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Home » The Science of Textual Criticism – to see if the Bible is corrupted or not

The Science of Textual Criticism – to see if the Bible is corrupted or not

Textual Criticism and the Bible (al-Kitab)

Ancient Bible manuscripts

In our scientific and educated age, we question many of the non-scientific beliefs that earlier generations had. This scepticism is especially true of al-Kitab, the Bible. Many of us question the reliability of al-Kitab from what we know about it. After all, al-Kitab was written more than two thousand years ago. But for most of these millennia, there was no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies. So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation. Concurrently, languages died out and new ones arose, empires changed and new powers ascended. 

Since the original manuscripts have long been lost, how do we know that what we read today in al-Kitab is what the original authors actually wrote? Perhaps al-Kitab was changed or corrupted. Maybe church leaders, priests, bishops, or monks did so because they wished to change its message for their purposes.

Principles of Textual Criticism

Naturally, this question is true of any ancient writing. Textual Criticism is the academic discipline of determining whether an ancient text has changed from its original composition until today, and since it is an academic discipline it applies to any ancient writing from any language. This article explains some basic principles of Textual Criticism and applies them to al-Kitab to determine its reliability.

A timeline showing how all ancient books come to us today
A timeline showing how all ancient books come to us today

This diagram shows an example of a hypothetical document written in 500 BCE. The original text did not last long – so before it decays, is lost, or is destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it must be made (first copy). Generally, a professional class of people called scribes did the copying. As the years advance, scribes make copies (second and third copies) of the first copy. At some point, a copy is preserved so that it exists today (the third copy).

Principle 1: Manuscript Time Intervals

In our example diagram, scribes produced this existing, or extant, copy in 500 CE. So this means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the text is only after 500 CE. Therefore the time from 500 BCE to 500 CE (labelled x in the diagram) forms the period of textual uncertainty. Even though the original was written long before, all manuscripts before 500 CE have vanished. Therefore we cannot evaluate copies from this period.

Thus, the first principle used in textual criticism is to measure this time interval.  The shorter this interval x, the more confidence we can place in the correct preservation of the document to our time since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Principle 2: The number of existing manuscripts

with more manuscript copies it is easier to determine the variant reading
Now we have four manuscripts and it is easier to see which one has the error

The second principle used in Textual criticism is to count the number of existing manuscripts today. Our example illustration above showed that only one manuscript is available (the 3rd copy). But usually, more than one manuscript copy exists today. Therefore, the more manuscripts in existence in the present day, the better the manuscript data. Then historians can compare copies against other copies to see if and how much these copies deviate from each other. So the number of manuscript copies available becomes the second indicator determining the textual reliability of ancient writings.

Textual Criticism of Classical Greco-Roman writings compared to the New Testament

These principles apply to any ancient writings. So let us now compare New Testament manuscripts with other ancient manuscripts that scholars accept as reliable. This Table lists some well-known ones:

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime Span#

50 BCE

900 CE




350 BCE

900 CE



(from any one work)

300 BCE

1100 CE




400 BCE

900 CE




400 BCE

900 CE




400 BCE

1000 CE




100 CE

1100 CE




100 CE

850 CE



Manuscript data of well-known ancient writers accepted as reliable
McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 42-48

These writers represent the major classical writers of antiquity. Basically, their writings shaped the development of today’s civilization.  But on average, they have been passed down to us by only 10-100 manuscripts. Moreover, the earliest existing copies are preserved starting about 1000 years after the original was written.  We treat these as our control experiment since they comprise writings that form the foundation of history and philosophy. So academics and universities worldwide accept, use and teach them.

New Testament Manuscripts

The following table compares the New Testament (Injil) manuscripts along the same principles of Textual Criticism. Then we will compare this to our control data, just like in any scientific investigation.


When Written

Date of MSS

Time Span

John Rylan

90 CE

130 CE

40 yrs

Bodmer Papyrus

90 CE

150-200 CE

110 yrs

Chester Beatty

60 CE

200 CE

140 yrs

Codex Vaticanus

60-90 CE

325 CE

265 yrs

Codex Sinaiticus

60-90 CE

350 CE

290 yrs

Textual Data of the earliest New Testament manuscripts
Comfort, P.W. The Origin of the Bible, 1992. p. 193

However, this table gives just a brief highlight of some of the existing New Testament manuscripts.  The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them in one table. 

Testimony of the Scholarship

As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation.  In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”

McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40

A leading scholar at the British Museum corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”

Kenyon, F.G. (former director of British Museum) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23

New Testament Textual Criticism and Constantine

Significantly, a large number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient.  For example, consider the introduction of the book transcribing the earliest Greek New Testament documents. 

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”

Comfort, P.W. “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. p. 17. 2001

This is significant because these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 CE). They also precede the rise to power of the Catholic Church. Some wonder whether either Constantine or the Catholic Church altered the biblical text. We can test this by comparing the manuscripts from before Constantine (325 CE) with those coming later. However, we find that they have not changed. The manuscripts from, say 200 CE, are the same as those that come later.

Thus, neither the Catholic Church nor Constantine changed al-Kitab. This is not a religious statement but is based solely on the manuscript data. The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which today’s New Testament comes from.

Modern Bibles are translated from the earliest existing manuscripts, many from 100-300 AD. These source manuscripts come long before Constantine or other religious-political powers, and before time of Prophet Mohamed PBUH
Modern Bibles are translated from the earliest existing manuscripts, many from 100-300 AD. These source manuscripts come long before Constantine or other religious-political powers, and before time of Prophet Mohamed PBUH

To summarize, neither time nor Christian leaders have corrupted the original ideas and messages that were first placed into the original writings of al kitab or the Bible. We can know that al Kitab today accurately reads what the authors actually wrote from the many thousands of early manuscripts that we have today.  The science of Textual criticism supports the reliability of al Kitab (the Bible).

