Why is the Bible reliable?
Where did it come from?
Why is the Catholic Bible different?
Starting Point – Scripture by Andy Stanley
*Is the New Testament canon reliable? By Tim Keller
Why the Bible is Important:
The Bible or Scripture is something Christians hold to be the most important source of truth. It’s THE ESSENTIAL on which our faith stands or falls. When our nation started, this belief was still so integral that we build the entirety of our education around it. The main textbook for all learning: elementary to university was the Bible. Many learned to read Greek and Hebrew as part of their basic education so they could get as close to the Bible as possible.
The past 200 years we have seen a growing desire to trust something other than the Bible, often with great consequences on society’s stability and unity. The Bible has been misused, misquoted, and brandished as a tool to manipulate people. People are skeptical for good reasons in many cases. It’s easy to argue that it is supporting a biased opinion. Even today people claim faith just to get the votes of men and women who only vote for a candidate that claims they are Christian.
Unfortunately the arguments to distrust the Bible are so numerous and so complicated, and our trust in modern science, medicine, and scholarship in other areas is so high, that we often simply yield to the forceful opinion of someone who sounds like they know what they are talking about. Below you’ll find a short summary of two key modern arguments regarding why the Bible is not trustworthy: (1) manuscript evidence shows it’s been changed and (2) there are other books that call into question the books we have in the Bible. I don’t want you to be shocked when you hear them in public, I want you to be prepared to research and respond to them when necessary, and I want you to continue to trust the Bible with certainty, so that God’s voice will not be hindered in your life.
There are two ways to look at ancient manuscripts. The Bible is an ancient manuscript. How do you determine whether or nor an ancient manuscript is trustworthy? In scholarly circles, there are three ways to prove this. You look at the date of the manuscript: “When was it written?” You look at the distribution of the manuscript: “How widely circulated was it?”. And lastly, you find out what you can about the people who wrote the manuscript: “Are these reliable people? Can they be trusted? Do they have a motive to write? Were they being paid by someone? Who was paying them? Was there an angle?”
For instance, Julius Caesar was written in the 1st century, by an author hired by the emperor to write his history. There are 10 copies, the earliest is 900 AD, and was written by one person hired by the emperor. Knowing why this historian wrote this who was hired by Caesar himself—can we trust everything that was written by a historian hired by the Emperor? No, we can’t. Yet, in schools all over the world, Julius Caesar is taught as fact based upon the evidence of 10 extant copies we have dated 900 years after Caesar lived.
Another huge find for Roman historians was the writings of Tacitus. Tacitus wrote during the end of the 1st century—around 100 AD. He recorded history that spans during the time of 14AD-96AD—around the time of Jesus. We have 2 manuscripts containing about half of his work—the rest has been lost. How many copies do we have? 2 copies. The 2 copies we have are dated 900AD and 1,100AD—a thousand years after it really happened. Yet, in university history books, Tacitus is quoted like its Gospel truth.
In high school you might have had to read The Odyssey, or The Iliad by Homer. Well, The Iliad by Homer is the most accepted non-Biblical historical writing around. Well, we have 643 copies of The Iliad, and that would be considered just a ton. A lot more than the 10 copies we have of Julius Caesar or the 2 copies we have of Tacitus. Other historical writings: Plato’s Republic has 7 copies. Aristotle has 5. So the most accepted non-Biblical historical writing would unquestionably be the writing of Homer with 643.
Now, let’s go back to the Bible. The first four books of the New Testament are biographies about one person named Jesus. Four accounts from four different people about a Jewish carpenter, who never led anything. Who never was a politician. He never led an army. He never wrote anything. He never travelled more than 100 miles from where He grew up. We only have 1 account of Caesar—would you expect to have 4 detailed accounts about 1 man from a po-dunk town in Galilee? There is more information written about Jesus that the Roman emperors of that day!
All of Rome—with all of their wealth and power—the earliest manuscripts date 900AD. 10 copies.
How many copies do you think we have of the New Testament? Well, not 643, not a thousand, but over 24,792 copies of the New Testament! And the earliest writings we have about Jesus in the Gospels don’t date from 900AD. Not 800AD. Not 700AD. Not 600AD. Not 500AD. Not 400AD. Not 300AD. Not 200AD. We have portions of the book of John that are dated 125AD—25 years after John died. And guess where it was found? It wasn’t found in Israel or Jerusalem. It was found in Egypt!
