Can We Trust the Bible?
Critics argue we don’t have the original copies of the Bible’s manuscripts or even copies of the originals. How can we trust that the Bible we have today is accurate?
While we don’t have the original documents of the Scriptures, what we do have are thousands of ancient manuscript copies. For the New Testament, there are now more than 6,000 known copies. Fragments exist from the first half of the second century, while full New Testament manuscripts still exist from the fourth century. As New Testament textual critic Daniel Wallace notes, we can be certain we have the original text of the New Testament in our modern Greek edited editions or in the footnotes. There is no “missing Bible” waiting to be discovered.
The Old Testament provides another fascinating story. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the oldest known complete Hebrew Bible was from about 1000 A.D. called the Leningrad Codex. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Qumran caves of Israel provided nearly 200 new scrolls covering almost every Old Testament book.
Of great importance is that the text of the Old Testament documents found in Qumran are largely identical to those of 1,000-1,200 years later. While there are some slight variations, the text is the same.
Further, the Old Testament was translated into Greek between the third to first centuries B.C. From a study of this Greek translation, called the Septuagint, scholars can also confirm the reliability of the Hebrew text from this time. The latest Old Testament books were completed in the 400s B.C., offering evidence within approximately a century of their composition.
Though much more can be noted about the manuscript tradition, there is also a need to discuss the accuracy of the message of the Bible. Many of today’s critics agree with the evidence of an accurately transmitted Bible. However, they argue we don’t know if the actual stories and miracles are true.
Were the Bible’s writings simply religious fiction from the ancient past? There are a few ways to briefly evaluate this accusation. First, archaeology affirms thousands of details from the Bible. From city names to rulers and historical events, the Bible is regularly noted as accurate, while no direct contradiction to a historical claim in the Bible has been verified.
Second, extra-biblical writings often affirm biblical events. For example, first century Jewish historian Josephus mentions John the Baptist, Jesus, and early Christians, despite not likely being a Christian himself.
Third, the New Testament writings were developed during the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. If they had recorded inaccurate information, it is highly unlikely their stories would have spread as quickly and as far as they did. In contrast, many of the early Gnostic gospels exist only in a small number of copies and were rejected even by Christian leaders during their generation.
Fourth, the changed lives of early Christians point toward the truthfulness of the Bible’s important events. For example, if the events of their writings did not happen, why did so many early believers suffer persecution and martyrdom for their faith? Why didn’t more people recant their teachings? Why did opponents of Jesus, including the apostle Paul, convert to Christianity? A likely explanation is because the events of the New Testament were (and are) true.
While we do not have video footage of Jesus walking out of the tomb or feeding the 5,000, we have multiple accounts preserved in thousands of copies that document events highly regarded by the people living during the time of the authors. Salvation is by faith, but the facts of history regarding Jesus and the writings of the Bible remains powerful. We can trust the Bible is accurate, authoritative, and life-changing still today.