For example, virtually everything we know today about Julius Caesar’s exploits in the Gallic Wars (58 to 51 BC) is derived from ten manuscript copies of Caesar’s work The Gallic Wars. The earliest of these copies dates to a little less than a thousand years from the time the original was written.
Our modern text of Livy’s History of Rome relies on 1 partial manuscript and 19 much later copies that are dated from 400 to 1000 years after the original writing. By comparison, the text of Homer’s Iliad is much more reliable. It has an estimated 1757 manuscript copies in existence today, with a mere 400-year time gap between the date of composition and the earliest of these copies.
The textual evidence for Livy and Homer is considered more than adequate for historians to use in validating the originals, but this evidence pales in comparison to what God performed in the case of the New Testament text. Using this accepted standard for evaluating the textual reliability of ancient writings, the New Testament stands alone. It has no equal. No other book of the ancient world can even approach its textual reliability.
Nearly 25,000 manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts of the New Testament repose in the libraries and universities of the world in languages such as Coptic, Latin, and Armenian. Among these are nearly 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which is over three times as many as for the Iliad. The earliest of these discovered so far is a fragment of John’s Gospel, located in the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester, England; it has been dated to within 50 years of when the apostle John penned the original.
McDowell, J & McDowell, S. (2013). The Bible Handbook of Difficult Verses [ebook] Harvest House Publishers, Eugene. Location 298 of 5679.