The early church, as we begin to see already in Papias, was confident that their ultimate source documents went back to apostles, prophets, eyewitnesses and their co-workers, which is why these 27 documents are in the NT. They were composed by Paul (with help of scribes and co-workers), Peter (1 Peter with help of Silas probably), Mark, Luke (both co-workers of both Peter and Paul), the 4th Evangelist (drawing on Beloved Disciple written sources. The Beloved Disciple composed 1-3 John himself), the compiler of Matthew, James, Jude, perhaps Apollos in the case of Hebrews, John of Patmos, and at the very end of the NT period, the compiler of 2 Peter, drawing on Petrine and other materials.
In short, the NT can be traced back to about 8 people, either eyewitness apostles, or co-workers of such eyewitnesses and apostles. Early Christianity’s leaders were largely literate, and some of them, like Paul and the author of Hebrews, were first rate rhetoricians as well.
The post contains an immense amount of information on how to evaluate ancient literature, and specifically on the authorship and integrity of the New Testament documents. I don’t know who needs this more, the atheists who are waving Ehrman’s book like a flag, or fundamentalists.
Every Christian should have some real understanding of where the Bible came from and why it’s believable; otherwise, fools like Ehrman come along with their incredibly bad scholarship, or claims about “other gospels,” throwing people to and fro. The Bible is an extremely reliable set of ancient documents, supported by other documents. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as many people seem to think. It didn’t just fall from the sky, and it wasn’t handed over to Joseph Smith to read with magic glasses.
One book I really want to read – when I have time – is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham (mentioned by BW in his post). Another I am adding to my list is BW’s future book What’s In A Word, whenever that comes out. These days it’s not enough to slap a bumper sticker on your car or wear a WWJD bracelet (not that it ever was), or live from emotional high to emotional high; Christians are faced with all kinds of ridiculous claims by people looking for reasons not to believe. We should all be ready with enough knowledge of the truth to call a fool a fool.