“The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of the scribes…..it would be wrong…. to say—that the changes in our text have no reading bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them…”From “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.” Professor Bart Ehrman
As time passes on we can certainly see that there is no lack of critics of the Bible who claim that it is not reliable. They say that it is full of errors and that Christians are foolish to rely on it. But is this really the case? If we are basing our lives on the accuracy and the reliability of the scriptures, how can we continue without being assured of the reliability of the Bible?
Is the word of God that we read now accurate as to what the original writers penned?
There is some really cool stuff in the post to answer that. I hope you will either scan it or read it. However, if you don’t have time – the short answer is YES. If you have any of the major translations of the Bible in your hand, you can count on your Bible as being withing accurate 99.999% of the original writing.
The leftover .001% are mostly variants in spelling and other things that might occur as the scribes copied the manuscripts by hand. There is NOTHING in the primary modern translations of the Bible that meaningfully and viably change the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His plan, and instructions for living a fulfilling Christian life!
Can we afford to simply trust that the versions of the Bible that we read today actually are the words of Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles. Can we be sure that they haven’t been changed in two thousand years – more than that for the Old Testament writings. Isn’t it practical to assume that as scribes made new copies of manuscripts for centuries that they made mistakes?
Let’s take a bit to explore the reliability of the Bible and look at some of the evidence and find out if we can truly count on the Bibles that we have now. Has the Bible somehow been preserved in a fashion that no other literature in world history has? Is that presumptuous for Christians just to assume that, or should we be more knowledgeable about the facts.
Note: While I acknowledge the great importance of the Old Testament, for our purposes, and to keep this from being a 3-hour read, we are going to spend most of our time primarily referring to the books contained in the New Testament.
The Reliability of the Bible: Time to Educate Ourselves
You will find debates among people of many levels about this question: “Is the United States a post-Christian nation?” That can be answered yes or no depending on exactly what is meant by the question.
However, I think that Churches are sometimes failing to properly engage in the battle of teaching a Biblical worldview to children and teens before they enter the college/young adult age group. Sure, we teach them about Jesus and the wonderful news contained in the Bible. However, few teach about the reliability of the Bibles that they hold in their hands.
A Lifeway Research study says that Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young people who had been attending a protestant church as a teenager failed to continue church attendance between the ages of 18-22.
It is very difficult, or disingenuous, to argue against the notion that a worldview that doesn’t align with Judeo-Christian values is predominant in our colleges and universities. If you’re paying attention to education in the USA, that should no longer be a debate.
I’m convinced that one of the key strategies that we haven’t employed enough in our churches – especially for teenagers – is at least a basic, fundamental teaching of apologetics. We can just call it a logical defense of our faith. However, one definition of apologetics is:
“The intellectual defense of the truth of the Christian religion, usually considered a branch of theology.”
Millions of parents try hard to teach their young ones about a relationship with Jesus Christ and the truths of God’s word. Thankfully, many of our children and teens believe and accept that message. Our focus is that the true Christian life is obtainable by grace through faith in Jesus, not how much we know, or the good works we can possibly do.
That should always be the primary focus. However, if we fail to give our young ones (or adults for that matter) the proper facts about the historical reliability of scriptures, we open them up to doubts from many of the academic elite who do not that the same worldview.
Recommended books for helping develop your apologetics skills are:
- “Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies,”
- “The Case For Christ”
- “Cold Case Christianity”
For certain, those who do not have a Biblical worldview will continue to offer an opposing view of the Bible’s reliability. They will have and teach a view that is contrary to the many centuries of faithfully preserved manuscriptural evidence, and the overwhelming number of historically reliable Old and New Testament scriptures.
We consistently put 18-year-olds without a decent knowledge of defending the faith into where they are confronted with professors steeped in their secular worldview. Then we find that they arent equipped to handle it, to properly defend their faith ,and remain solid in their faith.
We let that student go through 4+ years in which many of the most important adults in their lives do not believe in the Biblical record and are not followers of Christ. Then we wonder why we are losing the culture to the false claims of the extreme left.
