What authority do the manuscripts hold on the evaluation of the evidence?
There are a handful of arguments that are used by Christians, which refer to the biblical manuscripts as a whole. They usually contain information that is accurate, but the arguments themselves are often flawed, irrelevant, or misleading. For instance, Christians usually begin by pointing out the superiority of their manuscripts in both number and proximity compared to other ancient manuscripts, which are claiming to be historical events. They add to this by also claiming that the scribes tried to adhere to strict rules when making the copies of the biblical manuscripts. Every one of these claims are true. In fact, there are over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence today, which dwarfs the amount of other ancient manuscripts. At this point, Christians will usually claim that their critics are being bias and hypocritical by doubting the validity if the Christian manuscripts, yet accepting secular manuscripts which are even further removed from their events.
This is a fallacious argument for a few reasons. First of all, it does not matter whether manuscripts are 100 years removed or 1,000 years removed from the events they are claiming or whether there are 24,000 manuscripts or just 2 of them, if they are far enough removed from the events alleged or if they come from an unknown source, they would all equally be deemed hearsay. Even if they dated to the exact date, they would still need to come from a known source and be supported by other outside sources.
Secondly, the argument that is used is not equivalent, which makes it a false analogy. The obvious difference is that secular manuscripts are not making claims of miracles or claiming to be the “word of God”. Of course, you can’t dismiss a claim simply because it includes a miracle, but to support a claim like that and expect someone to reasonably believe it, one would need to provide evidence at a level much higher than that of hearsay. If the secular manuscripts claimed miracles In them, I believe that they would also be doubted and their burden of proof would likewise raise to a much higher degree. It is also important to remember that copying manuscripts over many years (even to perfection) does absolutely nothing to help in determining whether the events within them are accurate history or not, which would make it irrelevant to our examination. I suspect that Christians know these arguments are invalid, but they are forced to use them when they are trying to convince both themselves and others to hold the illogical belief that hearsay is considered strong and convincing evidence.
The most common claim that is made by Christians is that the Bible was written by 40 men. Over 3500 years, and they state this as fact. Does the evidence support this? No. they can say they believe it was, but if we are having a discussion about evidence, speculation should not be included. The following is a compilation of the evidence I could find regarding the biblical manuscripts and which many Christian, as well as non-Christian scholars have agreed upon. If any statements are not accurate, please correct me and let me know where I can find the information. I’m always open to learning the latest discoveries and to reevaluate my position. In this section, I will only be referring to manuscript evidence and any other forms of evidence will be addressed in other sections.