Now, what would a copy of a biography of Jesus—the Gospel of John—be doing in Egypt? Because that is how broadly distributed the information about Jesus and what factually happened. By 250AD, we have complete copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John telling the detailed account of Jesus.
Now, why would so much time and attention be given to record not the life of Jesus—but 3 years of Jesus’ life? These guys gave incredible detail of just 3 years of a life of a Jewish carpenter? And all of this information has survived through the ages, but this has thrived through the ages! We have 24,000 copies of the New Testament. We know more about this Jewish carpenter than rulers of the entire world and Roman emperors of that day!!
When you compare that against any other historical writing, beyond a shadow a doubt, the Bible stands alone and unquestionably stands above all of these other documents with flying colors. Unlike secular history, the quality is outstanding. There are no close seconds. There are thousands of manuscripts, so we are confident of knowing what the original said.
But was it added to, manipulated, or changed???
Scholars like to talk about all the errors we find in the manuscripts of the Bible…but let me ask you a question: if you had 24,000 hand-written copies of a HUGE document, don’t you think the copies would reflect spelling errors, repeated or omitted words, or even slight changes like replacing a name with “he” or “he” with Jesus? It’s easy to sway someone when you talk about having 400,000 errors in Bible manuscripts—but almost all of these are unintentional differences made by copyists. No change in Bible manuscripts that we have to date represents any change that would change what we believe today—nowhere is there an addition that says Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, or that we are not saved by faith. There are only two substantial (sentence long) differences in all the Bible manuscripts we have today: early copies of John’s gospel are missing the story of the woman at the well and missing the last few verses at the end of Mark’s gospel. They don’t change what we believe about anything, and we simply trust that if they were added or omitted, they were done at a time when the Bible was being written and made it into the books for God’s purposes to be accomplished—He’s not surprised and His purpose is not thwarted because someone may have contributed to these gospels. The rest of the differences have been debated and revised by scholars without significant change to the Bible.
Funny Variants in Bible Manuscripts
One dramatic evidence for this is the Dead Sea Scrolls, which illustrate just how accurate our copies truly are! In January 1947, a little boy tending to his goats close to the Dead Sea (located in Israel) made a most amazing discovery–he discovered 900 manuscripts containing every book of the Old Testament, except the book of Esther. A group of people called the Essenes, that lived during the time of Jesus, wrote and copied these manuscripts. Later, when the situation with the Romans was getting tense, they preserved these scrolls by hiding them in clay jars and placed them in caves al along the cliffs close to the Dead Sea. Since the Dead Sea is bone dry (and btw, it is the lowest place on earth–1,400 below sea level), they were preserved for almost 2,000 years until found in 1947.
Amazing! Now why was this find so amazing in the religious world? Because before this find, the oldest Old Testament manuscripts were the Masoretic Text, dating to 1,000 AD! (Now remember, the Old Testament happened before Jesus, and these manuscripts dated to a 1,000 after Jesus.) Such was the discovery of a group of manuscripts which were a thousand years older than the then-oldest-known Hebrew texts of the Bible (manuscripts, many of which were written more than 100 years before the birth of Jesus). You know what? When Biblical Scholars compared the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Masoretic Texts, do you know what they found? Basically the EXACT same document. 1,000 years difference, with little variations. That is amazing!!
The “Other Books”
Many things were recorded at the same time as the Bible. Some important historical books are even copied alongside the Bible and bound inside the Greek version of the Old Testament (and later in the Latin version), but they are not considered Scripture. Writing was an art and paper was scarce. We get confused by how closely these writings were kept to Scripture, but we should not be confused or put off by the fact that these books are included. The method of preservation they chose—keeping Scripture and important books together, even copying them as a set, was very useful. Most people capable of reading and teaching from Scripture wanted access to the history of the Jews after the Bible had ended too. It made sense to keep them together.
Jesus and the disciples made not comments and quoted none of these books in their ministry. Throughout the ages Jews and Christians have clearly identified and preserved the documents that God was speaking through. A few of the early church leaders after the apostles quoted these books, and in the 1500’s when Protestant’s split off officially from the Catholic church, they chose to distinguish their Bible from the Protestant one (which is the same one we have today) by declaring and preserving these historical books as Scripture.