Know These Arguments Yourself
One problem that the Christian church has is that we don’t always learn to defend the Bible enough for ourselves. I have been in ministry for over 35 years. I love pastors and teachers. Listen to them and learn from them. However, when you are speaking to people who need to know the gospel and you need to defend the accuracy of the scriptures, you can’t simply say, “Well, here is what my pastor says!”
We must be able to articulate the answers to some of these issues we will deal with here. Love your pastors and teachers, but make sure you have your own personal resources and defense of the scriptures yourself.
The Reliability of the Bible: Where to Start?
In my earliest years of ministry, we didn’t have the internet. We couldn’t just type in any theological term and have various resources about that term in seconds. Today that is totally different.
I especially enjoy hopping on a platform like YouTube and listening to various preachers, teachers, and educators giving their various points of view on a subject. YouTube is not the greatest place to get your theology, but if you have a decent foundation and can sift out the junk, it can be a great tool.
A few months ago I came across a speech by Professor Bart D. Ehrman. It was a video talk of Ehrman speaking about his book, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.” The topic itself made me skeptical of what I thought he would say.
The problem with what I heard from him is not that I believed his viewpoints or narrative. My life experience and education told me that it was far from the truth. So, I didn’t listen to his entire speech because I simply thought he was an “ignorant left winger” so I moved on.
However, this is a serious guy. He communicates well. He has a lot of facts. He is not just saying this stuff off of the top of his head. It’s hard to make a case against the accuracy of the Bible like that if you haven’t studied something… a lot.
It turns out that Professor Ehrman was one of the most profound New Testament textual critics on the scene in the last few decades. This is not just some guy spouting off his opinion about how he prefers the NIV version of the Bible versus the King James Version. His arguments are about 100 layers deeper than that.
Dr. Ehrman is a former conservative evangelical scholar who, through the years has become what Dr. Daniel Wallace refers to as “the number one apologist for skepticism about Christianity in the country.” Dr Ehrman is one of the world’s experts in the textual criticism of the New Testament. However, he now calls himself an agnostic or an atheist, depending on how someone defines the terms.
His collection of books attacking the Bible has sold more than two million copies and his teachings have affected the lives of more than we can probably imagine. He consistently attacks the assertion that people can be confident in the reliability of the Bible as we have it today.
Other scholars like Edward Andrews moved quickly to debunk “Misquoting Jesus…” His stance is that the words we hold in this book in our hands are so far removed from what was originally written and surviving copies are not accurate. Much of his argument deals with his claim that substantial errors were made by scribes down through the centuries.
Dr. Ehrman has already done a lot of damage. You can find those details and arguments that debunk his conclusions in the book, MISREPRESENTING JESUS: Debunking Bart D. Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.’
You have already read a quote from him at the opening of this post. In another quote from his book that brought him prominence, “Misquoting Jesus…” concerning the New Testament manuscripts he says –
“Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals, or copies or copies or copies of the originals.”Dr. Bart Ehrman
Anyway, I’d like to just say. “take a hike.” But, here is a really smart dude – and there are others that we don’t have time to mention- who, in what appears to be a scholarly manner, attack the accuracy of the Biblical manuscripts. They don’t believe in the notion that the Bible is the word of God that has been faithfully preserved. They submit evidence that shows there have been massive changes to the scriptures since they were originally written – or do they?
Okay. Wait a second. This is not good.
It’s one thing for a non-believer, who knows very little about the Bible, who has never even checked out the claims of the Bible to argue against it. It’s another when those who are known as brilliant Biblical scholars to teach this kind of stuff.
Attack on Reliability of the Bible Newsweek – 2014
Also, let’s mention Kurt Eichenwald who wrote an incredibly long article for Newsweek two weeks before Christmas just a few years ago. The attackers of the Bible love to write around Christmas and Easter.
In Eichenwald’s rant in which he ultimately seeks to bring acceptance to liberal social policies, he says:
“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek Magazine
Hmm. We’ll see about that.
