Historical manuscripts are evaluated in numerous ways depending on the purpose for which the evaluation is taking place. For the purpose of using them as corroborating legal evidence there are the Federal Rules of Evidence. In order to qualify under these rules the documents must meet three criteria:
- They must be in such condition, which creates no suspicion regarding their authenticity.
- They should have been located in a place which they would likely be found if authentic.
- They must have been in existence for at least twenty years.
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, Dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, applied these rules and concluded,
"Applied to the gospel records, and reinforced by responsible lower criticism, this rule would establish competency in any court of law." 2
Evaluating manuscripts from a literary point of view is another valid analytical approach. C. Sanders, military historian, describes in his book, Introduction to Research in English Literary History, the method by which historic documents are evaluated for authenticity and accuracy. This generally accepted method is composed of three lines of evidence.
First, the bibliographic test, which demonstrates the textual integrity of the document. Second, the internal evidence test, which examines whether the document is internally congruent. Did first person witnesses write it? Does it contain contradictions? Third, the external evidence test, which tests the claims of the document against external historical and archaeological data. The following pages contain brief descriptions of how each of these tests can be applied to the New Testament manuscripts.