The Bible Claims to be the Word of God
Over 2000 times in the Old Testament and the phrase, “Word of God “ 40 times in the New Testament. It is equated with the Old Testament. (Mark 7:13). Jesus believed it and preached it (Luke 5:1). The Apostles taught it (Acts 4:31; 6:2). Paul preached it on his missionary journeys (Acts 16:32, 17:13, 18:11).
Psalms 19, 119 and Proverbs 30:5-6, make powerful statement about God’s Word. The Bible is called sacred and holy (2 Tim. 3:15, Rom. 2:1).
The Bible claims it is the ultimate spiritual authority. The Bible claims ultimate spiritual authority in doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness because it represents the inspired Word of God.
The Bible claims it is ultimate in spiritual sufficiency and it is exclusive in its teaching (Isa. 55:11; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
The Bible claims to be inerrant. (Ps. 12:6, 119:140; Prov. 30:5; John 10:35).
The Bible claims to be infallible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is trustworthy, reliable, unchanging, and dependable. The words are God-given (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
The Bible is comprised of 66 books, 1,89 chapters, 31,173 verses, and 774,746. The time span for the writing of the Bible covers approximately fifteen-hundred years.
Early Forms of Writing
a) Man first used Pictograph:- i.e. Hebrew language. “Aelph” = is the sign of an ox; “beth” = a house; “gimmel” = a camel; “daleth” a door.
b) Idiograph :- a picture of an idea. I.E. Chinese characters.
c) Phonograms: – A symbol represents a sound.
Materials Used in Writing the Bible
Ancient people used many kinds of materials for writing purposes.
A. Stone In almost every area the earliest material on which writing has been found is stone. The Ten Commandments The earliest writing material mentioned in the Old Testament is stone. The Ten Commandments were written on stone (Ex. 31:18; 34:1, 28). Joshua and the memorial stones After Israel crossed the Jordan, stones with the Law written on them were set up as a memorial (Deut. 27:2-3 with Josh. 8:30-32).
B. Clay The predominant writing material of Assyria and Babylonia was clay. Huge libraries of clay tablets have been discovered from these areas. Clay material is referred to in Ezekiel 4:1 when Ezekiel was told to draw a plan of Jerusalem on a tile.
C. Wood The use of wooden tablets was common in Greece, Egypt and Palestine. The tablets mentioned in Isaiah 30:8 and Habakkuk 2:2 were probably wooden.
D. Leather “For hundreds of years leather or animal skins played an important role in the history of the Bible. Leather is not specified in the Old Testament, but it was unquestionably the principal material employed for literary purposes by the Hebrews.” (Lightfoot, p. 16) (See Jeremiah 36:23).
E. Papyrus Papyrus was the most important writing material during the inter-testamental and New Testament times. In fact, it is almost certain that the original New Testament letters were penned on papyrus sheets. The sheets came from papyrus reeds that grew in abundance along the Nile river in Egypt. Papyrus reeds “were manufactured into a writing material by cutting the leaves into long thin strips, laying these pieces criss/cross upon each other and saturating them with a calcium solution. The product was the equivalent of the best handmade paper.” Papyrus rolls were the “books” of the ancient world until the second century. These “rolls” were thirty feet long and nine to ten inches high. Writing was usually done on one side of the scroll (one exception is Revelation 5:1). Papyrus codex By the second century the papyrus roll gave way to the papyrus codex. A codex manuscript is simply a book. Papyrus sheets were put together in the form of a book instead of joining them side by side to make a roll.
F. Vellum or parchment Vellum and parchment (used interchangeably) refers to animal skins dressed for writing purposes. Because of the high price of papyrus, vellum became a less expensive substitute. By the fourth century vellum replaced papyrus. The use of vellum is significant because this was the material used to make copies of the New Testament for over a thousand years (fourth century—Middle Ages). The two most valuable New Testament manuscripts, the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts, are made of high-quality vellum.
