Bible 101: #5 Is the Bible reliable?

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Why should I believe that the Bible is even reliable? After all, it was written and hand-copied for centuries, nay, for thousands of years, so what makes you think the version I have today, is anything like what the authors actually wrote?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Manuscript evidence: There are thousands of manuscript (handwritten) copies of the books of the Bible, dating from long before Christ (esp. the so-called Qumran scrolls) to the middle ages. This includes fragments, portions and complete copies of the books of the Bible. The amazing thing is, we can compare earlier versions to later versions and see what changed. Surprisingly, not much compared to the amount of the material involved. A lot of the differences are due to the fact that language or expressions change in the course of time, but it does not actually change the content or the meaning.
  • External citations: Christians have always quoted the Bible in their correspondence with one another. If you look at the writings of influential Christian writers of the 1st and 2nd century A.D., you can reconstruct almost the entire New Testament, simply because they quote it so often. This supports the contents of the manuscripts.
  • The time factor: In the case of the New Testament, the earliest surviving records date back to only some 100 years after the original writings. In comparison to other works of history, we see how close this really is: Julius Caesar’s work “De Bello Gallico” (Latin for “the Gallic wars”) only has about a dozen manuscript copies and the earliest are from the 9th century. Yet historians generally agree that the report is reliable. This supports the reliability of the biblical writings.
  • The preserving influence of the church: This may strike some as odd, but the Christian church in general, not just the copyists, played a part in preserving the original content of the manuscripts. When reading the early Christian writings, we see that sometimes heretics would change certain portions of books of the Bible. Marcion, for instance, a second-century heretic, attempted to produce his own version of the “Bible”, consisting only of a corrupted version of Luke’s gospel and Paul’s letters. Well, you may have noticed that you can’t get a copy of that at your local library. The Christian church rejected his version of the “Bible,” while faithfully circulating and multiplying copies of the originals.
  • The trustworthiness of translations: Some might say that the originals were reliable, but that it’s all been lost in translation. Yet in the 2nd to 3rd century B.C. the Jews translated what we now call the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek and still considered it reliable and trustworthy. In fact, Jesus himself quotes this Greek version in Matthew 22:30-31 and calls it God’s word.

Much more could be written. But let this be an encouragement to those who already consider their Bible to be reliable, and hopefully, it presents some food for thought to those who discard the Bible as unreliable.

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