Skeptics have perpetuated the idea that the Bible has been transmitted so many times since its original autographs, that there is no way we can know the exact words penned by the Apostles. However, if this argument were true, then why didn’t those who transmitted the text remove the more embarrassing parts of the stories? I mean, wouldn’t someone want to change history to show just the brave followers with consistently faithful behavior? Why, for example, tell tales of a nation, Israel, that obeys God for a season, then disobeys, and then obeys (usually after getting into trouble), only to fall away from God again in disobedience? In addition to the heroes of the faith (like Noah and Moses), the Old Testament by far includes more stories of unfaithful people. I once heard someone say that the Old Testament must be true because it makes the behaviors of many people look so bad!

In the New Testament, why leave in a story about Jesus’ disciples falling asleep after Christ told them to watch over him at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:40-41)?  In another embarrassing story, a young man following Jesus, wearing nothing but a linen sheet, runs away in terror as the soldiers came; as he pulled free, the sheet fell away and he escaped naked! (Mark 14:51-52.) That might surely have been a story that the scribes would think to erase. And what about Peter denying Jesus three times? (John 18:15-27.) Finally, why keep a story in the Gospels where women were the first to discover the pivotal event of the Resurrection? (Luke 24.) Women were not even considered credible witnesses in the court systems back then. If there were going to be copyist changes, it would make more sense that they might have left some of those stories out.

Of course, we can’t exclude the supposed mistaken prophecy of Jesus. He told the disciples that “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt. 24:34.) Many have interpreted this verse to mean that Jesus’ prophecy of his Second Coming proved false. To make up for the apparent problem, some have tried to find other meanings for the word “generation,” claiming it might have meant the “race” of the Jewish people that would not pass away. What is really puzzling, just a few verses later, Jesus seems to contradict himself: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36.) What?! Didn’t Jesus just say the End Times would happen in that generation? How could he then turn around and say no one knows the day or the hour? Easily one could understand that a scribe might want to take that verse out to cover up the supposed failed prophecy, wouldn’t you think? Sure. So, why didn’t they? Because they kept the wording of the original autographs intact!

These are just a few of the odd, embarrassing, or seemingly contradictory statements, that are in the Bible. It makes a great case for the historical reliability of the transmission of these ancient texts. I mean, if anyone wanted to change this stuff (the problematic parts of Scripture) over the centuries, they certainly could have. Nonetheless, these verses were unchanged and because of that, it makes a great case for the accurate transmission of the original wording of the Bible (with the exception of a few spelling errors, or flipped numbers, here and there)[1].

Yet, what about that supposed ‘failed prophecy’ of Jesus? Many scholars agree that Christ may have been referring to the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and how the Jews would be exiled – again – from Israel. His sentence that “no one knows the day or hour”, some scholars believe, is probably referring to his Second Coming.[2]

Another point, have you ever considered that in our American Court System we give a person who is accused the “benefit of the doubt”, yet we don’t do that for God? Why don’t we give God the “benefit of the doubt” in these difficult areas? Why can’t we wait to see how scholarship (and trusting that God is good) might eventually show us that these things are not errors, or contradictory statements, but a lack of understanding on our part?

C.S. Lewis

Lastly, many who hold the worldview of Naturalism (which does not uphold the possibility of anything immaterial or supernatural) claim that the Bible is full of mythical stories. Yet, former atheist, and Oxford and Cambridge professor of Medieval Literature for many years, C.S. Lewis, stated this of the myth theory:

I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, and myths all my life, and I know what they’re like. I know none of them are like this. Of the gospel texts, there are only two possible views: either this is reportage (eye-witness accounts), or else, some unknown ancient writer, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned how to read. [3]

Lewis saw the Gospels as historical narratives, not legendary literature, and he, of all people, should be able to judge the difference.

The Bible is still the number one best-seller despite, in some ways, being the most controversial book of all time. Sadly, author Kenneth Briggs in his book, The Invisible Bestseller, states that though most U.S. households have at least one Bible, God’s Word usually sits collecting dust on bookshelves. People are not reading it. Maybe if they realized just how reliable the Bible is, they’d blow the dust of its cover and open their Bibles again. This is why it is a must that churches have good Bible instruction, from the Sunday pulpit to small home groups, to help educate this biblically-illiterate age.[4]   The Bible is in its authentic, apostolic wording, and it changes lives. It certainly changed mine… but that’s another story for a future blog.

Manuscript Evidence

So far, scholars have been able to discover and preserve approximately 5,800 copies of the Greek New Testament alone. (This field is constantly changing due to new discoveries.) This is, by far, the largest amount of manuscript evidence historians have of any ancient document. Why is this important? Because of how the Bible is transmitted. It’s not some “telephone tag” kind of copying system, where one copy is copied from another later copy and so on, until what you end up with is something vaguely resembling the original wording. Instead, scholars examine the original wording of the oldest copies we have and transmit directly from those. Due to the fact that we have more manuscripts copies than any other ancient historical document, we can compare and contrast those writings with the numerous volumes of manuscripts to ensure the best transmission as possible. For more information on how this process works, visit the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Bart Ehrmann said in his book, Misquoting Jesus, that these textual variants have NO IMPACT on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, 252. There are simple copyist errors that do not effect theological meaning, and include misspellings, flipped numbers, or repeated texts.

[2] My Pastor, Tom Flaherty, recently did a sermon on this view. His audio lecture is on the church’s website, under the Media section, called “Let’s Talk About the End Times.” His notes follow:   http://citychurchonline.org/Websites/Lakecitychurch/files/Content/2986977/LetsTalkAbouttheEndTimes.pdf

[3] C.S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 154–55.

[4] Biblical Illiteracy, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/july/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.html

For further study on the reliability of the New Testament Gospels in particular, I highly recommend F.F. Bruce’s book, The New Testament Documents: are they reliable?