Ever since the Garden of Eden, people have been doubting God’s word – “…did God ‘really’ say…?” (Gen. 3:1; emphasis mine.) As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9.) The same old lies repeat each other over the ages.
Today, doubts about the Bible happen frequently and vehemently (especially among the youth) because false claims spread quickly, perpetuated widely by the Internet, about the trustworthiness of the Bible. Instead of people going to a Pastor or religious leader to ask questions, people Google it. What comes up is a myriad of skepticism about the reliability of the Bible. The reliability of the New Testament documents, for example, is highly targeted. After all, it contains all kinds of miracles, including Jesus rising from the dead. And if it’s true, then it forces a person to look at their lives under the light of how God says a person should be living.
Some of us don’t want to hear that we might be doing things in our lives that are not what God wants of us. Others don’t understand the Bible, not recognizing it holds a variety of literary styles, from historical records to poetry and prophecy, and may misinterpret it because they haven’t been instructed properly on how to read it. It’s not written like today’s books, in a narrative kind of style. It’s a book written by 40 different authors over a period of more than 1500 years, and yet has a continuity to it. It’s definitely unique and remains the number one best-seller each year, despite the naysayers. Nonetheless, the Bible is highly suspect to many today.
Which Bible translation is the “right” one?
One of the biggest misunderstandingsis how we know if we have the right version, since there is such a variety in translations. Just because there are many translations, does not mean the message has been changed. Bible scholars use the oldest manuscript copies we have and translate directly from those. It’s not some game of “phone tag” where one person says something to the next person and down the line the message gets completely changed. No, scholars who know the original languages that the Bible was written in (Greek & Hebrew) spend countless hours with teams of people working to accurately translate the Bible in two primary forms: either a “word-for-word” translation (like the NASB), or a thought-for-thought translation (like the Living Bible). These teams of scholars have a checks and balances system to ensure accuracy. Depending on what you want, choose a translation to meet your needs. Most Bible ‘nerds’ (which I’m included) likethe “word-for-word” translations best, even though they may not read as smoothly as the “thought-for-thought” translations. The word-for-word translation are best for Bible studies involving exegesis.
We don’t have the autograph originals, so how do we know our Bible today is accurate?
When scribes wrote the copies of the Bible, or any ancient history, the paper they used was not archival. They often wrote on Papyrus, and scrolls were damaged or simply aged and thus, needed to be copied. This kept scribes busy, who made lots of copies over the years. Matter of fact, the New Testament was the most copied document in ancient history! We have nearly 6,000 manuscripts of just the New Testament alone. The only other ancient document that comes close to that is the writings of Homer, with about 2,300 copies. So, all these copies are compared with each other to ensure accuracy.
Dr. Dan Wallace is an expert in the field of textual criticism. This field examines the authenticity of ancient documents.
For Internal evidence, scholars ask:
- 1. Who wrote the Gospels? When they wrote them, what was their objective in writing them,what sources the authors used, how reliable these sources were, and how far removed in time the sources were from the stories they narrate or if they were altered later.
- 2. Scholars also consider if the document is misquoting texts from the Hebrew Bible, is making claims about geography that were incorrect, if the author appears to be hiding information or if the author has made up a certain prophecy.
For External evidence, scholars often:
- 1. Turn to ancient sources, including early church leaders.
- 2. Consider other writers outside the church (Jewish & Greco-Roman historians) who would have been more likely to have criticized the early churches.
- 3. Compare archaeological evidence to the texts.
Wallace says that in addition to the thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts, there’s over one-million quotations by Church Fathers. He said that we could practically reconstruct the New Testament just from these quotations alone!
The two key factors historians use to evaluate the accuracy of ancient texts are:
A) Number of ancient manuscripts (copies) we possess
B) Time gap between when the original autographs were written, and then when the earliest surviving copies were written.
These two primary factors help determine accuracy of transmission. For example, the oldest manuscript we have of the New Testament is verified to approximately 117-135 AD. It contains a portion of John 18. This was just decadesafter the Apostle John’s death, and thus refutes the claim of late authorship.
All of this matters because scholars can reconstruct the originals with copies – manuscripts, remnants, and scrolls – the more copies we have, the better we can reconstruct the originals.
Okay, so we know the Gospels have a TON of manuscript evidence, they were written early, and have no variants in them that affect any major doctrine. But skeptics doubt the memory of those who wrote the testimonies.
How can we know the authors got it right?
It’s important to note that long-term memory is good when events are memorable. The events that happened in Jesus’ ministry are easy to remember, and his disciples learned them well. Rabbis had their disciples sit at their feet, and it was common practice to memorize their teachings. The disciples were with Jesus for three years solid and heard his teachings more than once. In addition, there were eye-witnesses alive at the time the documents were written who could corroborate the Gospel accounts. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit helped (but skeptics don’t buy this).
Jesus said in John 14:26,“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind youof everything I have told you.”
For accuracy of the Old Testament, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was a remarkable find! These scrolls contain most of the Old Testament, and the entire book of Isaiah, which is 97-99% accurate when compared word-for word to today’s versions. This also refutes the criticism that you can’t trust the Bible because it’s been copied so many times.
Lastly, the Bible is historically accurate as confirmed by archaeology. This website http://www.biblearchaeology.org is a trusted source for the latest in finds that confirm the historicity of the Bible.
The reliability of the Bible can be known by many methods:
1. Manuscript evidence (more than any other ancient book)
2. Written close to the events: Gospels were written within the 1st Century
3. Dead Sea Scrolls – show Old Testament was also copied precisely.
4. Archaeological evidence backing up the historicity of the Bible
5. Changed lives – literally billions – including mine!
And anyways, what I always say is that if God can create the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), ‘ain’t no big thang’ for God to inspire people to write his words.