Statesboro, GA, USA
This is an exhaustive subject, and I’ll have to go slow, taking one thing at a time. I do want to address some of your other points. But I want to take the one about the absence of autographs first...
Stephanos: It's my opinion that those theories have been pretty much dismantled, but I would like to hear your views on them ... and allow me to ask questions.
Aenimal: Some perhaps but not all. Until original transcripts or historical documents are found the questions will always remain. A most important resource would be the release of the full Qumran material. But after 50 years, access is still severely limited to scholars and the care and control of material in the hands of the wrong people. But that's another discussion
I was wondering if you could clarify what you meant by: "Until original manuscripts or historical documents are found, questions will always remain". Are you suggesting that unless the actual autographs are found, we can't appreciate a text as "historical"? That criteria would be true of no ancient literature that I am aware of.
There are three basic tests of historiography.
1) The bibliographical test
2) The internal evidence test
3) The external evidence test
Your doubt of the textual integrity of the New Testament, because of an absence of the autographs (original manuscripts) is best addressed by the bibliographical test. This test basically determines reliability based upon two questions 1) How many manuscripts are there?, and 2) What is the time interval between the original writing and the current copies?
I have no problem with you choosing to doubt the integrity of the NT based upon the absence of the autographs. But if you do so, I just want you to know that this is actually where the New Testament is the sturdiest among other ancient writings. Few scholars, if any, try to falsify the New Testament on these grounds. Let me explain ...
There is no other ancient text which has more manuscripts. And there is no other ancient text where the existing manuscripts are so close to the originals. There are now close to 25,000 partial and complete manuscripts of the New Testament. Homer’s Iliad, in second place, boasts about 640. The earliest copies we have of the New Testament are of the 3rd/ 4th centuries, which far exceeds any classical literature in proximity to the originals. For example, the first complete text of Homer dates from abouth the 13th century.
The following quotes explain this in further detail ...
"Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar's Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 BC) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some goo years later than Caesar's day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. AD 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of has two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant MSS of his minor works (Dialogue dc Oratoribus, Agricola, Gcrmania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to c. AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-428 BC). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals.
But how different is the situation of the New Testament in this respect! In addition to the two excellent MSS of the fourth century mentioned above, which are the earliest of some thousands known to us, considerable fragments remain of papyrus copies of books of the New Testament dated from 100 to 200 years earlier still. The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, the existence of which was made public in 1931, consist of portions of eleven papyrus codices, three of which contained most of the New Testament writings. One of these, containing the four Gospels with Acts, belongs to the first half of the third century; another, containing Paul's letters to churches and the Epistle to the Hebrews, was copied at the beginning of the third century; the third, containing Revelation, belongs to the second half of the same century." (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents)
"... besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors ... In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century- say from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poet’s death." (Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the NT)
So my first question to you, before we proceed to questions of internal and external evidences, is: Do you hold the same standard (necessity of originals) to other widely accepted ancient works, before you consider them to be authentic?