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The New Testament plays a very central role in Christianity.
For most Christians, the New Testament is not only a precious record of the life of Jesus Christ and the apostles, but a divine revelation to mankind on matters of salvation.
However, a large number of ancient manuscript copies have been discovered, and modern translations of the New Testament are based on these copies.
As one would expect, they contain some scribal errors.
Other important manuscripts date to the fourth and fifth centuries.
The manuscripts dating from 100 to 300 AD are almost entirely papyrus fragments.
A paleographer "cannot establish the exact date but he can confidently place one handwriting in the 30's and another in the 80's." Fortunately, textual critics and paleographers have a large number of ancient manuscripts at their disposal, many of which have been found within the last century.
No original manuscripts of the original Greek New Testament have been found.
In addition to the early papyrus fragments, a large number of parchment manuscripts have been found that date from 300 CE onward.
These are usually named for the place in which they were discovered and are abbreviated by a letter or sometimes a number.
In some cases the evidence will be found to be so evenly divided that it is extremely difficult to decide between two variant readings.
In other instances, however, the critic can arrive at a decision based on more or less compelling reasons for preferring one reading and rejecting another.