I had the privilege to give a public lecture on this topic at the University of Western Ontario in Canada not too long ago. Below is a 17-minute video of the part of the lecture that covers this question.

Implications of al-Kitab Textual Criticism

So what can we conclude from this? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure (number of extant MSSs and time spans between original and earliest extant MSS) the New Testament (Injil) is supported much more than any of the other classical writings.  The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”

Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29

What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we question the reliability of al kitab (the Bible) we may as well discard all that we know about classical history in general – and this no historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest existing manuscripts come before these events.

For example, we know that no pope or the Roman Emperor Constantine changed the Bible since we have manuscripts that are earlier than Constantine and the popes and all these earliest manuscripts contain the same accounts. The manuscripts used to translate Bibles today come before the time of the Prophet Mohamed PBUH, and the fact that he confirmed the Bible as he found it in his day is significant since we know just from the manuscripts used that it has not changed from his day.

What about textual variations in the Quran?  In this article here we find that the slight variations in the text of the Quran are similar to that in the Bible.


To summarize, neither time nor translation has corrupted the ideas and thoughts expressed in the original al-Kitab manuscripts. These ideas are not hidden from us today.  We know that al-Kitab today accurately communicates what its authors actually wrote back then.  

Thus far we have really only looked at the textual criticism of the New Testament – the Injil.  But what about the Taurat and Zabur – the books that make up the Old Testament?  In the following 7 minute video I summarize the textual criticism principles of the Old Testament.

Understanding the textual reliability of al-Kitab provides a start-point from which we can start investigating al-Kitab. We can see if other questions can also be answered. We can also become informed about its message.  Since al-Kitab claims that its message is Allah’s blessing to you, what if it is possibly true?  Perhaps it is worth taking the time to learn about some of the important events of al-Kitab.  A good place to start is in its beginning.

5 thoughts on “The Science of Textual Criticism – to see if the Bible is corrupted or not”

    1. Salaam wa alykum mochammad
      Thank you for your comment. I have actually studied the Gospel of Barnabas. Now this intent of my article here is to show why we know from science that the books of Injil in al kitab (Bible) have not changed. The problem with Barnabas is that it contains factual errors that you yourself do not believe. For example. Is Isa (Jesus) the Masih (Messiah)? You (and I) would believe this from testimony of Quran and Bible. But Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus say the following (in ch 96)

      The priest answered: ‘… I pray thee tell us the truth, art thou the Messiah of God whom we expect?’

      Jesus answered: ‘It is true that God hath so promised, but indeed I am not he, for he is made before me, and shall come after me.’

      Then in the next chapter (97) Jesus says that the Masih is the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This contradicts the Quran

      Then said the priest: ‘How shall the Messiah be called, and what sign shall reveal his coming?’

      Jesus answered: ‘… Mohammed is his blessed name.’

      This was a Gospel where the earliest (and only as far as I know) manuscript is from 13th century. In other words it was written 1300 years after Jesus lived. So from standards of Bible, Quran and Textual criticism this book is shown to be false.

    2. Hello Mohammed Choudry
      Believing the entire contents or part of the contents of the Barnabas book to me means you only read and quote out of context, you picked what appealed to you and then leave the rest. I want to tell you that that book is entirely false. Please study it again and again and look into it well. You will then see beyond reasonable doubt that the entire book is false. I am Christian if you care to know.

  1. A.Rasheed h|o GuleRana

    Look please, ‘Deen’ was and would be always same in all times i.e. God is One, He created all including angels;He created Paradise & hell, He created destiny; He sent His messangers (prophets) with Holy Books to guide mankind ; He will establish doomsday to judge our acts in world. This collective faith is basis of “Islaam” which was the common preaching of all prophets.Equivalent words for ‘Islaam’must have been present in different languages of Scriptures e.g Hebrew, Aramaic.This is only Faith approved by Allah,not changed anytime ;But laws code(shariaah) altered more or less in different times of prophets|Scriptures. All these holy Books had been correct & accurate first in original form, but over time, selfish people tampered them according to their wills.(Quran will be secured ,safe & original till last of world as Allah promised so).
    That is why statements of Quran are clear, free of contradictions, while there is ambiguity and misconceptions in other Scriptures e.g. Christians postulate theory of Trinity and that Jesus was son of God , while Quran tells that He is too sacred rather to have conjugal relations and have children…..Mary was virgin,but she married to someone_Joseph. These are clear cut devious and self contradictory concepts, never revealed by God in Injeel(Bible).
    To be brief but precise, here is another example :
    Some Christian scholars tell
    Sodomites (Ummah of Lot) were not ravaged due to their heinous act of homosexuality but main cause was inhospitability & indignation they showed towards angels sent by God; while Quran states that angels already informed Abraham about this wrath ful decision of Allah;it is another thing that Sodomites looked angels with ill will.Therefore,are these not manipulations of facts, not self contradictory statements and ultimately not examples of nihilism ??
    Think sincerely and contemplate that salvation & absolution lies now only to follow last prophet & Holy Book Quran which enjoins monotheism and states that healthy original rules, moral values and tales which former revered prophets & Original Scriptures told mankind. It is right that last prophet Mohammed(PBUH) & Quraan fulfilled and confirmed the former ones.
    Yours sincerely….A.Rasheed

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