We can judge the reliability of the history of the New Testament by comparing its manuscript value to the manuscript value of classical histories which are generally received as authentic. It is only fair that the New Testament receive the same consideration as other writings from antiquity. This is what we have for some of the classical histories:
1. Caesar’s Gallic Wars (by Julius Caesar) written c. B.C. 58-50. There are no originals and the oldest copies come from about the ninth century A.D.
2. The Roman history of Livy c. B.C. 59-17 A.D. Of the 142 books originally written, only thirty-five survive in some twenty manuscript copies, the oldest coming to us from the fourth century.
3. The histories and annals of Tacitus were composed around 100 A.D. Gaps of from 800 to 1000 years exist from the original writings to the few copies in our hand.
4. The history of Thucydides written c. B.C. 460-400 comes from eight manuscript copies, the earliest being from about 900 A.D.
5. The history of Herodotus written about B.C. 480-425 has about the same manuscript attestation as that of Thucydides.
And for the New Testament:
There are presently in existence about 5,000 copies of the Greek New Testament in whole or in part. The oldest and most reliable of these date from about 350 A.D. But even earlier than those manuscripts we have the writings of the apostolic fathers written from about 90-160 A.D. In these writings there are quotations from almost all of the books of the New Testament, showing that these books were already in circulation among the churches before the end of the first century. These authors do not seek to convince the readers by emotionalism, but by an appeal to the intelligence. As one person observed: “If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”