How You Can Know the Bible is the Word of God?/Program 3

Editor’s Note: The charts in this transcript were provided by Dr. Geisler, and are

used by permission.

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2000
Our topic is: “Can We Trust the Bible?” How do we know that the books of the Bible that we have in our hands today have been reliably copied down through the years, going all the way back to the people who wrote them? Number two: What about the authors who wrote the original manuscripts? Can we tell that these people were honest and accurate? The answer is, “Yes



Today on The John Ankerberg Show, is the Bible the word of God, or just the words of men? What does the Bible claim about itself? What evidence does the Bible provide to prove its claim is true – that it did come from God? My guest is philosopher and theologian Dr. Norman Geisler, Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Dr. Norman Geisler: Is the Bible the word of God? Or is it the words of men? The Bible claims to be the word of God and the Bible proves to be the word of God. In this program we’re going to show how this is the only book in the world that really claims to be, and proves to be, the word of God.

Today, “Is the Bible the word of God or just the words of men?” We invite you to join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Our topic is: Can we trust the Bible? How do we know that the books of the Bible that we have in our hands today have been reliably copied down through the years, going all the way back to the people who wrote them? Number two: What about the authors who wrote the original manuscripts? Can we tell that these people were honest and accurate? The answer is, “Yes.” My guest is Dr. Norman Geisler and I’d like you to listen:
Geisler: The Bible: can we trust it? We’ve already talked about the Bible: Who wrote it? It was written by men of God who were moved by the Spirit of God to produce the word of God.
We’ve talked about “The Bible: Are there any errors?” Well, God can’t err. The Bible is the word of God, therefore the Bible can’t err.
Now let’s take a look at, “The Bible: Can we trust it?” Are the documents reliable? Are the witnesses reliable? In order to understand whether the Bible is a trustworthy book, we’ve got to look at two basic things: First, are the documents that we have in our hand upon which our translations are based, are those reliably copied, accurately reproduced down through the years?
Number two: What about the people who wrote the originals? Are these people who were honest, reliable, accurate? Has it been cross-checked by history, archaeology? Is the Bible, as we have it in our hands today, a trustworthy account of what was originally said?
This may come as a great surprise to you in the light of all the criticism you read about the Bible in magazines and television and in the newspaper, but there’s more evidence that the New Testament is an accurate historical record than for any book from the ancient world. Now, I know that’s a big claim, but let’s take a look at the evidence. First of all, we have more documents, more accurately copied documents with a higher percent of accuracy and a closer proximity to the original than any book from the ancient world.

Date Written
Earliest Copies
Time Gap
No. of Copies
Percent Accuracy
Hindu Mahabharata 13th cent. BC
Homer, Iliad 800 BC
Herodotus, History 480-425 BC c. AD 900 c. 1,350 yrs.
Thucydides, History 460-400 BC c. AD 900 c. 1,300 yrs.
Plato 400 BC c. AD 900 c. 1,300 yrs.
Demosthenes 300 BC c. AD 1100 c. 1,400 yrs.
Caesar, Gallic Wars 100-44 BC c. AD 900 c. 1,000 yrs
Livy, History of Rome 59 BC-AD 17 4th cent. (partial) mostly 10th cent. c. 400 yrs.

c. 1,000 yrs

1 partial

19 copies
Tacitus, Annals AD 100 c. AD 1100 c. 1,000 yrs.
Pliny Secundus, Natural History AD 61-113 c. 850 c. 750 yrs.
New Testament AD 50-100 c. 114 (fragment)

c. 200 (books)

c. 250 (most of NT)

c. 325 (complete NT)

+/- 50 yrs.

100 yrs.

150 yrs.

225 yrs.