G. Paper The production of paper stretches back to the second century B. C. with the Chinese. The secrets of paper making, though, were not widely made known until the middle of the eighth century when Arabs captured some Chinese men who were skilled in making paper. By the time of the thirteenth century paper was being used in much of Europe. A considerable number of Biblical manuscripts, especially from the East, were written on paper. (Lightfoot, p. 20)
Its Language and History
Three languages were used in the original scriptures: a) Hebrew, b) Greek and c) Aramaic.
1. Hebrew. Hebrew is written backwards from right to left and the Hebrew language is without vowels. The Hebrew Bible is composed of twenty-four books. It had two distinctions – The Law and the Prophets. Later it was divided not three sections 1) the Law, 2) the Prophets, and 3) the Writings. Hebrew is still spoken in Israel.
2. Greek. The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek at Alexandria, Egypt (c. 250—150 B. C.). This translation was known as the Septuagint (LXX). The 70 scholars arranged the Old Testament as 1) five books of Law, 2) twelve books of History, 3) five books of Poetry and 4) seventeen books of Prophecy. Coping was done by hand. It is said that each letter was written down then it was confirmed by another translator and then the one who copied it went and bathed, he came back and done the same, even with punctuation marks.
The Greek Text
Philip of Macedon (350 b.c.) was taken into custody so as not to fight with the King of Greece. This king (Philip) of Thebes “Apomondandus” was a genius with military organization. He was in a death struggle with the Spartans, who dominated the southern part of Greece, as per example “The Athenians”. He defeated them at a place which was called “The Battle of Lucria.” Philip gathered information concerning his army. He married a beautiful red-head called Olympia” (This was back in the hill country). The result was the birth of Alexander the great. This son became a commander at the age of 16, he was a genius. Alexander put into action all that he had learned in the well organized country of Macedonia. When his father died (of poison) he took over the city state of the south. He took vengeance on the Persians who had drank up most of their rivers, crops ere either eaten or just did not grow for lack of water and thy destroyed the country side. It took 100 years to get it back to its original state.
Five Greek Dialects
1. “Apparis” or “Apparian” Greek; 2. Macedonian Greek; 3. Attic Greek (Athens); 4. Doric Greek (Spartans; 5. Koine Greek (common Greek). The “koine” Greek was thought up by the genius Alexander. He noticed when he gave a command to his soldiers it could be misunderstood, because of the different kinds of Greek. The new communication language helped conquer the known world in 7-8 years.
After being brought into captivity by the Babylonians, Persians and Greeks (Alexander the great), many Jews settled in Alexandria in Egypt. They had Greek culture and language, so , in 280 b.c. a translation of Hebrew scriptures was made into Greek. Seventy two experts undertook the work. Each letter was carefully counted and noted as to how many times each one occurred. If mistake was made they destroyed immediately the whole sheet on which the mistake was detected, this avoiding error. Our Lord endorsed the Old Testament in His statement (Lk. 11:51).
This transliteration was because so many Jews had been scattered throughout the ancient world and by the time of the Greek empire most New Greek. Alexander the Great was a genius. In order to bring unity to his empire and be able to command his army with clear commands the Koine (common) Greek was devised. The New Testament was later penned in the language of the common man (Koine Greek). God chose this language for the universal proclamation of the Gospel. It was widely known throughout the nations. Modern Greek is spoken today, which is slightly different from ancient Greek. Though Aramaic was the common language of Christ and the early Christians; Greek was the language of the New Testament.
3. Aramaic. (Jer. 10:11; Ezra 4:8- 6:18; 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4-7:28). Daniel suddenly switched to Aramaic in Dan.2: 4 and retains it through 7:28. It was the popular language of the Babylonian. Assyrian and Persian areas, and was used in governmental and trade relations. The switch was because the subject matter is centered more on other nations and matters largely involving them.
The rest of Daniel was written in Hebrew because of its focus was on Hebrew matters. Aramaic is spoken in Damascus and Syria.
