This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.
How do we know that all of the original manuscripts have already been found?
I didn’t get to answer this one on Sunday, but the answer is simple. None of the original manuscripts have been found. Sadly, the oldest shred of any manuscript we have is a fragment from the gospel of John that dates to about 100-120 AD. It’s theoretically possible that John himself wrote that fragment since he died around 90 AD, but it’s highly unlikely. What we have are so many thousands of copies, versions, translations, and commentaries that we can reconstruct the originals with a high degree of certainty.
However, this question actually hides a different issue. It really touches on the question of whether we have all the books that should be in the Bible. Were other books written that were “lost”? In truth, there are a number of lost books. The apostle Paul claims to have written about four letters to the church in Corinth, but we only have two. There is a letter to the church in Laodicea, but we don’t have any letters addressed to them from Paul. Matthew and Luke appear to share a common literary source that scholars call Q, but we don’t have any copies of that document.
So if we know there are other documents, how can we be sure the Bible we have today is “complete”? If we found one of these lost letters to the Corinthians, would we add it into the Bible?
The short answer to all those questions is that none of the books lost to history were important enough for people to save them. No one back then considered them Scripture or else they would have been treated like the other documents considered to be Scripture. Therefore, if the Apostles didn’t think Q was worth keeping once they had Matthew and Luke, neither should we. If the Apostles didn’t think 3 Corinthians was worth keeping, neither should we.
We should have great confidence that what we have in our Bibles today is exactly what the first century church under Apostolic authority deemed to be everything Scriptural.