Take a look at this chart. Now, notice, the reliability of the New Testament documents. In the left column we have other books from the ancient world: Hindu Mahabharata, Homer’s Iliad, Herodotus’ History, Thucydides, Plato, Demosthenes, and a number of other books.
Then we have in the next column the date they were written. In the next column, the earliest copies we have, and the important columns are the last couple of columns.
Now, here’s what I want to say to you about this information before we look at it in more detail. The Bible has more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, and better copied manuscripts than any book from antiquity. So that if you cannot believe the Bible is historically reliable, you would have to throw out all of history, everything in high school, in college in classical departments, every university in the world – based on documents from the ancient world would have to be totally annihilated unless you’re going to accept the Bible as historically reliable.
Now let’s take a look at the chart again. Notice the time gap for most other books from the ancient world: 1300 years, Herodotus; Thucydides – 1300 years. That’s between the time when it was written and the first copies. 1400 years, a thousand. In fact, 750 we have down there for Pliny on the bottom.
Let’s take one example and it’s right in the middle of the chart. Plato. He wrote around 400 BC. First copy from 900 AD: Gap – 1300 years. In other words, there’s 1300 years of transmission and we don’t have anything to verify how accurately it was copied during those years. And we have only seven copies of Plato. We have only a few copies in 1300 years. Now, the average for most books from the ancient world, the average is over a thousand-year gap between the time he wrote it and the first copies we have.
Look at the Bible on the bottom of the chart. We have books as early as 114 A.D. We have the John Rylands fragment in 114 AD. That’s probably only 25 years after the time that John wrote the book, and we have it from Egypt–that’s all the way across the Mediterranean in a small town. That means that we have copies that go back right within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the people who wrote them.
We have whole books. The Bodmer Papyri. Look in the bottom of the chart. From 200 AD and 250 we have most of the New Testament. And the Chester Beatty Papyri and from 325 and 350 we have the Vaticanus manuscript, Sinaiticus manuscripts. We have more copies of the Bible, which I’ll get to in a moment, closer to the original, that were more accurately copied than from any book from the ancient world.
Now, to illustrate that, take a look at the chart again. Notice the next column how many copies we have: Homer’s Iliad, 643. That’s the most of any book from the ancient world outside the Bible. We have 8 and 7 and 10 and 200. Down on the bottom we have 5,686 handwritten Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. That’s 10 times as many as the second and it’s a hundred times as many as some of the other books from the ancient world. Now, if you can’t trust the Bible, you can’t trust anything your history teacher tells you, your classics teacher tells you in any school or university in the country because we have more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, closer to the original than any book from antiquity.
Ankerberg: Alright, the first point that Dr. Geisler is making is that the Bible has been accurately copied. Compare it with any other book in the ancient world and you will find that the Bible has more copies than any other book and a shorter interval between the original manuscripts that were written and the extant copies we now possess. But these are not the only reasons why you should trust the Bible. Listen:
Geisler: Let’s take one more look at the chart. Look at the last column. How accurately is the Bible copied? Well, we can’t tell with most books because if you have a 1300 year gap and 7 or 8 manuscripts you can’t know. But we do have a reading. There’s a great scholar, Bruce Metzger, taught at Princeton University, and he made this comparison: Mahabharata, about 90 percent accurately copied. The Homer’s Iliad, about 95 percent accurately copied. But look at the bottom, the Bible. The Bible is 99-plus percent accurately copied. It’s the most accurately copied book from the ancient world. In fact, A. T. Robertson, the great Greek scholar, said, it’s about 99.9 percent accurately copied. That’s better than Ivory soap, which is only 99.44 percent pure.
You say, “Well, what about that .1 or .5 or whatever it is?” Little details – spelling, things that don’t affect the meaning of any major or minor doctrine of the Bible at all. You hold in your hands the most accurately copied book from the ancient world. If you can’t trust it, you can’t trust anything else.
Ankerberg: Now maybe you’re wondering, “What are some real examples that show us the Bible has been accurately translated down through the years?” One solid bit of evidence comes from the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls allowed us the opportunity to jump backwards in time to manuscripts that were a thousand years older than anything we had previously. When scholars compared the documents they had with those a thousand years before them, what do you think they discovered? Dr. Geisler tells us. Listen:
Geisler: The Dead Sea scrolls produced manuscripts that were a thousand years earlier than most of the other Hebrew manuscripts we had before that. So it gave a good test case of how accurately was the Bible copied during those thousand years. Let’s take Isaiah 53. In Isaiah 53, after a thousand years of copying, according to the earlier manuscripts, it boils down to one word, the word light, verse 11 in Isaiah 53. It doesn’t change the meaning of the passage at all. The Bible has the most accurately copied transcripts and manuscripts from the ancient world and when they do vary, they vary in spelling, a word here, some other word added there that does not affect its message.