People always want to be famous—to leave a legacy. Many have tried to do so by writing a spiritual book that would take on the importance of Scripture. One set of this literature includes people who wrote under the name of a famous religious figure—like someone attempting to write a play as if they were Shakespeare. These books are referred to as the Pseudepigrapha (Pseudo which means false, and graphia, which means writings) hence our word for authors writing under a Pseudonym, a false name. Again, these false authors were easy for church leaders identify long ago. So we should not be deterred by the fact that someone wrote and called their book “the gospel of Thomas” as if they had been one of Jesus disciples.
Most of the attacks on Scripture today have been people arguing that we left out a book that should have been included or that we included a book that should not be in the Bible. After 2,000+ years of debate, I am going to prefer to stick to the consensus of the scholars and early church leaders. I don’t think God allowed someone to deceive us for 2,000 years, I don’t believe an addition or omission of some book would or should dramatically change my belief’s—what God wants us to know, He’s repeated (and His nature doesn’t change), and though modern science is great and transformational, I don’t put a lot of faith in their ability to make judgments on historical events 2,000 years ago. Science in the present is phenominal. Science interpreting the events of the past is far more problematic and makes far greater mistakes. Modern arguments like: Paul didn’t write 2 Thessalonians because the language and style of writing is too different from his other letters can sound convincing at first glance, but does not hold up to closer scrutiny if you’ll allow others to examine that same evidence.
Bottom Line: You can trust the Bible’s contents…don’t trust the contents outside of it in the same way.
Read more at Chris’ blog: http://chrisedmondson.blogspot.com/2010/12/apocrypha-books-that-didnt-make-cut.html
The Great Danger of Not Trusting All the Bible:
Truth hurts. We still have a part of us that is wired to want to live selfishly, arrogantly, and indulgently. We all encounter parts of the Bible that remind us that we don’t agree or obey God in ways because we still want it our way. Some of us downplay drunkenness because we like alcohol and we indulge too much sometimes. Others of us glance over the Bible’s warnings about lust because we just can’t stop looking at the internet’s adult content in our private moments. And most of us struggle not to overemphasize areas that we excel as Christians so that we can feel better than the average Christian because of our high level of work as a witness to non-believers or our passion for orphans and widows. Often we work hard on the areas we are good at and downplay our weak areas in an attempt to cover up our faults. It’s human nature.
Now attach that human tendency to the belief that the Bible’s not all trustworthy. Haha! Bingo. Now I can emphasize parts I like and downplay parts I don’t without guilt. I’ll just call the parts I don’t like “not Scripture” or I’ll think of the Bible as a human book—and all humans have their faults. Moreover, if God can’t give me a clear picture of what He wants—then I feel I generally have a good excuse to live my life in an average manner. If He wanted excellence, I need a more excellent guidebook.
The great problem with believing the Bible is imperfect or faulty in parts is simply this: no one agrees on where the faults are at! Many scholars and collaborations of scholars have tried to reassess the evidence and arrive at the truth…none have caught on and provided us with a better solution. Who do we trust to identify the faults and perfections? How do we arrive at the truth? Those who have adopted the belief that the Bible isn’t fully trustworthy have never moved onto something greater. Their compromise on this belief has simply left them stranded, personally or organizationally. If we can’t know with certainty that the Bible is God’s word, we are in trouble. And if we trust one scholar, like Bart Erman, or even trust ourselves, how arrogant does that truly make us, to think we can evaluate and know the truth better than anyone else…
BIG IDEA: Can the Bible be Trusted? Yes!
But You must decide to treat it as trustworthy for yourself. What you believe about this will have a great impact on your faith.
Be Honest: what part of the Bible would you ignore or dismiss or change, if you could? (We all wish something was different.)
Think About It:
Would you be willing to research and talk with someone who struggles with the reliability of the Bible?
How can you figure out what motives or biases might be behind a person’s struggle to believe the Bible’s reliable?
Rejected or Uncategorized Words:
- Gospel of Thomas
- 1 & 2 Clement
- Shepherd of Hermas
- 1 & 2 Esdras
- Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)Wisdom
- Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach)
- Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy (all part of Vulgate Baruch)
- Song of the Three Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
- Story of Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13)
- The Idol Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14)
- Prayer of Manasses
- 1, 2 & 3 Maccabees
- Epistle of Barnabus
Additional Resources and Information:
What’s the other side saying? Take a look at Bibleviz.com and see many of their arguments.
Doesn’t the Bible Contradict Itself? Not Really.
Short Starter Video on dealing with Bible Contradictions: