Articles and Outlines - Bible / Theology - Is the Text of the Bible Reliable?

Is the Text of the Bible Reliable?

Author: Christian Information Ministries
Date: 6/5/2003 2:08:44 PM

I. Introduction

A. How do we know God exists?

1. The only way we can know a personal God exists is
through His revelation of Himself in the Bible.

2. The design of nature makes the existence of a
Designer highly probable but this cannot result in
absolute proof.

3. Man can reason that a God must exist, but the man
doing the reasoning is finite and has been
affected by the fall. All philosophical arguments
fall short of proving God's existence. (though
some of the arguments are quite good!).

B. But how do we know the Bible is true? How do we know
it is a true revelation of God?

1. Again we cannot prove the Bible is true. The
scientific method is not infallible and the man
trying to prove the Bible is not infallible. Bear
in mind we are talking about absolute proof.

2. Instead, what we do is assume the Bible is true,
and that God exists as a beginning assumption. In
other words, we begin with faith. All world views
begin this way, i.e. with assumptions that cannot
be proved.

3. However, once that assumption has been made, the
hypothesis can be tested. If the Bible is God's
Word we should expect it to mirror reality, i.e.
state things as they really are. We would expect
the Bible to tell us things that we can know
experientially. We would expect that accuracy has
been maintained as it has been copied down through
the centuries. The Bible is a supernatural book.
It was written by 40 human authors over a period
of 1600 years and copied by hand thousands of
times. Yet there is one unified theme in the
Bible as a whole, and the text that we have today
is essentially the same as the original
manuscript. Let's look a the Old and New

II. The Old Testament

A. Scribes were professional transcribers of the Bible
from antiquity, trained to copy documents.

B. There are three main families of manuscripts of the Old
Testament: The Massoretic Text, The Dead Sea Scrolls,
and the Septuagint.

1. The Massoretic Text. It dates to about A.D. 1000.
A group of Jews known as Massoretes were
professional copyists who developed meticulous
techniques to assure accuracy.

a. The texts they had were all in capital

b. There was no punctuation nor paragraphs.

c. They numbered all of the verses, words and
letters of each book. They counted the
number of times each letter was used in
each book. They calculated the middle
verse, middle word, and middle letter of
each book.

d. Comparisons of Massoretic texts of the 10th
century with Greek and Latin versions of
first century show remarkable agreement.

2. The Dead Sea Scrolls

a. They were discovered in 1947. They include a
complete copy of Isaiah and fragments of
almost every book in the O.T. They are dated
around 100-200 B.C.

b. This antedates by more than 1000 years the
oldest Hebrew texts in the Massoretic

c. The error in copying in this great period is
very minimal.

(1) For example, of the 166 words in Isaiah
53, only one word is in question, and it
does not change any sense of the

(2) This is typical of the whole manuscript.

3. The Septuagint

It is a greek translation of the O.T. from around
200 B.C. by 70 Jewish scholars in Alexandria. It
also confirms the accuracy of the Massoretic text.

III. The New Testament

A. Manuscript evidence: There are more than 4000
ancient Greek manuscripts containing all or portions
of the N.T. that have survived to our time. The
writing materials most often used were papyrus and
parchment. There are 2 excellent parchment copies of
the entire N.T. which date from 325-450 called codex
Vaticanus and codex Siniaticus. The earliest piece
we have is a portion of John dated from 130 A.D., the
Rylands fragment, containing John 19;31-33, 37. From
five of these fragments alone, we can construct all
of Luke, John, Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians,
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II
Thessalonians, Hebrews, and portions of Matthew,
Mark, Acts and Revelation.

B. Versions: In addition to the actual Greek
manuscripts, there are 1000 copies and fragments of
the N.T. in various languages, and 8000 copies of the
Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome about 400 A.D.

C. Church Fathers: A further witness to the text is
found in the thousands of quotations of Church
fathers (the early Christian writers). If all of the
N.T. manuscripts were to disappear overnight we could
produce the entire N.T. with the quotes of the church
fathers with the exception of 15-20 verses.

D. By Comparison: The wealth of materials for the N.T.
becomes even more evident when we compare it with
other ancient documents which have been accepted
without question. Consider the following chart:


Caesar Gallic War 58-50 B.C. 900 A.D.
Tacitus Histories 100 A.D. 900-1000 A.D.
Tacitus Annals 100 A.D. 900-100- A.D.
Herodotus History 480-425 B.C. 900 A.D.
Thucydides History 460-400 B.C. 900 A.D
Christians NEW TESTAMENT 50-70 A.D. fragments, 90-125
A.D. 100 before 500 A.D.

The same could be said of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Sophocles,
Euripedes, Plato, and Demosthenes. The time between their
writing and the earliest manuscript we have of their writing
ranges between 1200 and 1600 years! But no classical scholar
would ever listen to an argument that the authenticity of
Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest
manuscripts of their works which are any use to us are more than
1300 years later than the originals. Compare that with the New
Testament writings.

E. Conclusion: Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director and
principal librarian of the British Museum, in "The
Bible and Archaeology" wrote, "The interval between
the dates of original composition and the earliest
extant evidence becomes so small as to be, in fact,
negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt
that the Scriptures have come down to us
substantially as they were written has now been
removed. Both the authenticity and the general
integrity of the books of the N.T. may be regarded as
finally established. To be skeptical of the 27
documents in the N.T. and to say they are unreliable
is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into
obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are
as well attested bibliographically as these in the

IV. What Other Scholars have Said:

A. William F. Albright: "The excessive skepticism shown
toward the Bible by important historical schools of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of
which still appear periodically, has been progressively
discredited. Discovery after discovery has established
the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought
increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a
source of history." From THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF PALESTINE,

B. Nelson Glueck: "It may be stated categorically that no
archaeological discovery has ever controverted a
Biblical reference." From RIVERS IN THE DESERT, p.31.

C. Millar Burrows: "On the whole, however, archaeological
work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the
reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one
archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible
increased by the experience of excavation in
Palestine." From WHAT MEAN THESE STONES?, p. 1

D. Two Examples:

1. From the Old Testament: a certain Belshazzar is
mentioned in Dan. 5. The Bible refers to him as
the king over Babylon and because Daniel
interpreted the writing on the wall for him, he
was elevated to the 3rd highest position in the
kingdom. The critics believed Belshazzar was a
myth since his name was never mentioned in the
historical records. Archaeologists now know from
ancient discoveries that Belshazzar was a co-
regent with his father, Nabonidus, who had taken
up residence in Arabia. Perhaps this explains why
Daniel could only be elevated to the 3rd highest
in the kingdom!

2. From the New Testament: Luke tells us (Chapter 2)
that a decree was issued whereby all citizens were
to return to the land of their inheritance in
order to be taxed. The passage also says that
Quirinius was Governor of Syria at the time. The
critics said Luke was inaccurate on both counts.
The people were not taxed in this way and
Saturninus was Governor, not Quirinius. Separate
archaeological discoveries have vindicated the
Bible at both points.

For further study we recommend two books:

Inter Varsity Press, 1963.

Crusade, 1972.

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