Today’s Facebook picture-text polemic comes to us by way of the Facebook page “Philosophical Atheism” (hereinafter abbreviated “PA”). Let’s begin by noting that this polemic, as opposed to others that I have analyzed, actually bothers to gesture towards evidence. The bottom-most line of the image reads:
The first source resolves to the article “Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts,” by Peter van Minnen. The second reference redirects to “A Brief History of the King James Bible,” Laurence M. Vance. We will turn to these authors as we examine PA’s claims.
CLAIM: “The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England.”
REPLY: This is far from the whole story. According to Paul Wegner’s The Journey From Texts to Translations, the King James Version was produced by “54 translators – most of the leading classical and oriental scholars of the day and some laymen.”
Even PA’s own cited second source, Vance, writes: “Although fifty-four men were nominated, only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translators were organized into six groups, and met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.”
The eminent translators included Laurence Chaderton and Thomas Harrison, who were Puritans, and therefore certainly not straightforwardly “members of the Church of England” - at least in the sense of mainstream Anglicans. (They were a reforming element therein and arrayed themselves against the "old guard" Anglicans.) Yet, in fact, the Puritan John Rainolds is often credited as having initiated the project that later – if colloquially – became known as the “King James Version.”
Wegner also helpfully establishes some historical context. “England experienced a time of great reform and growth during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). …Bible translation was freely tolerated, giving rise to several new translations – the Bishop’s Bible (1568), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Douay-Rheims Bible (1609-10). …Great strides in scholarship in general were made, achieving a high standard of excellence, and it was within this historical context that the King James Version was born.”
This context is important at least because it shows that the scholarship that produced the King James Version was, for its time, first-rate. The translators primarily followed the Greek New Testament tradition as it had been transmitted in what was called the Textus Receptus (the “Received Text”) – a text that had its roots in the work of Lucian of Antioch, on whom St. Jerome had drawn for the Latin Vulgate.
Again, PA seems not to have noticed that its own second cited source, Vance, declared:
“The Authorized Version eclipsed all previous versions of the Bible. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. Subsequent versions of the Bible were likewise eclipsed, for the Authorized Version was the Bible until the advent of the Revised Version and ensuing modern translations. It is still accepted as such by its defenders, and recognized as so by its detractors. Alexander Geddes (d. 1802), a Roman Catholic priest, who in 1792 issued the first colume of his own translation of the Bible, accordingly paid tribute to the Bible of his time:
“‘The highest eulogiums have been made on the translation of James the First, both by our own writers and by foreigners. And, indeed, if accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general, be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every work, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed, either in the text, or margin, with the greatest precision.’”
CLAIM: “There were (and still are) no original texts to translate.”
REPLY: This claim equivocates on the phrase “original texts.” One could be designating the abstract ideas that the New Testament authors articulated, or one could be referring to the physical manuscripts upon which those ideas were first fixed (or both). We need to disentangle these two senses – call the ideas “propositional content” and the physical stuff the “papyrus container” – since it is possible to have one without the other.
We could, for instance, possess the original, physical papyrus upon which the authentic propositional content had been written originally. Term this “Situation 1.” We would have this if we possessed the original papyruses, but found that they had been defaced sometime after being inscribed. Such papyruses might not even be recognizable as the original, physical “containers.” We see, then, that Situation 1 would be worthless, epistemically.
Alternatively, we could have the authentic propositional content that the biblical authors communicated without having access to its original, physical container. This would be the case, for example, if the authentic propositional content had been copied, memorized, or otherwise preserved apart from the protection of the original papyrus. Call this “Situation 2.”
In fact, Situation 2 is arguably – and, from a textual-critical standpoint, pretty obviously – what obtains. After all, PA admits that we have 8,000 manuscript copies.
Consider that PA’s first cited author, Peter van Minnen, begins with this sentence: “The New Testament text we read in our English Bibles is based on the original Greek text.”
To put it another way, the absence of the original papyruses, or autographa, does not in the least undermine the textual reliability of the New Testament because the authentic propositional content has been preserved and transmitted to us.