As an aside, when you notice a plethora of fairly uninformed journalists who do in-depth stories undermining what world-renowned, in-depth Biblical scholars have spent their entire lives studying – BEWARE. In today’s society, there are few true journalists left. However, there are many advocates for various belief systems.
Attack on Reliability of the Bible – The Da Vinci Code
A lot of people have seen the movie or read the book “The Da Vinci Code” by novelist, Dan Brown. Many people find it interesting. However, the entire New Testament goes to smoke if you believe some of that stuff. If you take away what is so profoundly spoken of in the four gospels and Paul’s writings – that being the Deity of Christ, then you’ve lost your way. The disciples and the early church fathers understood for sure that Jesus wasn’t just a human – He was God in a pair of sandals.
In the DaVinci Code, author Dan Brown tells us the debunked story that the Emporer, Constantine allegedly invented the deity of Christ in the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The inference is this: prior to that time, the “true” story was that Jesus was only known for being a good person and prophet, but just a man – not God. It turns out Dan Brown isn’t correct… but Christians knew that anyway.
The DaVinci Code also states:
“The Bible has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”
Is that true? Is any part of that truth? Can we just blow that off? Don’t we need to firmly know the answer to that as Christians?
So, overall, there are some serious accusations that the Bible is not reliable. How do we handle that? These things were written 2000 years ago. How in the world did the message of Christianity hold up?
The writer of the DaVinci Code and the article in Newsweek do nor bother me that much. I expect Hollywood and the media to be in opposition to solid biblical interpretation.
However, in the case of someone with scholarly credentials and an expert in textual criticism like Bart D. Ehrman, we at least have to take notice.
Attack on the Reliability of the Bible – The Telephone Game
For today, and until God wraps this thing up and we are in heaven there will always be those who oppose the idea that the New Testament we have today is an accurate rendering of what the authors wrote 200 years ago. They will not agree with the integrity of ancient manuscripts and that what we have in our Bible can stand up strongly to New Testament textual criticism.
One of the best illustrations that liberal apologists use against the Bible is the concept of “the telephone game.” Do you remember doing this in school? With a few students in a circle, the teacher or another student would whisper a statement in one child’s ear. Then that child had to very softly whisper the message into the ear of the next student. Normally, by the time the message got around a circle of several students, the message had changed so much from the original that neither the words or the meaning was even similar.
This illustrates one popular attack on the reliability of the Bible from liberal Biblical analysts. They talk as if our church fathers, then the scribes throughout history translated one manuscript after the other. One copy from the original, and then a copy from that copy, then a copy from that copy, then a copy from that copy, and so forth.
Telephone Game Analogy Fails
But, that’s not exactly the way it happened. Certainly, there were many copies made. Where the telephone game analogy breaks down is that the scribes just didn’t simply make copies and throw them away. As more copies became available they could cross reference the copy with one that might be an earlier copy and make sure that the copy was accurate.
In the phone game analogy, what if the fifth child to get the message checked back with the first child that got the message. Then the 10th child checked back with the fifth child about the accuracy of the message. Then, what if they did a cross reference of each other’s message staying as close to the original person’s message as possible? Well, then you see how the statement could hold up.
Critics of the New Testament text and the Old Testament as well fail to adequately understand how the word of God has been faithfully preserved from the first century – and for the Old Testament hundreds of years prior to that.
Wow- Bad News For Christians, Huh?
Christians have a fundamental need to have confidence that the Bible they hold in their hand is the written word of God. They need confidence that it’s historically accurate, and that God’s inspired word from Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets is reliable. They need to know that what was communicated from God’s messengers over 2000 years ago is the same message we have today.
If you accept the Bible as God’s word and believe in Jesus Christ as God’s plan to save humanity from their sins, but become plagued with doubts about the reliability of the Old or New Testament documents – that can undermine your faith in a hurry. Is there any chance that the Biblical manuscripts that have been used for hundreds and thousands of years care orrupt?
If the reliability of the Bible begins to come unraveled then the case for Christianity, the Old and New Testament writings, and the risen Christ become hard to accept.