Aramaic became the language of the common people in Palestine after the time of the exile (ca. 500 B. C.). Nehemiah 8:8 suggests that the Jews of Ezra’s time did not know pure Hebrew well enough to understand the Law, thus needing a translation into the familiar Aramaic. Hebrew and Aramaic are closely associated semetic languages and is hard to tell the difference unless one was trained in these two languages.
Aramaic was the primary language of Christ and the Jews spoke it a few centuries before Christ. . It was the most used language in Palestine. The apostles would have know it along with Hebrew and later included Greek.
When Jesus said “talitha cumi” little girl, get up) in Mark 5:41 it was Aramaic. When he said “Eli, eli lama sabachthani” (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) in Matthew 27:46 it was in Armaic. Jesus addressed God as Abba (Aramaic for Father) (see also Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6). Maranatha (“Our Lord, come!”) in 1 Corinthians 16:22 is Aramaic.
There are no records of inspired writings before Moses (Ex. 24:4). Although Job seems to be the earliest book in the Bible. God spoke verbally and by angels i.e. Adam (Gen.2:16; Cain (Gen. 4:6; Abraham (Gen. 18:2). Moses received the “living oracles” (Acts 7:38; Ex. 17:14).
It was never in the Hebrew canon or rule (i.e. Old Testament). Christ or no one from the New Testament quoted from it. Josephus excluded it form his list of sacred scriptures. No mention of it is made in the catalogue of sacred scripture in the first 4 centuries. No prophets re connected with these writings. The Roman catholic bible includes Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees. These books teach doctrines and practices contrary to the canon i.e.
1) 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 – teach prayers for the dead.
2) 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 – justifies suicide.
3) Ecclesiasticus 3:33 – teaches atonement can be made by “almsgiving.”
4) Tobit 4:11 – teaches that atonement can be purchased.
5) Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20 – teaches the p re- existence of souls.
There are various other non Christian and non Jewish beliefs recorded in the Apocrypha. In conclusion we may benefit by some of its historical content but cannot trust it as being God’s Revelation.
The Need For A Canon
1) Canon – Kanon (Greek word) means rod, rule or measuring stick, norm or standard. The canon of Scripture sis a collection of books into one; the Bible. The canon is “inspired” (God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). God communicates His message. It is not human viewpoint, but the Holy Spirit using human agencies and languages (2 Peter 1:20-21). It is called the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
2) The canon is necessary so that believers in each generation will have a complete revelation from God. It is God’s absolute standard of authority.
3) Because it is given to us in written form, it is our textbook about Him. It is more dependable than dreams, visions, trances or voice.
4) There was need of preservation and circulation of the Word.
5) That people might know which writings were canonical to protect them from false or non-canonical books or heresies.
CRITERIA FOR THE CANON
1) Was the book of divine origin? 1 Pet. 1:21
2) Was there internal evidence in the book? Was there documentation by quotation by other books? ‘If in doubt, throw it out’.
3) Was there documentation by quotation from in other books?
4) When a book was accepted a public declaration was made.
5) Was there external evidence? I.e. History, facts, etc.
Early church leaders pored over the scripture comparing them, for harmony, facts, genuineness and divine inspiration.
1) Codex Siniaticus Aleph 331 ad.- Count Tischendorf in 1844 while on a visit to the Siniatic Peninsula met some monks. The monks were not aware that they were burning some old manuscripts to keep themselves warm. Tichendorf stopped them. When they discovered what they were doing they sold some of the manuscripts to Russia and England for $100,000 in 1933.
2) Codex Vaticanus 325 a.d. Tregelles was permitted by the Pope to read the manuscripts and that was all. Tregelles, however, sat down and memorized them.
3)3) Latin Vulgate = this was the common language, made in North Africa from the Septuagint. Jerome revised it in 4th century.