Van Minnen goes on to state that all of the extant “manuscripts are mere copies, and the great majority of them are copies of copies,” but he stresses that “ultimately they all derive from the originals.”
Both the Christian community and the scientists involved in textual criticism concur: the derivative texts that we possess are good enough.
CLAIM: “The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died.”
REPLY: Again, we have an ambiguity here. The problematic phrase is “the oldest manuscripts.”
The difficulty is that the manuscript evidence is not all-or-nothing. Although the actual state-of-affairs is complicated, for our purposes let us say that manuscripts may be either full (that is, containing the entire New Testament) or partial (that is, containing only a part of the New Testament).
Our total set of evidence includes two proper subsets, then: the subset of full manuscripts and the subset of partial manuscripts. What are the oldest manuscripts in each?
Before we answer, it is crucial to remember that, prior to the 4th century, Christianity was often effectively (if not always-and-everywhere literally) outlawed. Creating a full manuscript, particularly of a text as lengthy as the New Testament, would have been a substantial undertaking in the ancient world. To say that there are no full manuscripts that date to earlier than the 4th century is simply to say that, prior to the 4th century, Christians, circumscribed globally and sporadically persecuted provincially, lacked the resources to produce a complete New Testament codex.
However, this understandable deficit of pre-4th-century full manuscripts – due to the shortcomings in pre-4th-century Christian capabilities and resources – does not imply that there are no extant partial manuscripts. Indeed, there are.
Of especial importance is the early 2nd-century manuscript fragment known as p52. Although it is only a scrap, its existence both verifies the fidelity of portions of chapter 18 from the Gospel of John, and demonstrates that our total manuscript evidence extends all the way back to just a few decades after the death of the last apostle. In the case of p52, which is often dated to around AD 125, we have a manuscript fragment that dates to only 30 or 40 years after the death of St. John.
PA seems not to have noticed that its primary source, Van Minnen, wrote: “The earliest papyrus manuscripts come very close to the time when the New Testament was written. …For almost all New Testament books we now have manuscripts earlier than the fourth century.”
Hence, PA’s claim can be rewritten as follows: “The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 30-40 years after the last apostle died.”
That’s what textual critics call spectacular early evidence. And p52 is not the only such early fragment. Other probable-2nd-century partial manuscripts include p4 (containing the Gospel of Luke, chapters 1-6), p75 (Luke chapter 3 and John chapters 1-15), p90 (John chapters 18 & 19), p98 (the Book of Revelation chapter 1), and p104 (the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21). And these are only the 2nd-century manuscripts. Dozens more date from the 3rd century.
CLAIM: “There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts…”
REPLY: It is vital to appreciate that the possession of 8,000 manuscripts is unequivocally a good thing.
To put things into perspective, “[f]or Caesar’s Gallic War (ca. 50 B.C.) there are only nine or ten good manuscripts, and the oldest dates from 900 years after the events it records. Only thirty-five of Livy’s 42 books of Roman history survive, in about 20 manuscripts, only one of which is as old as the fourth century. Of Tacitus’s fourteen books of Roman history, we have only four and one-half, in two manuscripts dating from the ninth and eleventh centuries.”
By contrast, the textual basis for the New Testament is positively astounding.
“In the original Greek alone, over 5,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of portions of the N[ew]T[estament] have been preserved from the early centuries of Christianity. …Scholars of almost every theological stripe attest to the profound care with which the NT books were copied in the Greek language, and later translated and preserved in Syriac, Coptic, Latin and a variety of other ancient European and Middle Eastern languages. …
“The point is simply that the textual evidence for what the NT authors wrote far outstrips the documentation we have for any other ancient writing, including dozens which we believe have been preserved relatively intact. There is absolutely no support for claims that the standard modern editions of the Greek NT do not very closely approximate what the NT writers actually wrote.”
To punctuate this point, look back at the textual base for Gallic Wars. Few if any scholars would seriously contend that we do not have substantially the original contents of Gallic Wars even though the text we possess rests only on ten (10) manuscripts. But then, a fortiori, we cannot reasonably question the fidelity to the originals of the New Testament when the New Testament rests on a base of 8,000 manuscripts!