The Reliability of the Bible – Another Strong Voice
I recently heard a sermon by Pastor Ben Stuart of the Passion City Church location in Washington, D.C. I thought it was really compelling. However, he gave credit for quite a bit of his sermon to someone with whom I was not familiar.
His name is Daniel B. Wallace, PhD. He is the Executive Director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and the Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary.
Okay, this guy knows his stuff. Let’s see what He has to say. There are plenty of other scholars who affirm what he says, but I am going to use quite a bit of information from him and will link to it below.
Errors In the Bible
Am I crazy? Have I rejected my faith by even having that heading in the post – “Errors in the Bible?” Do I want to battle the entire conservative Christian community? Well. let’s see if it’s needed.
What kind of errors are we talking about?
These are variations in the many manuscript copies that have been found in copies throughout the years. Remember that for centuries, scribes copied the text by hand and passed them down to others. There seem to be a lot of textual variants. I mean, really a lot. Is that a problem? Let’s see.
What Kind of Textual Variants are There?
Okay, what do we mean by textual variants or variations? Are we simply talking about small things that make no difference?
How can we even be talking about any errors if we believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible or that the Bible is God’s word without error???
Or, is it??
Has Errors of the Scribes Corrupted the Foundation of Our Faith?
Which real or perceived errors found in the Bible would change our basic beliefs? What error would change the belief in the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the death of Jesus, or most importantly – the resurrection of Jesus?
Which of our primary beliefs are riddled with errors from the New Testament manuscripts? What basic tenets of our faith are now shaky because of errors in the manuscripts? Those are the real questions. If Dr. Ehrman and others have found errors that change the foundational message of the Gospel, then I’m fairly hopeless. We continue.
Back To The Original Documents
Well, let’s just go back to the original versions of the books and letters of the New Testament. Okay, let’s do that.
Well, wait. Nope. We don’t have those. Are you serious?
Yes. There were 27 books of the New Testament written a couple of thousand years ago and they were sent out to people and churches. They were written on material that just didn’t normally hold up for thousands of years.
Old documents do not tend to hold up very well over the long term. Even a document as old as the original Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776 – that you can find in Washington D.C. is faded quite badly. This is largely because the preservation techniques during the 19th century were quite poor.
Can you imagine documents written on papyrus or parchment 2000 years ago and how hard it’s been to keep those intact?
So, no. You can’t go to a museum somewhere in the world and look at the original New Testament.
The people in the first and second centuries (for some strange reason) placed so much value on the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul that they were read and copied and copied, and the early papyrus writings wore out. Once again, take a look at the U.S. Constitution. It’s not even 250 years old yet. It’s hard to preserve writings even two hundred years old, much less 2000 years.
Problems With The New Testament Manuscripts
After about 800 years of Christianity, the two closest manuscripts (in terms of agreement) contained approximately 2000 differences. So, there ARE a lot of differences from manuscript to manuscript. Oh no…
There is a BOATLOAD, a BUNCH, a LOT of textual variants – variations. When you combine all of the New Testament manuscripts that have been preserved, there are a staggering 1.5 million variants. That is more than 10 times the amount of actual words in the Greek New Testament. Bob Ehrman is fond of pointing out that fact.
Do we just chunk our Bibles in the river? Are we in deep weeds now? Is our faith in vain?
Do we place our Bibles on the bookshelf in the fiction category?
We better have a look –
This is where “textual criticism” comes in.
What is a Variation in the Text? – Textual Variant
Let’s look at how a textual variant is defined:
“Any place among the manuscripts in which there is variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, even spelling differences.”
Why Are There So Many Textual Variants”
There is no literature that even approaches the number of textual variants as the New Testament. So, as far as the New Testament goes, we are relying on documents that differ from each other far more than other topics in the world.
How Are We So Ignorant to accept this?
The reason that there are so many textural variants in the manuscripts of the New Testament is simple –
It’s because we have such an incredible number of Biblical manuscripts. The New Testament stands alone in history in the number of manuscripts that have been preserved.
If you look at the number of New Testament manuscripts compared to those of other works or other writing, scholars say there is an “embarrassing number” of manuscripts. So, the more manuscripts you have, the more chance you have for textual variants.