There are no complete manuscripts but thousands of small portions. There is no need for them today as there are in existence many thousands that have been copied. Old Testament ones go back hundreds of years before Christ and the New Testament ones to the 2nd century. We have copies of Isaiah dating back to the 2nd century b.c. “The number of ancient manuscripts vastly outnumbers any other existing manuscripts of any other ancient literature. The cataloguing, evaluating and preservation has been a precise science. The manuscripts are trustworthy. The oldest existing manuscripts date back to AD 325 and when compared with the Septuagint translation of 200-150 B.C.) are found to be accurate. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947-1956) were manuscripts dating back to 200- 100 B.C. and when compared with Hebrew manuscripts were found to be accurate except for a few minor variations. There are over 5000 Greek New Testament manuscripts that range form the whole testaments to scarps of papyri which contain as little as part of one verse. A few existing fragments date back to 20-25 years of the original writings. Scholars have concluded that 99.99 percent of the original writings have been reclaimed and 2) of the remaining one hundredth of one percent, there are no variants substantially affecting any Christian doctrine.” MacArthur Study Bible (Transmission).
History of the Bible
A. Bible “Bible” is the name commonly used to designate the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. These sixty-six books make up one book—the Bible. The English word Bible came originally from the name of the papyrus or byblos reed used extensively in antiquity for making scrolls and books. The term, biblion thus meant “book” or “scroll.” By the second century A. D. Greek Christians called their sacred Scriptures ta Biblia (“the books”). The singular translation came into English via Latin and Old French as “Bible.” The term “Bible” is often used synonymously with “Scripture” and “Word of God.”
B. Testament The Bible is one book but it is divided into two parts called Testaments. The term, “Testament” (berith in Hebrew and diatheke in Greek) means “covenant. The Old Testament was written and preserved by the Jewish Community before the time of Christ and the New Testament was composed by the followers of Christ during the first century A. D.
C. Latin form “The grouping of books in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) follows that of the Septuagint (LXX), or Greek version. Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate (c. 383-405), was familiar with the Hebrew division, but Christendom as a whole had come to favor (or be associated with) the Greek version; thus it was only natural for him to adopt its fourfold classification.” (Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press. 1986. p. 26)
1) From 450 a.d. to 7th century it was the Vulgate was used in the West. This is how the Bible was spread over the Roman Empire.
2) Caedmon (died 660 A.D.) who was a gifted singing poet from Whitby Abbey sang the Bible. He sang its stories to the people in Anglo Saxon, their own language since a Bible in the Latin Language was of little use to English speaking people.
3) Aldhelm (640-709) Bishop of Sherborne, translated the Psalms into Anglo Saxon. 4) Bede (647-735) wrote Latin commentaries and translated John’s Gospel and the Psalms. He was the first writer of English church history.
5) King Alfred (871-901) He wanted all in his kingdom to learn how to read. He had the Ten Commandments, other parts of Exodus and Acts translated.
6) The Normans (902-1380) invaded England. They spoke a combination of French and Scandinavian. Over a period of 100 years their language merged with Anglo-Saxon, giving New English. Bible translation took a step backwards.
7) Cardinal Hugo, a man of prayer and lover of the Bible, divided the Bible up into chapters in the 13th Century.
8) English translations.
a) The Wycliffe Translation (1382) it was a translation from the Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe wanted to get Bible into the common language of the people. He was condemned a heretic for doing so and suffered greatly for this and met much resistance and persecution. The Wycliffe Bible appeared in manuscript form only, and was not widely circulated, but it did reach many people and was an important step in preparation for the Reformation in England.
b) The Tyndale translation was translated by William E. Tyndale in 1526 from Greek manuscripts William Tyndale, a master of Greek, Hebrew, French, Dutch, and Latin gave us an English version from the Greek version of Erasmus. He was a graduate of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1536 he was strangled and burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church. His last words were ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes’. He translated from Hebrew, Greek and Latin, taking 22 years to give us our first Bible. In his writings he wrote of the abuse and errors of Rome. He sent his ‘Poor Preachers’, or Lollards throughout England and Wales with a handwritten copy of the Bible. The order went out from Parliament to stop people from reading it and to burn all of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible.
c) The Great Bible. Translated in 1539, this was the first authorized English copy of the Scripture
9) Caxton’s Printing Press was used to print parts of the Bible. He set up his printing pres, close to Westminster Abbey, in 1476. The first paper mill was set up in 1490.
