischendorf identified a papyrus fragment as containing a portion of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. The fragment (later cataloged by scholars as p11) was estimated to have been from a document copied between the fifth and seventh centuries. This was the first fragment to come to be mentioned in translation notes in a modern published version of that time. Only Codex versions had previously been considered for mention in noting textual variations.
The other leading translators of that day, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, never appealed to fragments but leaned upon the two Codex versions they had discovered: Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. These two documents are the oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament, both dating into the fourth century. Vaticanus is considered a full manuscript, though it is missing some controversial passages, and Sinaiticus is complete into the ninth chapter of Hebrews.
In the 1890’s, B. P. Crenfell, A. S. Hunt, and Adolph Deissmann, among others, also discovered collections of fragments at various sites within Egypt. As had been the case with p11, the Greek writing found in these pieces turned out to be identical to the type of writing found in the existing Codex versions of the various New Testament manuscripts.
These fragments and the many finds since were responsible for the movement of the scholars away from the theory that the letters and books of the New Testament had originally been penned in classical Greek. Rather the language and writing was the language of commerce and daily life used throughout the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, beginning after Alexander’s conquests, and ending sometime after the fall of the Empire in 476. This form of Greek is known as koine dialektos. The Greek of the New Testament has henceforth been known as Koine Greek. And the translators and scholars from the early twentieth century onward recognized this and commenced to study its distinctions in words and applications.
Since the identification of p11 thousands of additional New Testament fragments have been cataloged. The very earliest of these is dated to prior to the end of the first quarter of the second century. This places the verification of the larger part of the original language of the New Testament writings, and therefore, the general accuracy of translations, to within the lifetimes of those disciples who were alive in the last half of the first century. While there are no autographs of the ancient texts extant; this is the next best thing as concerns historical referencing and linguistics. The detail and complexity of the text can be and has been assessed by comparison of the various fragments to the Codex versions, then to the Modern Greek texts, and also to how it all compares to passages quoted by early historians and writers such as Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin, Eusebius, and the like. Most of the New Testament had been quoted by the early writers.
The point is that the overwhelming majority of the New Testament stands verified today to be as it was when it had first been compiled. It retains its original state beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt. It is also verified as a product of its times, and not as some later fabrication. The assembled Greek texts available today are an excellent representation of the originals. Therefore we can view the earliest text through these historical evidences. Scholarship and history have allowed authentication of the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ and the letters of the apostles and disciples. No other ancient text is able to rise to this level of accuracy through comparison to archaeological evidences and authorities. There are thousands of copies and fragments now available for academic scrutiny and study. There is also no doubt as to the accuracy and history of the Word of God.
I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it that men should fear before Him. (Ecclesiastes 3: 14)
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrew 4:12 – 16)