Ankerberg: Now, for a moment, forget about the 5,686 New Testament manuscript copies that we have in the museums. What if all of them were destroyed? Did you know that we could still reconstruct the entire New Testament from the quotations of the early Church Fathers, except for 11 verses? Well, it’s true. Dr. Geisler explains:
Geisler: Here’s another thing that is very important. Not only do we have 5,686 manuscripts, earlier, more accurately copied than any book from the ancient world, but if you destroyed every Bible in the world, all of those almost 6,000 manuscripts, all of the translations in Latin and Ethiopic and Coptic and every other language, if you destroyed every Bible in the world, we could still reconstruct virtually the whole Bible from quotations from the early Fathers. Go to your library and get out the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the Fathers from second to the fourth century and this chart shows us what you would see. One scholar studied the Ante-Nicene Fathers and he concluded, there were 36,289 quotes from the New Testament in these early Fathers. That means every verse in the New Testament except eleven, most of which come from 3 John – when did you quote 3 John last? – are found in these Fathers. You could destroy every Bible in the world and still reconstruct virtually the whole New Testament just from these quotations of the Fathers.
Ankerberg: Now next, in answering the question, Can we trust the Bible?, we need to answer the question the noted philosopher David Hume asked, “What about the people who wrote the original books? Were they reliable authors, writers, and witnesses? Dr. Geisler now turns his attention to Hume’s four criteria for answering this question and shows the Gospel writers can be trusted. Listen:
Geisler: Now let’s turn to our second point. Not only are the manuscripts accurately copied so the Bible in our hand accurately reproduces what the original said, but what about the people who wrote those originals? Were they reliable authors and writers and witnesses? One of the best ways to look at this is, let’s take the skeptic David Hume. Let’s take his criteria for determining a good witness and apply it to the New Testament witnesses. So take a look at what David Hume said. Basically he said you have to ask yourself four questions about witnesses: Do the witnesses contradict each other? Are there a sufficient number of witnesses? Were the witnesses truthful? And were they non-prejudicial? Let’s take those one at a time.
First of all, do the witnesses contradict each other? As we already saw in our previous program, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There are conflicts; there are discrepancy, but there is nothing that is really contradictory. The very fact that there are discrepancies actually helps to prove that the witnesses were telling the truth. If you saw four people in court and they all gave word-for-word the same testimony about an event, say, an accident, what would the judge do? He would throw them out because they’re conspiring to say it exactly the same way. The New Testament doesn’t say it exactly the same way. There are divergences but no contradictions. That’s exactly what you expect from good, honest eyewitnesses and we have them in the New Testament. In fact, some of the greatest legal minds in history, Simon Greenleaf, who was professor at Harvard of law at the turn of the century, he wrote the book on legal evidence that lawyers use to test whether witnesses are telling the truth in court. He was asked by his students to apply those same rules to the New Testament witnesses and guess what he concluded. The New Testament documents are reliable. The witnesses are telling the truth. Simon Greenleaf became a Christian because the evidence is there for the witnesses.
Take a look at Hume’s second criterion. Are there a sufficient number of the witnesses? Well, not only are there sufficient numbers, we have nine people who wrote 27 books. Most of the events from the ancient world are based on one person who hundreds of years later wrote the book. For example, Alexander the Great. Everybody knows about him, believes that he conquered the then known world. How do we know that? No eyewitness accounts exist today. A hundred and fifty or 200 years later the first accounts we have of it. We have contemporary eyewitness accounts of the New Testament: nine people who were contemporaries of the events writing 27 books in which they record that 500 people saw Jesus after the resurrection. And when the book was written, around 55 or 56 – the book of 1 Corinthians. Even critics say it was written then. That’s only 22 or 23 years after the event while most of the witnesses were still alive. Paul is saying that in essence, if you don’t believe me, there are 500 plus people running around that can tell you about this. Now, you show me any book from the ancient world that has nine people writing 27 documents, recording 500 people who saw it, most of whom were still alive. There is no other book from the ancient world like that. The Bible is historically reliable.
Let’s take a look at Hume’s third criterion. Were the witnesses truthful? Were they telling the truth? Now, in the case of the New Testament we have honest people who lived by the highest ethical standard, who died for what they believed. Not only did they teach the highest ethic known to mankind, they lived by the highest ethic and they died by this ethic. These were people who were truthful because they were cross-checked by others; because they gave their testimony in the very city in which these events occurred. They preached that Jesus rose from the dead in the same town that it occurred just a matter of weeks after the event occurred. So we have truthful witnesses cross-checked by history, cross-checked by their sincerity, cross-checked by their willingness to die for what they believe. By Hume’s third criterion we are in a book that is absolutely reliable not only in documents but in witnesses.