10) Erasmus, in the16th century published a Greek New Testament from the ancient manuscripts.
11) Miles Coverdale in 1535 printed the whole Bible for the first time.
12) The Matthew Bible was published in 1537 and sold by permission of Henry VIII.
13) King Edward in 1547, aged 10, came to the throne and seeing the three swords of the State being borne before him asked, ‘Where is the fourth sword’, then the Bible was handed to him. This has been done ever since. During his reign for seven years the printing of the Bible flourished.
14) Sir Robert Stephens put the Bible into verses in 1551.
15) Queen Mary in 1558 forbade printing of the Bible. During her 4 year reign many were martyred including Bishops Ridley, Latimer, Cranmer and 300 others.
16) Queen Elizabeth, Mary’s Protestant cousin gave more freedom in 1558.
17) The first use of italics was introduced in the Jerusalem Bible. (The Bishop’s Bible)
18) James VI, Mary’s son ruled in Scotland in 1558.
19) The Roman Catholic Church issued the whole Douay Bible 1582-the Rhemish Bible, so called because the Old Testament was translated at Douay and the New Testament at Rheims.
20) James’s mother Mary and Elisabeth (his aunt), died in 1603, leaving him King of England. The Puritans were revolting against established Churches. This was called ‘The Millenary Petition’. The Puritans persuaded James they needed a good and proper translation of Holy Scripture.
21) The Geneva Bible. The translation was done by Marian exiles in Geneva, 1553-59. This was the Bible of the Puritans
22) The King James (Authorized Version). In 1604 James selected 54 Greek and Hebrew experts. Seven died before the translation was finished. Six teams were selected, two at Oxford, two at Cambridge and two at Westminster. That is why we have the ‘Holy Ghost’ (Westminster) end ‘Holy Spirit’ (Oxford) used in our Bible. It was completed in 1611, this was the translation of the Anglican Church, done largely in response to the appearance of the Geneva Bible. This is a very accurate and dependable translation, done from the original manuscripts available in that day; it is beautiful English. The Authorized Version was finished in 1611. It is the best translation, however, words have changed their meaning. i.e. Charity today means benevolence, and then it meant love. This does not imply error, but rather language change. About 90% of the King James is really Tyndale’s translation.
23) At the beginning of the 17th century there were three versions, The Geneva Bible. The translation was done by Marian exiles in Geneva, 1553-59. This was the Bible of the Puritans The Chained and the Bishops Bibles.
24) More recent versions include:
Weymouth – is a good translation. The New King James (NKJV) is good. The New Testament was completed in 1979; the Old Testament in 1982. Produced and published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN. The NKJV was the work of 119 conservative scholars, editors and church leaders. It is a very literal translation retaining the beauty and dignity of the KJV of 1611, yet re-translating the archaic words of its predecessor. It is a very reliable translation. American Standard Version (1901). New American Standard Version (NASV)) revised in 1963 is good. The men who translated this version wanted to remain anonymous so that the glory would go to God and not man. The NASV is a very literal modern translation that paid special attention to the fine nuances of the Greek tenses.
