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Bruce Metzger of Princeton University, a prominent modern textual critic, describes the role of textual criticism this way: The necessity of applying textual criticism to the books of the New Testament arises from two circumstances: (a) none of the original documents is extant, and (b) the existing copies differ from one another.The textual critic seeks to ascertain from the divergent copies which form of the text should be regarded as most nearly conforming to the original.In fact, "there is not a single copy wholly free from mistakes." That said, the variances are theologically inconsequential and the vast majority don't affect translation.It is the task of textual criticism, therefore, to study and compare the available manuscripts in order to discern which of the variations conforms the closest to the original.Christians of all denominations look to the Bible as their primary authority in determining doctrine, ethics, church structure, and all other religious issues.This strong reliance on the New Testament is based in part on the religious belief that it was divinely inspired.In some cases the evidence will be found to be so evenly divided that it is extremely difficult to decide between two variant readings.

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So if copies of John were in circulation by 125, the others must have been written considerably earlier.The article that follows provides an overview of the most important New Testament manuscripts that have been discovered and outlines the process used to analyze those manuscripts.No original manuscripts of the original Greek New Testament have been found.Carbon dating and other chemical methods are rarely used in determining the age of manuscripts.Instead, a paleographer analyzes the handwriting of the text, which yields a much more precise date than carbon dating would.

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