The Illiad vs the New Testament
(by David Cloud, Way of Life.org, November 10, 2016)
The Illiad and Odyssey are two of the most famous writings from ancient history. They were probably written by an ancient Greek named Homer, though it is not known exactly when he lived and nothing is known for sure about his life. The classical Greek authors believed in the historical Homer and thought that he lived sometime between 1100-850 BC. In the fourth century BC, Plato called Homer the “protos didaskalos” (“the first teacher”) of Greece.
The oldest fragments of the Illiad and Odyssey date to the third century BC, at least 500 years after Homer. And the oldest entire manuscripts of Homer’s writings are from the 10th and 11th centuries AD, at least 1,800 years later. There are different editions of the stories, and it is impossible to know what the originals said exactly.
This is in great contrast with the documentary evidence for the New Testament.
The last book of the New Testament was written in about AD 90. The earliest manuscript portions of New Testament books date to AD 110-125, only a few years after the events.
Further, we have thousands of quotations from the New Testament books in the writings of preachers dating to AD 96 to AD 400. John Burgon collated 4,383 quotations from this period.
“These quotations are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts” (J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism).
The majority of these quotations represent the “traditional text” as opposed to the Alexandrian text, but that is a different issue.
Consider a few examples:
Clement of Rome (c. AD 96) was taught by some of the apostles. He was an elder in the church at Rome beginning in AD 88, only 30 years after Paul wrote his epistle to Rome. In his letter to Corinth, Clement quotes from the New Testament at least 150 times, from Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, and five other books.
Polycarp (c. AD 115) personally knew the apostle John and other believers who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. In his letter to the Philippians, Polycarp quotes from the New Testament about 100 times. He quotes from Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1 John.
Irenaeus (AD 130-202) heard Polycarp preach and relate accounts from his time with John and other first century Christians. In his extant writings, Irenaeus quotes from every book in the New Testament except Philemon and 3 John. He said the apostles taught that God is the author of both Testaments.
In his letter to Florinus, Irenaeus wrote the following: “I could tell you the place where the blessed Polycarp sat to preach the Word of God. It is yet present to my mind with what gravity he everywhere came in and went out; what was the sanctity of his deportment, the majesty of his countenance; and what were his holy exhortations to the people. I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.”
Thus we have the writings of men who knew the apostles and first century Christians personally and who quoted from the New Testament books.
This is irrefutable evidence that the New Testament existed then and that it was the same as the New Testament that we have today.
For further documentation see the chapter “The Bible’s Nature” in An Unshakeable Faith: An Apologetics Course, available from Way of Life Literature.