Ankerberg: Now, some people say that those who wrote the Bible were prejudiced; that is, they padded the case because they wanted to believe in Jesus. They were sincere, but sincerely deceived and not open to the truth. Well, the evidence just doesn’t support that conclusion at all. Dr. Geisler explains:
Geisler: Take a look at the last one. Were they non-prejudicial? Were these people biased in one direction so they weren’t open to the truth? Not only were these people non-prejudicial who put together the New Testament, they were biased in the opposite direction. They didn’t even want to believe in the resurrection. Jesus had been with them for 3½ years teaching He was going to resurrect from the dead from beginning to end – John 2, Matthew 12, Matthew 17ff – and when the resurrection occurred, they were walking down the road saying, “Well, we had wished He was the one who was going to be our Messiah.” The women came back and reported that He was resurrected and they didn’t believe the report. Thomas, after others had seen Jesus, said, “I’m not going to believe unless I can stick my finger in His hand, my hand in His side.” They were biased against what they witnessed for. They were converted by the sheer weight of the evidence in favor of it. In fact, the only thing that really accounts for the fact that scared, skeptical, scattered disciples were transformed overnight into the world’s greatest missionary society is they were so convinced by the evidence that it was true, that they could not avoid the conclusion.
Look at the list again. We have witnesses that do not contradict each other. We have a sufficient number of the witnesses. We have witnesses who were truthful, who were non-prejudicial. Even by skeptic David Hume’s criteria, we have a New Testament that is a reliable document because the manuscripts are reliable, and the witnesses who put together those manuscripts are reliable as well.
Ankerberg: Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the 70 or so liberal scholars in the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Geisler explains a little bit about this group and why the evidence contradicts their conclusions. Listen:
Geisler: Now, there’s a very popular group called the Jesus Seminar today, 70-plus scholars from the Westar Institute, and they vote with colored beads as to whether Jesus really said or did these things that are recorded in the New Testament. They’ve concluded over 80 percent of it isn’t true and Jesus didn’t perform these miracles, He didn’t rise from the dead. They are building their belief on several false presuppositions: One, that miracles don’t happen. Hey, if God exists, miracles are possible. God created the world, the biggest miracle has already happened. Miracles are possible. Secondly, that these documents were written long after the events. In fact, Borg of the Jesus Seminar, said – and I heard him speak in Charlotte several years ago – that these books were written between 70 and 100 AD. Now, if Jesus died in 33, he thinks that gives them enough time that myths developed and so what we have in the New Testament is not what the original eyewitnesses saw.
Let’s test that thesis. Let me take Bishop Robinson as an example. Bishop Robinson was a man who wrote Honest to God and started the death of God movement. Later, before he died, he became honest with the facts and he wrote a book called Redating the New Testament in which he says the basic Gospels were written between 40 and 65 AD. Jesus died in 33. Thirty-three to 40 is seven years. That’s incredible for a liberal critical scholar to recognize how early these documents were written.
William F. Albright, perhaps the greatest archaeologist of the 20th century, started out liberal; ended up conservative just by studying the facts, said, “Every book of the New Testament was written between 50 and 75 AD by a baptized Jew.”
Now, there is not enough time between 33 and 50 or 60 for myths to develop. It’s a known fact it takes two full generations for a myth to develop. We’ve got historically reliable material written by eyewitnesses of the events.
Ankerberg: Now, this whole series of programs is devoted to answering the question, How do we know that the Bible came from God? And today we’re answering the question, Can we trust the material found in the Bible? Well, next Dr. Geisler provides an astounding bit of evidence that comes from archaeology. Listen:
Geisler: Let me mention one other thing that’s very important. A noted Roman historian, Colin Hemer, wrote a book just a few years ago, titled Acts in a Setting of Hellenic History, in which he showed that the book of Acts had to be written between 60 and 62 AD, and he gives hundreds, not just dozens, hundreds of detailed precise material given in Acts to prove that it is historical. Now, if Acts was written between 60 and 62, and the book of Luke was written by the same author – he refers to the former book that he had written: “O Theophilus,” in Acts 1:1 – then Luke had to be written, say, 60. So you have the gospel of Luke that says the same basic thing as Matthew and Mark, written in 60 AD, Jesus dying in 33, within 27 years while the witnesses are still alive; we have somebody who is known to be so accurate that Roman historians literally drool over his material because of the detail and precision. So when you pick up the gospels, you can be absolutely sure, as sure as you can be about anything from the ancient world, that this is written by honest contemporary eyewitnesses, that it has been accurately recorded. So the Bible in your hand is for all practical purposes the exact thing that was given 2000 years ago by Jesus and His disciples.

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