The Revised Version. This work was done in 1881-84; the translators had the advantage of late manuscript discoveries, especially the Sinaiticus and the Alexandrius. Acceptable scholarship, except for II Timothy 3:16. The Revised Standard Version (RSV). The New Testament was completed in 1946; the Old Testament in 1952. This translation was done by modernists and unbelievers; it had a deliberate ecumenical flavour and design. There are some good sections, but this translation is generally unreliable. The New International Version (NIV) It was completed in 1978, it was the result of combined “New Evangelical” efforts. It is a very smooth reading translation (a dynamic equivalency) that omits the translation of some words and is very interpretive at points – giving what they viewed as the interpretation rather than a literal translation (Ex: I Cor. 7:1). The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor Good News for Modern Man – a deliberate attempt to pervert the Word of God. The New English Bible – liberal and ecumenical in spirit. The Phillips Paraphrase – a very loose paraphrase. The Jerusalem Bible – designed to further the ecumenical movement The Readers Digest Bible – omits large sections of Scripture (whole chapters in Numbers) . New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witness Bible)
Robert Dick Wilson was a genius of a scholar. He knew 26 languages and dialects including Hebrew, Greek and Aramiac. He Studied Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian and Armenian dialects, all the Semitic languages. He was on a higher plain of scholarship than any of his contemporaries who cast doubt on the Bible. He concluded his studies after 45 years that the Bible was authentic and could be trusted. Remember it is the original manuscripts that are inspired and dependable.
The Bible is a Living Book
The holy Spirit uses it to speak to us toady. He uses it to build up our spiritual lives, instruct in doctrine, reproves and corrects. It changes our lives when we come to Christ. It gives us correct norms and standards for the 21 century. Dr. Lewis Sperry Johnston of Dallas Theological Seminary comments that:-
1. The Bible is a Sword (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17)
a. The Holy Spirit’s offensive and defensive weapon is the Bible (Eph. 6:17). God is speaking by no other means today.
b. According to Heb. 4:12, the Bible as a sword is:
(1) Living (“quick” KJV)
(3) Piercing – (“sharper…piercing”)
(4) Penetrating (“dividing asunder”)
(5) Convicting (“discerner [judge] of the thoughts and intents of the2. The Bible is a Mirror (James 1:23-25)
It reflects the mind of God and the true nature and condition of man.
3. The Bible is a Seed (Mk. 4:1-20 *v. 14)
As a seed, the Bible produces life, growth and fruit.
4. The Bible is water (Eph. 5:26)
The Bible cleanses and quenches thirst.
5. The Bible is a Lamp and Light (Ps. 119:1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 105)
It offers protection from danger and guidance into the right way.
6. The Bible is a hammer (Jer. 23:29)
It has ability to tear down (humble) and build up (edify).
7. The Bible is a Fire (Jer. 20:9; Lk. 24:32).
It convicts, judges, and purifies.
8. The Bible is Nourishing Food
a. It is milk that causes growth (I Pet. 2:2)
b. It is meat that gives strength (Heb. 5:14; I Cor. 3:1-3)
Can I Trust the Bible?
by Rabbi Glenn Harris
Most people approach history textbooks somewhat uncritically, accepting what they read as accurate and authoritative; And why not? – since history books place no moral demands on us (not even to learn from history). However, when a book, such as the Bible, purports to teach absolute moral and theological truth, people become uncomfortable. Rightly perceiving that an ethical commitment is being called for (and being, by nature, resistant to the idea of rules and authority), some people will feign intellectual objections, claiming alleged contradictions, and generally questioning the reliability of the book. Whether conscious or otherwise, the reasoning goes: if the Bible can be discredited, or else relegated to “myth”, its requirements will be trivialized. Thus we have the modern battle over the reliability of the Bible. This paper is intended to inform and encourage the reader as to the integrity and reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
A word of warning to those who may not be intellectually honest, in the form of a question: If sufficient evidence, internally and externally, bibliographically and archaeologically exists to authenticate the Bible as a reliable document, will you then be willing to deal with its moral and spiritual imperatives? If not, then read no further; for yours is not an intellectual, but a volitional problem. If, however, you are interested in facts and in truth, by all mean, read on.
I. The Bible is a Unique Book
A. The Bible is unique in its continuity
Imagine questioning forty different people on their religious views: people from every socio-economic background …
(ranging from extreme poverty to immense wealth)
in nearly every walk of life …
(kings and paupers, statesmen and fishermen, poets and physicians)
on three separate continents …
(Asia, Africa, and Europe)
in three different languages …
(Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic)
taking several forms …
(poetry, history, civil and criminal law, ethics, didactic, parable, biography, prophecy, personal correspondence …)
And spanning a period of over a thousand years!