There are over 5,500 Greek New Testament manuscripts. Add to that close to another 20,000 in other ancient versions in quite a number of different languages!
We also have writings of the church fathers starting in the late first century all the way through the 12th or 13 century and they commented on every book of the New Testament.
Dr. Wallace makes the following comparison between the New Testament manuscripts we have from the average classical Greek writer who would be far beyond average in the number of manuscripts that were preserved. The average writer in that category has fewer than 15 copies of his work still in existence.
If you physically stacked up the copies of the manuscripts of those writers that have the most copies still existing they would stack about four feet high. Impressive?
Well, now let’s stack up the existing copies of the New Testament manuscripts. Maybe they are over four feet.
Actually, they would stack up to a staggering 6,600 feet! That is four and 1/2 feet compared to the height of four and one-half Empire State Buildings.
One mile and a quarter plus of New Testament manuscripts. And, what’s more, this doesn’t even take into consideration the considerable writings of the church fathers!
It’s almost as if someone planned this. Hmm.
Let’s use the example of a Greek military leader, philosopher, student of Socrates, and well-known historian – Xenophon. Want to change your name to Xenophon?? I don’t think so.
Xenophon’s work, Hellenica, is a Classical Greek historical narrative that describes Greco-Persian history in the years 411–362 BC. It’s an extremely important historical work in which he gives some of the most detailed descriptions of military battles that took place during that day. It’s a remarkable piece of work.
But, do you know that the first substantial manuscripts of Hellenica do not appear until 1700 years after his death?
If we held the same standard of Xenophon’s Hellenica to the New Testament manuscripts, then we would be saying that the oldest New Testament manuscripts available were not written until around the founding of the United States 250 years ago!
Wow, if that were the case the liberal skeptics of the New Testament would parade that in the streets! Christians would really be called out as crazies, ya’ think?
Within 900 years of the New Testament’s completion, we had almost 1000 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek alone. In contrast, within 900 years of the average classical author’s writings, there are zero manuscripts.
Until the 1930s the predominant European scholars stated that John’s Gospel was written in the late 2nd century. Therefore, it simply couldn’t be historically accurate, and it couldn’t have been written by John or anyone who personally knew Jesus. Well, that’s not good…
However, let’s jump all the way up to 1934 when the small piece of manuscript named P 52 was discovered. Guess what passages are found on P 52? They are from the Gospel of John. Notable experts dated the P 52 manuscript as between 100 and 150 – which (it must be a coincidence) would date it back to the lifetime of John himself! Go figure…
Well, now – that takes us back to Dan Brown’s statement (from the DaVinci Code) about Jesus not being known as God prior to a declaration by Constantine in 325 AD. Because of P 52, we know that John’s Gospel was written over 200 years before Constantine allegedly declared Jesus as God for the first time – 325 AD. As if we didn’t already know it, P 52 makes it ridiculously plain that believers were very much aware of the deity of Christ. John begins his book by using “The Word” as the synonym for Jesus:
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:1-5
But, Dan Brown is a novelist. Were we really expecting our theology from the Da Vinci code?
King James Bible – Isn’t That the Really Accurate Translation?
Some still say that the Bible has been translated and retranslated so many times that we simply don’t know what it originally says. They say that we are getting farther and farther away from the original text because of this. The translators are not staying true to the original manuscripts.
Well, there are some translations of the Bible, such as “Today’s New International Version” (TNIV) which caused many conservative leaders to criticize it because of changes in gender language and other changes in phrasing. However, this is not the case in most of the modern Bible translations that are the most popular in the U.S.
In March of 2022, The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association listed the 5 top-selling Bibles for the past year. Although I have my preferences, I could in good conscience recommend any of these versions.
- New Internation Version (NIV)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- King James Version (KJV)
- Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
In terms of the King James Bible which came around in 1611, we should be tremendously grateful. However, did you know, that at that time the translators were only working from 8 manuscripts and the earliest being from the 11th century?
Now in 2022, we have over 5,500 manuscripts from which we can work. Modern Bible translators have so many great manuscripts from which to work.
