Does the original Bible exist today? What are some of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible currently in existence?
The Bible is not a single work but rather an anthology of 66 books written by approximately 40 authors over a 1,400-year period that ended nearly 2,000 years ago. As such, the original copies of these works have not lasted to today, though a large number of early copies allow us to reconstruct the text as it stood in its earliest form.
For example, the Old Testament was written from the time of Moses (approximately 1400 BC) until the time of Ezra (approximately 400 BC). Copies of most Old Testament books have been preserved from as early as the second century BC in the finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Numerous Old Testament books have also been preserved in the ancient Cairo Geniza from the first century AD. Codex Cairensis includes the Prophets and is dated 895. The Aleppo Codex includes most of the Old Testament and dates from the 930s. The first full Old Testament manuscript in Hebrew, the Leningrad Codex (dated 1008), is over 1,000 years old.
In addition, the entire Old Testament was translated into Greek in the second century BC in a work known as the Septuagint. It is clear from this translation that the complete Old Testament had been compiled prior to this time and that the text is essentially the same as it stood during this period 2,200 years ago, just 200 years after the completion of the final Old Testament book!
The New Testament includes even more textual evidence to support its accuracy. Its 27 books were composed between the AD 40s-90s. A fragment of the Gospel of John exists from approximately AD 125. More than 5,000 Greek manuscripts exist of New Testament writings, enabling comparison to allow a comprehensive reconstruction of the earliest text. The first complete New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, dates to the mid fourth century (325-360) and reveals that the New Testament writings had been in circulation as a group long before this time.
Further, early church leaders frequently quoted the New Testament's writings in their own works. Clement of Rome, for example, wrote in the late first century and cites many of the Gospels and Paul's writings. A harmony of the four Gospels existed in the second century.
In summary, while the original manuscripts of Scripture are no longer in existence, ample copies from early times exist to provide confidence that the text that exists today is what was originally composed.
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