And if you asked them to put their observations, thoughts and feelings about God and about ultimate reality into writing what kind of book do you suppose you’d end up with? Would they all agree? Hardly. You’d probably wind up with a real mishmash. Well, the Biblical writers represent exactly this variety, and yet there is thematic harmony, commonality and consistency of data throughout the book! At the very least, it may be said that the Bible is a unique book.
B. The Bible is unique in its survival
The Bible, compared with other ancient writings, has more manuscript evidence than any 10 pieces of classical literature combined …
With regard to the New Testament books, John Warwick Montgomery stated:
“… to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” 1
Bernard Ramm speaks of the accuracy and number of Biblical manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures:
“Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity … who ever counted the letters, syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?” 2
II. We Have an Authentic, Reliable Biblical Text
A. By means of bibliographical and internal criteria
The historical reliability of the Bible should be tested by the same criteria that all historical documents are tested. It breaks down to these three factors:
The number of existing manuscripts
The dating of the manuscripts
The proportion of variant readings
1. The number of existing manuscripts
There are more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, over 10,000 in Latin and over 9,300 other early versions totaling 24,000+ manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today, ranking it first in manuscript evidence.
The Iliad, by Homer, is second … with 643 surviving manuscripts.
2. The dating of the manuscripts
The New Testament autographs date to between 40 100 A.D. Until 1995, the earliest extant manuscripts dated to the fourth century (a 250 300 year difference). Norman Geisler states that the average gap between an original composition and the earliest available copy is over 1,000 years for other works of antiquity.
(handout reprints — Dr. Carsten Thiede/1st century papyrus fragments of Matthew)
The late Sir Frederick Kenyon, orientalist, director and principal librarian of the British Museum wrote:
“This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1,400 years after the poet’s death.” 3
Kenyon, in The Bible and Archaeology continues:
“The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.” 4
Among ancient Greek/Latin literature, the Iliad ranks next to the New Testament in possessing the greatest amount of manuscript testimony.
So let’s compare them:
3. Variant readings
Through the proper application of textual criticism, comparing all the available manuscripts with one another, we are able to confidently reconstruct the original reading. Let’s briefly compare numbers on variant readings. The New Testament contains approximately 20,000 lines, of which 40 lines are in question. This equals .5% (one half of one percent).
The Iliad contains approximately 15,600 lines, of which 764 lines are in question. This equals five percent. That’s ten times more variants than the New Testament in a document which is only three-quarters its length. The sheer number of extant NT manuscripts we possess narrows tremendously the margin of doubt on the correct reading of the original documents (known as autographs).
Of the 0.5% of the New Testament variant readings, only one eighth of those amount to anything more than a stylistic difference or misspelling.
An example of a fairly typical variant reading:
MSS. 1 Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole worl.
MSS. 2 Christ Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.
MSS. 3 Jesus Christ s the Savior of the whold world.
MSS. 4 Jesus Christ is th Savior of the whle world.
MSS. 5 Jesus Christ is the Savor of the whole wrld.
Many of these variants involve nothing more than a missing letter in a word, a misspelling, or a reversal of the order of two words (as seen above in #2). Some may involve the absence of a word; but of all the variants in the NT, it should be noted that only about 50 have any real significance, and that not one essential point of Christian doctrine rests upon a disputed reading. For more than 99% of them, we have been able to reconstruct the biblical text with tremendous certainty.
B. The archaeological/external evidence
1. Evidence from archaeology
The Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in 1947, included an ancient copy of the scroll of Isaiah. This scroll, dating to approximately 100 B.C. was found to be identical to the Modern Hebrew Bible in over ninety five percent of the text. The remaining five percent consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen or variations in spelling.
Prior to that discovery, the earliest manuscript of Isaiah was the Masoretic Text, dating to 900 A.D. Realize, then, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls moved the dating back more than a thousand years! And that without any appreciable change in the text.