The KJV has served wonderfully well, still does, and will continue to bring the light of the Gospel to people. Its language is poetic and beautiful.
(However, don’t let someone convince you that the King James Bible is the only version that you should use. I was confronted with that belief 30 years ago. The KJV is a good personal preference if you like the language. However, it is incorrect to state that a good Christian should use the KJV only.
Largely debunked, the “King James Only” movement is still out there in a number of very fundamental conservative pastors and congregations. They are well-intentioned people. We love them and they are our Christian brothers and sisters. However, my strong belief is that the King James Only movement is incorrect. Although I have quite a few verses memory verses from my childhood that come out of me in the KJV and that doesn’t bother me a bit. However, I have not used the KJV as my primary Bible translation for well over 40 years).
Kinds of Textual Variants In The New Testament Manuscripts
If you are a believer and have staked your life and future on Jesus Christ and the word of God, maybe this will help.
Of all of the variants between the New Testament manuscripts, well over 99% of them make no difference at all in the interpretation of scripture.
For example – there are differences in spelling between the manuscripts. There can be many differences in the spelling of words. Spelling is the most common variant in the New Testament manuscripts. Like “honor” vs “honour.”
But, does our friend, the author of “Misquoting Jesus,” want you to know that? It doesn’t look like he does. Spelling differences do not mean that the Bible is unreliable.
My first name is Brian. I have known quite a few Brians in my life. One of the root meanings for that name is “noble.” I wouldn’t claim that. I have also met a lot of guys with the same name but they spelled it “Bryan.” It’s very common when I meet a new “Brian” that I ask the question, “Are you an ‘i’ or a ‘y?” They know what I mean. But, if they spell it with a “Y” I don’t tell them that they are a false “Brian.” That would be silly. So, it’s silly for critics to list a ton of spelling differences as if they change the meaning of our biblical manuscripts!
Dr. Daniel Wallace gives a great illustration of what is a small, but very important example. The Greek language is not like the English language. Greek sentences tend to be longer and much more complex having shades of meaning that are more detailed than the English language.
If you take the simple phrase. “John loves Mary,” because of the complexities of the Greek language, there are over 1000 different ways to write “John loves Mary.” Multiply that example with thousands of other phrases and you can begin to see how the scribes have written in textual variants that are virtually meaningless to our Bible.
Bottom Line in Variants – Back To Professor Ehrman, of “Misquoting Jesus…” fame. He says,
“We could go on forever talking about specific places in which the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally….the examples are not just in the hundreds but in the thousands.” Dr. Bart Ehrman
However, Dr. Wallace takes it further and says it is probably in the hundreds of thousands. However, it doesn’t matter if it’s a million!
The number of variants like these is virtually meaningless. What does matter is the nature of the variants. How does the variant affect the text?
The type of textual variants in which we are writing only makes up – are you ready for this? – a whopping one-tenth of one percent- .001.
Can we keep our Bibles yet?
“Less than one-tenth of one percent of all textual variants are both meaningful and viable. Dr. Daniel Wallace
One common example that I looked at many years ago is found in Mark 9:29. It is stated by some that this is the only example of a variant that could actually affect Christian behavior, although very subtly. Jesus’ disciples were having trouble with a demon-possessed boy. They couldn’t get the demon to leave. So:
“Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.” Mark 9:29
Well, in some other manuscripts, it reads “by prayer and fasting.” For some reason, a scribe somewhere along the way added fasting, or they took away the word fasting.
Unless you go to a church whose mission is to train full-time demonic exorcists, that is not going to be in the “statement of faith” for your church. That in no way changes the fundamental story of the Bible, the historical event of the resurrection, your Biblical worldview, or the ultimate reliability of the Bible. If you’re dealing with a demon, maybe you should fast – just to make sure!
Bottom line – I can stake my life on the New Testament in which the percentage of variants that might be meaningful or viable to the text is the wild and wooly number of .001. No scripture is found that changes any basic or foundational doctrine of the Christian.
Can you stake your life and future on something with that accuracy? I can.
