Did you know that the Bible is the best selling book in all of history? It is also one of the most controversial books ever written. Revered by Christians all over the world as God’s holy Word, the Bible crosses centuries of history and has a variety of literary styles. Is it just a collection of stories and myths? Did God really write it?
Several years ago, I actually enrolled in and took a college class entitled “How We Got Our Bible” from a Bible College in the State of Washington because I was learning Hebrew and I wanted to read the most reliable Old Testament text in Hebrew. Most of the material from this column was written in my final exam for that course. (I actually had my question answered about which Old Testament text was the best and that answer was the Masoretic Hebrew text. The Masoretic text is nearly identical to the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, the short Leviticus fragment from the En-Gedi Scroll, is completely identical with the Masoretic Text.)
To understand the Bible, we need to realize that it is actually a collection 66 books, which were written over a period of almost 2,000 years by 40 authors in three continents. Thirty-nine books are in the Old Testament, written in mainly Hebrew, but also some Aramaic, and 27 books are in the New Testament, written in Greek. Yet the message of the Bible is consistent and harmonious. Both Jewish leaders and church leaders were very methodical in making sure that the books in the Holy Scripture were indeed the word of God. For a book to be included in the Old Testament, there were several rules. First, it had to be self-authenticating or claim to come from God or someone recognized as having divine authority. Secondly, it had to be in agreement and could not contradict another book. For a book to be included in the New Testament, it first must be written by an apostle or by someone known by the apostles and secondly, it had to agree with the other scriptures.
I believe that the Bible is God-breathed text even though God did not physically write it. Instead, God worked through everyday people, inspired by him, to preserve the words that we have and should know. The Gates of Hell may try all they can to discredit scripture and deceive people, but they will not prevail. Second Timothy 2:15 says: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Those who study the Bible will know the truth and those who do not study the Bible will probably be deceived. (I also believe that Satan fears believers who read the Bible.)
Although we do not have any original books of the Bible, which are called “autographs,” we do have thousands of copies. The reason we do not have originals is that they were written on papyrus and animal skins, which decay over the centuries.
The Jewish scribes had great respect for the Old Testament and they were very careful in writing newer copies of it. The scribes were meticulous, so they would not make any mistakes. The counted the number of letters, the number of words, and even the number of lines. Because of the care of the scribes, the quality of the Old Testament far exceeds all other ancient writings that were found. If one reads the manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and then reads the Old Testament today, they would find very few differences. And the few differences would all be minor and make no change to any of the concepts.
At the time, I was taking my class, there were 5,358 manuscripts for the New Testament and about 800 manuscripts for the Old Testament. Because there are so many copies, we find variants in the reading. Actually, these variant readings are helpful, as scholars are able to reconstruct the original words by determining which variant best clarifies the others in any specified passage. Experts can link these copies and trace them back in time to families of copies that come from different places or come from copies that have the same wording. The variants are due to visual errors made by scribes, or because of auditory errors when a group of scribes were listening to the reading of a manuscript, faulty writing and memory, or when scribes try to correct a text. Because of the huge numbers of copies, the process of finding out what was on the original autographs becomes much more believable.
Researchers not only research the Bible, but they also do this for other literary writings. As a high school English teacher, I can tell you that over 600 copies of the Iliad have been found. Out of the 15,600 lines in the Iliad, over 400 lines are uncertain. Compare this with the new Testament with more than 20,000 lines, of which only 40 lines are questioned, and none of these lines would make a significant change to the text.
Our Bible has been researched far more than any other ancient writing. People have researched the number of manuscripts, their quality, and the time span of the Bible. If we took all the outside sources quoting the Bible and put them altogether, we could probably almost make a complete copy, just from the quotes.
Another item to consider is that adding material to the New Testament would have been impossible because when these books were being written, many of those reading or hearing them had been alive in the time of Jesus and would have recognized any false information. And, as many of these people were dying for what they believed, it is doubtful that they would give their lives for something that was not truthful.
This is becoming a very long column and I have not even touched on all the scientific proof of archeology, biology, geology, and astronomy. That will have to wait until another time.
In the meantime, remember that if faith is to have any value, it must be based on reality and facts. Your faith is in not misplaced in trusting the Bible.