Nelson Glueck, renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote:
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” 5
William F. Albright, one of the world’s most renowned archaeologists, stated:
“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.” 6
And again …
“The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phrases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.” 7
The late Millar Burrows, renowned Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, exposed the cause of persistent unbelief:
“The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.” 8
2. Evidence from early Christian writers
J. Harold Greenlee, Professor of New Testament Greek at Oral Roberts University, wrote that the quotations of the Scripture in the works of the early Christian writers,
“… are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts.” 9
This was later confirmed by Sir David Dalyrimple. All but eleven verses of the New Testament are found in the works of second and third century writers. In addition to the many thousands of NT manuscripts, there are over 86,000 quotations of the NT in the early church fathers, and quotations in thousands of early lectionaries (worship books).
3. Evidence from extra-Biblical authors
Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, III. 39) referring to Mark
Papias (c. 130 AD) refers to Matthew’s gospel
Irenaeus (c. 180 AD) refers to the four gospels and Matthew
II. We Have an Authentic, Reliable Biblical Text
Let us state again that, in spite of having come under attack a century and a half ago as an unreliable historical record, over the past fifty to seventy five years, the biblical narrative has been consistently corroborated by archaeological discoveries (remember, too, that a century and a half ago the field of archaeology had scarcely emerged).
Archaeologist Joseph Free has said, “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which had been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contrary to known facts.” 10
One hundred fifty years to two hundred years ago it became academically fashionable to say that Moses could not have authored the five books of the Torah, as claimed, because it was thought that legal codes of that order simply didn’t exist. These arguments persisted by some even into the mid-20th century. On that logic they posited that several different individuals, living many centuries later, wrote the Torah and ascribed it to Moses. Archaeology proved this “Documentary Hypothesis” wrong through the more recent discoveries of numerous legal codes in some cases predating even the Patriarchal period, such as the Hammurabi Code (c. 1700 BC), the Lipit-Ishtar Code (c. 1860 BC) and the Laws of Eshunna (c. 1950 BC).
Prior to 1906 critics of biblical historicity argued that the Bible’s descriptions of the Hittite Empire were later insertions, since they were certain the Hittite Empire didn’t exist, owing to lack of physical evidence for it. But in 1906 archaeologists unearthed the Hittite capital and in the years following excavated what is now known to have been a massive and very prominent Hittite civilization.
More recently, liberal scholars, intent on maintaining their criticism of the Bible, argued that the Gospel of John could not have been written by John, but must have come much later, owing to factors such as:
The use of imagery they presupposed to be of later Gnostic influence (i.e., terms such as “sons of light” and “sons of darkness”).
Allegedly inaccurate historical details (such as a 5th portico at the pool of Bethesda [cf. John 5:2] whereas every Judean pool excavated had just four porticoes).
Discoveries, however, of texts paralleling and even pre-dating the NT manuscripts (chiefly at Qumran) evidenced the very same apocalyptic terminology in contemporary Jewish writings. And approximately eight years ago archaeologists discovered underneath what they had previously thought was the earliest level at the site of Bethesda an older mikveh (pool) which had a fifth portico transecting it! One would hope that at some point the critics would concede the historical reliability of the biblical narrative.
This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of sources. In fact, it’s just “the tip of the iceberg”. But as you can see, there really is a remarkable body of evidence supporting the reliability of the Bible as we have it in English today. I hope this will give the reader a sense of confidence that the Bible, as it has come down to us, is an altogether historically reliable record. This is critical, because if it were unreliable in that matter, we certainly could take the next step and consider its theological reliability. However, as we warned at the outset, the Bible does contains moral imperatives. Thus it seems the real question now is not whether the Bible is trustworthy, but whether you are willing to read it, consider its contents and claims, and wrestle with its moral implications. You could choose to look the other way and hope later to plead ignorance. Instead, I recommend you take the courageous approach of reading the Scriptures in the pursuit of truth.