CLAIM: Concerning this rich textual evidence of “…over 8,000 …old manuscripts, …no two [are] alike.”
REPLY: First we have to get clear on just what standard is being assumed for “alikeness.” Is it permissible that two statements express the same proposition, or must they be tokens of the exact same sentence type? For example, are these two sentences “alike”?
1. Johnny engaged an attorney when he was swindled out of his sofa.
2. Johnny contracted a lawyer when he was cheated out of his couch.
What about considerations such as grammatical voice? Are these “alike”?
3. Johnny hired a lawyer.
4. A lawyer was hired by Johnny.
What about minor typological errors? Are these “alike”?
5. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
6. The quick brown fox jumpt over the lazy dog.
7. The speedy brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
8. The quick brown fox fox jumped over the lazy dog.
9. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog
10. The fox jumped over the dog.
The reader who thinks these questions are simply picking nits has probably never considered that the preponderance of textual “differences” are no more weighty or interesting than those illustrated by statements 1-10 above.
“All kinds of minor variations distinguish …[the New Testament] manuscripts from one another, but the vast majority of these variations have to do with changes in spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of words of phrases. Only about 400 (less than one per page of English translation) have any significant bearing on the meaning of the passage [in question], and most of these are noted in the footnotes or margins of modern translations and editions of Scripture (unlike the K[ing]J[ames]V[ersion]). …
“But overall, 97-99% of the NT can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages.”
Consider this illustration. Suppose that a professor delivers a lecture to a class of one hundred students, from his typed notes. Suppose that each of the one hundred students themselves takes some sort of hand-written or typed notes. Finally, suppose that the professor leaves his briefcase on top of his car’s roof and drives away, losing his case and his notes. The idea is that the professor’s original notes could be reconstructed from the students’ notes.
Plausibly, each student would have recorded slightly different points. Some will contain spelling errors. Some of the points will have been recorded in a time-order that differs from the order in which the notes were delivered. However, if the notes from the one hundred students could be collected, compared, and contrasted, the original notes could be approximated. Indeed, the greater the number of students, the greater the number of lecture-note copies. And the greater the number of lecture-note copies, the more one has to work with in piecing together the professor’s original notes. If we add in the factor that the students are intentionally trying to maximize fidelity – which the original Christian copyists were – then the chances of total recovery get even better.
This, mutatis mutandis, is what textual critics do. And with 8,000+ manuscripts to work with, each generated by copyists that were by and large trying to maximize fidelity to the originals with which they worked, it is no wonder why Blomberg relates that most scholars hold that we can be supremely confident that the contents of modern New Testaments very closely approximate what the biblical authors wrote.
CLAIM: “The King James translators used none of these, anyway. Instead, they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve.”
This is not a fair assessment. Of course, in 1611: “Textual criticism was still in its infancy…”. Hence, whether “King-James-Only advocates” like it or not, it is true that the original 1611 version of the King James Version is not going to be as textually reliable as a modern New Testament edition that takes cognizance of input from the science of textual criticism.
Still, the translators of the Authorised Version in 1611 made use of then then-existing, proto-critical texts that had been cobbled together by such pioneering thinkers as the famed Dutch Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus, French printer Robert Stephens, and the French Reformer Theodore Beza.
Beside this partial dependence upon a Catholic-compiled Greek text, we have already noted that the project was spearheaded by a Puritan. Of course, being virtually bankrolled by the government, the final product would have to receive its ultimate approval. However, not being linguists, theologians, or translators, it is likely that both King James and the various parliamentarians would have deferred to the committee of translators on the issue of the adequacy of the translation.
SUMMARY OF CLAIMS: “So, 21st Century [sic] Christians believe the ‘Word of God’ is a book edited in the 17th Century from 16th Century [sic] translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th Century [sic] scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st Century. That’s not faith. That’s insanity.”
SUMMARY OF REPLIES: The crux of this particular polemical picture-text seems to be that the textual reliability of the New Testament is a necessary condition for the New Testament’s being the word of God. However, the picture-text asserts that the New Testament is not textually reliable. From this it would follow that the New Testament is not the word of God.
