These four criteria reveal that absolutely no original New Testament manuscripts have been discovered. So, let’s do a little speculating. What if some manuscripts were found that did fit all of these criteria? Should we regard them as authentic, as the long-lost originals of the books of the New Testament? Not necessarily. If such a manuscript were discovered ”a single book, written on a scroll, paleographically dated to the first century, with a change in handwriting toward the end of the book" it could possibly be a very early copy of a New Testament book. The strongest argument for authenticity would be the change in handwriting, yet even here some scribe could emulate the apostle’s style out of respect or to show how carefully the original was copied. I would probably want to see two or perhaps even three or four other evidences of authenticity.

First, the manuscript would almost surely have to be written on papyrus rather than on parchment. Although parchment manuscripts existed prior to the New Testament, they didn’t become the standard until the third or fourth century AD. All second-century New Testament manuscripts are on papyrus, for example, as are most third- and fourth-century manuscripts.

Second, I might expect to see scribal mistakes in the manuscript, but also see corrections. This would especially be more likely in the longer letters. We know of no New Testament manuscripts of any real length that have no mistakes in them. If the original of Romans were discovered, for example, I would expect to see some letter crossed out in Rom 5.1 and another put in its place. I am hoping that the crossed out letter would be an omega and the one written in its place an omicron, but that story’s for another day. I might expect to see a correction in 1 Thess 2.7 and 1 Cor 14.34-35, too. Again, the details of these points are for another time. But one thing I should mention here: if the original documents were inerrant, this does not mean that they weren’t messy! Paul could have easily corrected his secretary’s work here and there before the letter was dispatched. In the places mentioned above, I expect that it exactly what happened.

Third, what I might expect is the lack of nomina sacra. That is, special contractions of various "sacred" names that are found universally in the New Testament manuscripts. Names such as God, Jesus, Christ, Father, mother, David, son, man, Spirit, etc. are usually contracted with a horizontal bar over the top in NT manuscripts. The earliest manuscripts that have these words contract them. Several theories have been presented as to why the early Christians used nomina sacra, but no theory has won a consensus among scholars. However, one thing seems certain: from a very early period, Christian scribes throughout the Roman empire used them. Since this is the case, it presupposes that the early manuscripts produced by these scribes had a common ancestoror, at least, a common understanding among the scribes. We don’t have a word about the nomina sacra in the ancient Christian literature that would tell us when or why they were used. But since the manuscripts from geographically widespread regions and from early dates have them, some sort of agreement among scribes must have been reached, probably as early as the beginning of the second century. This raises a question: Who invented the nomina sacra and when did he do so? One distinct possibility seems to be that one of the original authors of the New Testament began using them, and the scribes picked up on this and spread the habit across the board. For this reason, we would not necessarily say that an original manuscript would be without the nomina sacra; on the other hand, if a manuscript lacked them this would not necessarily argue for it being an original , although it would argue for it being very, very early.

Fourth, what I might expect to see is cursive script. Cursive handwriting is a running hand, with the letters connected, rather than a block hand. In other words, cursive is different from printing by hand. In the ancient Greek world, the difference is also maintained. However, for New Testament manuscripts, the earliest cursive or minuscule manuscript known to exist is from the ninth century. All of the manuscripts from the first eight centuries are in uncials or majuscules or capital letters. So, why would I almost expect to see the original as a cursive manuscript? Because the cursive script was not invented in the ninth century, but had existed long before the original New Testament was written. Let me explain.

The kind of script used then is somewhat analogous to today. When you fill out that nasty little form for the government every April, you are asked to "PLEASE PRINT." The reason is that the IRS wants your handwriting to be crystal clear. You comply because, well, they’re the IRS. But if you write a note to your spouse, do you print? Probably not. Your spouse can understand your handwriting. Or when a doctor fills out a prescription, can anyone read the handwriting? Yet that same physician will print legibly for the IRS. What I’m saying is that in different contexts, the very same person may use different styles of handwriting, cursive or printing. Often it has to do with a matter of "rank." The doctor is acting authoritatively in his capacity as a physician when he writes the prescription. If you are writing to an employee, you might be less careful than if you were writing to an employer. Of course, nowadays the sloppiness factor is more related to spelling in an email than to handwriting of any sort! But the principle is the same. And it works for ancient papyri, too. Many letters from a citizen to the government used uncial script. But those written by superiors or relatives frequently used cursive. I do not know how frequent either hand is, but I have at least seen this sort of pattern on numerous occasions.

That brings us back to the New Testament. What sort of books would have been originally written in capital letters and what sort would have been written in cursive? I’ll let you exercise your own imagination on that front. A second question is, Why are all the New Testament manuscripts from the first eight centuries written in uncial script rather than cursive?

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