Is the Bible Reliable?
We have looked and seen that ancient historians and archaeology both support that Jesus did exist. We have seen that all the prophecies concerning His coming to earth the first time have come to pass as well. But how can we know that the Bible we have today is accurate? Many would say that the Bible we have today is not the same as the original and that many things have been added or taken away. Is this true? Let’s take a look.
When it comes to historical documents by ancient historians we find there are few. One of them was Tacitus, the Roman historian who wrote the Annals of Imperial Rome in about 116 A.D. Only 1 manuscript exists and it was copied about 850 A.D.
Josephus the first century Jewish historian’s work The Jewish War has only 9 copies all made between the 10th and 12th centuries.
Homar’s Iliad which was the bible of the ancient Greeks has fewer than 650 manuscripts. Some from the 2nd and 3rd century. When you think that he composed it about 800 B.C., it’s quite a gap.
How many manuscripts exist for the Bible? For the New testament alone they have found and cataloged over 5,000 Greek manuscripts. One of these is from around 3rd century called the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri number one contains portions of the four gospels and the book of Acts. Papyrus number 2 contains large portions of eight of Paul’s letters and a portion of Hebrews dating to the year 200. Papyrus number 3 has a large portion of the book of Revelation dating from the 3rd century.
The earliest portion of scripture ever found is a portion of John chapter 8. It was discovered in 1920 and in 1934 C.H. Roberts of Saint John’s Collage, in Oxford, England was able to place it as originating somewhere between the years of 100 and 150 A.D.
In addition to the Greek documents there are portions in other languages. There are 8,000 to 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts plus a total of 8,000 in Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian. In all there are about 24,000 manuscripts in existence.
The late F.F. Bruce, eminent professor at the University of Manchester, England and author of The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, said; "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual witness as the New Testament."
Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director of the British Museum said; "In no other case is the interval of the time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as that of the New Testament."
Many people believe that because the Bible has been copied over and over again it is full of mistakes and inaccuracies therefore, today we don’t have what was originally written. Is this true? Let’s take a look. There are literally tens of thousands of variations between the different texts that have been found. Eye glasses were not invented until 1373 in Venice and many of the scribes had to work under conditions with poor lighting and from texts that were faded by age so yes error was bound to come in at some points. Sometimes the scribe’s mind would play tricks on him between reading the script and the actual copying to a new parchment and words would get shifted. So instead of the sentence reading dog bites man it would be copied as man bites dog. The words were right but they were placed in the wrong sequence. In English or French this might cause a problem but because they were copying in Greek it was not. In Greek sequence doesn’t matter. One word functions as the subject of the sentence no matter were it is placed in the sequence. The meaning of the sentence isn’t distorted even if the words are not in what we would consider the right order. Differences in the spelling of names and places would be another variant between the different manuscripts. Other variants are differences in punctuation.
So do the variants between manuscripts affect any of the major doctrines of the church? None at all. Even with the variant’s we have scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix concluded that, " The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book, a form that is 99.5% pure"
When it comes to the Bible, how can we know that some books haven’t been left out or were changed by the early church fathers? How did they arrive at what books were to be in the Bible and which were not?
Basically the books had to meet three different criteria. First they had to have apostolic authority, meaning they had to have been written by the apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to the events they wrote about or were followers of the apostles, as is the case of Mark and Luke. Mark was a helper to Peter, while Luke was an associate of Paul.
Second there they had to conform to what was called the rule of faith. The documents had to be in harmony with each other. And third it had to be accepted and already being used by the church. All the books we have now in the New Testament were accepted by the end of the second century.
Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, PH.D. of the Princeton Theological Seminary say’s, "We can be confident that no other ancient books can compare with the New Testament in terms of importance for Christian history or doctrine. When one studies the early history of the canon, you walk away convinced that the New Testament contains the best sources for the history of Jesus. Those who discerned the limits of the canon had a clear and balanced perspective of the gospel of Christ.
"Just read the other documents for yourself. They were written much later than the four gospels, some as late as the 6th century, long after Jesus was here. They carry names like the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Mary that are completely unrelated to their real authorship. On the other hand the four gospels were accepted with remarkable unanimity as being authentic in the story they told."
When it comes to the question of whether some of the books in the New Testament were changed to suit the beliefs of the early church fathers you have to realize that books were in wide circulation before the canon was accepted. If the leaders changed the words of Jesus, there would have been such an outcry by the early church that would have been documented and yet not one such protest has ever been found.
For further reading on this subject read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.