Of course, I have nowhere argued that the New Testament’s being textually reliable is sufficient to demonstrate that it is the Word of God. However, PA’s argument is fairly interpreted to be an argument that textual reliability is a necessary condition of the New Testament’s being the Word of God. Contrary to PA, I have argued that this necessary condition is fulfilled.
The necessary condition is not just barely fulfilled. With hundreds of times more pieces of textual evidence than selected works like Caesar’s Gallic Wars and the writings of Roman historians like Livy and Tacitus – none of which works have their authenticity questioned – the New Testament is in a class of its own, textually. In fact, the New Testament has better textual support than any ancient book on any topic whatever.
The 8,000+ New Testament copies and fragments include partial manuscripts that may be reliably dated to within 30-40 years after the end of the apostolic period. Scientists working in the field of textual criticism generally agree that the New Testament is textually reliable. Really, there is no debate on this point.
 Duke Univ., dated Dec. 12, 1995, and online at <http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/papyrus/texts/manuscripts.html>.
 Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004, p. 307, <https://books.google.com/books?id=kkVFOTsBOAEC&pg=PA307>.
 Loc. cit.
 Gordon Campbell writes that “…John Rainolds, the leader of the puritan delegation to the Hampton Court Conference[,] …had successfully argued the case for a new Bible…,” Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611 — 2011, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010, p. 51.
 Ibid. Wegner: “A new air of toleration and freedom ensued when Elizabeth reversed the pro-Catholic policies of Mary I; England’s growing political force led to the stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. … Rapid literary growth gave rise to such notable English figures as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599, known in his time as the prince of poets), Philip Sidney (1554-1586, poet), Francis Bacon (1561-1626, philosopher, statesman, and essayist), Richard Hooker (1553-1600, theologians, best-known for the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity), Ben Jonson (1572-1637, dramatist), and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593, the father of English tragedy).”
 It is true that the text was sponsored by the King James and the Hampton Court Conference (1604) in order to try “to bridge the ever-widening gap between the translations rendered by Anglicans and those following Puritan or Reformed traditions…”, Wegner, loc. cit. But this need not imply that the King James Version would be politicized. It could equally well be argued that the “Authorized Version,” which is what the King James Version was called, would strive to neutralize the sectarian translations just mentioned.
 Loc. cit.
 Of course, orthodox Christians would add that the human authors wrote under divine inspiration. However, this is tangential to the present line of inquiry.
 Additionally, though PA does not mention it, we also know of the existence of a community that preserved the substance of the apostolic teaching orally – even through the intense persecutions of the 2nd century.
 Loc. cit. Emphasis added.
 Some commentators have added that God may have providentially prevented the autographa from being preserved. While I will not defend this idea here, it is not altogether implausible. After all, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that, were the autographa available, they would have become totems, or objects of worship. But this is certainly anathema to the idea that God alone is worthy of worship.
 Loc. cit. Emphasis added.
 The codex was a kind of forerunner to the book, written on parchment or vellum. In the case of these manuscripts, the codices in question were written in all capital letters (majuscule), yielding a text-type called an “uncial.”
 Other important, and only slightly later, uncial manuscripts include Codices Alexandrinus (A, 02), Ephraemi Rescriptus (C, 04), and Bezæ (D, 05).
 These were actually papyrus.
 Loc. cit.
 Craig L. Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Rev. Ed., Wheaton, Ill.” Crossway, 1994, p. 194; citing F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1960, p. 16.
 Again, the New Testament has over 5,000 manuscripts in the Greek language alone. When Latin and Coptic versions are added into the mix, the manuscript total skyrockets to around 20,000.
 Blomberg, op. cit., pp. 193 & 194. Emphasis added.
 We have 8 manuscripts for Thucydides’ History and 8, also, for Herodotus’ History.
 Don’t misunderstand. The point of citing of the textual evidence for the New Testament is not to say that, based upon the vastly superior textual-critical foundation of the New Testament vis-à-vis other ancient texts, the resurrection account is, in virtual of the unparalleled textual evidence alone, shown to be veridical. The point is, rather, that because of the vast textual evidence, we can say with a high degree of certitude that the New Testament that we possess today contains the texts as they were written, by their original authors. Evidencing of the veridicality of the resurrection occurs by other means – which I have touched upon elsewhere.