Just a Moment With the Old Testament
Even though we intentionally used the New Testament as our illustration, let’s quickly mention a fact about the reliability of the Bible in terms of the Old Testament.
Until the 1940s the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible – Our Old Testament – was from 900 AD. 900 years after Christ was the very oldest we had.
However, have you ever heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? They were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1946-1947. These awesome and ancient Hebrew texts consisted of about 900 both full and partial scrolls, stored in clay jars. They were discovered scattered in several caves close to the area that was formerly the settlement of Qumran which is just north of the Dead Sea.
Basically, after being sold to some antiquities dealers some of the scrolls ended up in the hands of a Monastery and they realized that what they had was the book of Isaiah. In February of 1948, they sent it to William Albright who was the leading paleographer in the world at that time.
In March he wrote back to them-
“My heartiest congratulations on the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. The date should not be later than the ascension of Herod the Great. I should prefer a time around 100 B.C.” William Albright
The documents were found to only have small variants such as spelling that did not change the content of what we had from 900 B.C. These tender documents were somehow (I wonder how) stored in the caves inside clay pots well below sea level and preserved.
So, now we have Old Testament manuscripts that date back 100 years before the birth of Christ. These are documents whose textual integrity stayed intact for those 1000 years and beyond.
Those manuscripts were not preserved by some random set of circumstances.
That was orchestrated by God and preserved for us!
Can We Know That We Know?
Having confidence in the reliability of the Bible is not something that I can put out of my brain in the category of things with which to concern myself later. I have to know.
Godly scholars spent centuries of detailed study of these manuscripts and found that the so-called “errors” are insignificant. Things such as spelling, and choices in sentence construction by the scribes, have not changed that doesn’t change the meaning 2000 years after the New Testament was written.
The truth is as biblical manuscripts have been discovered, we have gotten closer and closer to the original words and phrases of scripture – not further away.
Do We Really Get It?
Do we really get the point? This is not just another book or set of books. This is not like something from any classical author of old. This is not a normal book.
Do we really get it? The Bible has been supernaturally preserved for us to read and be able to have a relationship with the God of the Universe. You can trust it. You may not understand it all.
However, you can trust that the scriptures were written by men who knew God, who walked with Jesus and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the words in the 66 books of the Bible.
If you have almost any of the Bible translations of today – the NIV, King James, ESV, NASB, CSB, and many other translations you can be confident. Rest assured that the Bible next to your bedside, on your desk, on your electronic notebook, or is in your hands right now IS the word of God preserved for you!
Although much of the Bible is not put together in chronological order for various issues, it can help to read one of the many chronological Bibles that are available if that interests you.
Conclusion: Back To Professor
As we conclude, let’s end by visiting the words of Professor Ehrman with whom we began. Remember his book, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.”
Oh, he has continued to write books and attack our Christian faith. However, the accusations he made about the Bible in “Misquoting Jesus” have been disassembled by many. He was leaving out things and simply being disingenuous as he led people astray.
I’m sure Professor Ehrman had quite a payday for that book. Since it sold well over a million copies certainly they would want to make some additional cash from a paperback version. However, he apparently was forced to admit that those “changes” in the Bible were not actually the type of changes that any of us would be concerned with as we just state.
So, when the paperback version of “Misquoting Jesus” was released, it had an appendix that included questions from the editors to Bart Ehrman.
Take a quick look at one of those questions and Ehrman’s answer.
“Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian Orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?”
“Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”
Are you kidding me? I guess even the most diligent of skeptics can walk back their books in one statement. Wow.
People, the word of God has been preserved. It is accurate. It is glorious and powerful and it can change your life.
God bless you as you dive into it!
Note: the two videos that I noted as references are:
Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then? // Dr. Daniel Wallace
Perspective: Has the Bible Been Corrupted?
Top Study Bible Resources
Brian is a Christian Blogger and website developer and has served over 35 years as a Pastor of Worship and various Associate Pastor roles in several churches in the state of Georgia. He earned his Education degree from North Georgia State University and attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife live in southern Hall County, GA.
Leave a Reply