 That makes the textual support for the New Testament 80,000% better than the support for the Gallic Wars.
 Blomberg, op. cit., p. 194. Emphasis added.
 Interestingly, the The Blue and Brown Books attributed to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein are in something of a similar situation to this. “The Blue and Brown Books are two sets of notes taken during lectures conducted by Ludwig Wittgenstein between 1933 and 1935. They were mimeographed as two separated books and a few copies were circulated in a restricted circle during Wittgenstein's lifetime. …The lecture notes from 1933–4 were bound in blue cloth and the notes dictated in 1934–5 were bound in brown. Rush Rhees published them together for the first time in 1958 as Preliminary Studies for the ‘Philosophical Investigations.’ …” “The Blue and Brown Books,” Wikipedia, Jul. 1, 2016, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_and_Brown_Books>.
 Think, again, of sentences 5-10. Suppose that this had been among one of the sentences spoken by the professor. Even if one student (or a handful) had erroneously written:
11. The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy fox.
This error would have been detectable in virtue of the likelihood that the majority of note-takers who recorded the sentence, would probably have recorded it correctly.
 True, Van Minnen writes: “Until the nineteenth century New Testament scholars and translators availed themselves only sparingly of other manuscripts.” Loc. cit. And Van Minnen notes that this situation did not change much until “the work of the German scholar Constantin Tischendorf,” ibid.
But two things must be kept in mind. Number one, “sparingly” is not the same as “not at all.” As I will show, the King James Version did avail itself of critical editions that preceded it. Number two, Van Minnen’s judgments, here, are comparative. Compared to modern translations, yes, the King James Version used manuscripts “sparingly.” However, compared to other editions contemporary with it, the King James Version was a real monument to scholarship. Credit needs to be given where it is due.
 Alexander Roberts, Companion to the Revised Version of the New Testament: Explaining the Reasons for the Changes Made on the Authorized Version, New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, & Co., 1881, p. 43, <https://books.google.com/books?id=maA9AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA43>. And “the materials for it had not [yet] been [fully] gathered, the principles of the science had not been studied, and the labours of Mill, Bentley,s Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and other great scholars, to secure the purity of the text of the New Testament, were as yet unheard of, and only to be put forth in the course of many future generations,” ibid.
 The King James Version did go through several printings. Additionally, there was a substantial revision in 1769. Finally, a critical edition, known as the New King James Version was compiled between 1979 and 1982 and is now widely available.
 See Erasmus’s editions (Basle: Froben, 1516; Venice: Aldus, 1518; self-publ., 1519; 1522; 1527; and 1535), the latter of which took account of the so-called Complutensian Edition, ibid., pp. 37-38.
 See Stephens editions (1546 and 1549), based partly on “manuscripts in the Royal Library, and …[on] the Complutensian text,” ibid., p. 38.
 See Beza’s editions (1565, 1576, 1582, 1589, and 1598), ibid., p. 39.
 PA’s second source, Vance, quotes King James to this effect. “I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by he best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.” Loc. cit.
 Bear in mind that, during the 17th century, a rift was forming between the king and parliament. This would issue in the English Civil War and, eventually, the execution, by order of parliament, of King Charles I.
 PA’s argument could be formalized this way. Premise 1: If the New Testament is the Word of God, then the New Testament is textually reliable. But, Premise 2: The New Testament is not textually reliable. Conclusion: Therefore, the New Testament is not the Word of God. The argument is deductively valid. However, Premise 1 is open to criticism. I have not undertaken this project here. Rather, I have argued that Premise 2 is false. The New Testament is textually reliable. If I am correct about this, PA’s argument fails.
As an aside, astute readers will no doubt have noticed that the lines "That's not faith. That's insanity." do not appear on the version of the picture-text that I installed atop this page. This in itself is an interesting exercise in textual criticism. It suggests that this polemic has been edited by one or more parties as it has assumed its role as an internet "meme."