Reliability of the Bible
In this brief document, let me give you evidence I have found regarding the reliability of the Bible. This evidence was gathered from reading several of the books listed in the Resources page of this website.
To examine the reliability of the Bible let’s look at three questions.
- Authenticity – Is the Bible we have now the same as what was first written?
- Accuracy – Is what was first written an accurate account of what actually happened?
- Authority – Is what was first written really the word of God?
In looking at the authenticity of the Bible, let’s examine the evidence that the Bible we have today is the same as was first written. To do so, let’s put Scripture to the same test we would for any historical writing. We need to look at the manuscript evidence — the quantity of original manuscripts, the quality of the manuscripts and the time span between the events and when the manuscripts were written. For the New Testament, there are over 14,000 partial or whole manuscripts. There are fewer copies of the Old Testament original manuscripts as they were destroyed, were buried or have not yet discovered.
One significant discovery, however, attests to the accuracy of the Hebrew Bible. Before 1947, the oldest existing Hebrew Bible manuscript was dated 900 A.D. Because of the great reverence the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls showed just how accurate those scribes were. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written between 200 and 100 B.C, 1000 years before the earliest manuscripts discovered at the time. In spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the text available before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is very small. Those are only variations in spelling and style.
The sheer number of manuscripts of the New Testament makes it possible for scholars to reconstruct the original text with great accuracy, as they have. So we know that the quality of the New Testament is excellent. In addition, many of the books of the New Testament were written and circulated during the time when many people were alive who could have experienced the NT events. The books would not have survived and lives would not have changed if such books were inaccurate. We can conclude, therefore, that the quantity and quality of the manuscripts lends to their reliability. But what about the time span?
Scholars estimate that the New Testament was written between 40 and 100 AD – 25-60 years after the events happened. This is a very short period compared to other ancient texts we accept as accurate. It is also important to note that other ancient texts we accept as reliable have substantially longer periods of time between the actual events and the dates the manuscripts were written and have much fewer manuscripts to test their accuracy. For example, the time span between the earliest manuscript of Homer (the Iliad) and the date written is 500 years and there are fewer than 700 copies available. The time span between the earliest copy of a Plato manuscript and the date written is 1300 years and there are fewer than 10 copies available. There are similar issues with the writings of Aristotle, Julius Caesar and others.
To examine the accuracy of the Bible, let’s give it both an internal and an external test. In looking at the Bible internally, we discover that the Bible narrative is written as eyewitness accounts. The authors intended the books to be read as historical accounts, not as stories of fiction. Externally, we can see evidence outside the Bible for its accuracy. The Jewish historian Josephus who wrote between 37 and 100 AD refers to Jesus, John the Baptist and James. Tacitus refers to Christ, his crucifixion and Pontius Pilot. And there are many archeological examples which back-up Biblical events. A key point is that no archeological discovery finding has ever contradicted a Biblical event.
Is the Bible the Word of God?
The Bible is an amazingly unified book even though it contains 66 books, was written over 1,500 years by over 40 authors, contains multiple genres, and was written in 3 languages covering topics such a God, man, and heaven. The Bible shows the fulfillment of prophesy regarding Jesus, the rise and fall of Greece, the destruction of Tyre, and other events. And the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. (Matthew 5:17-18, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21)
To summarize, the evidence points to the authenticity, the accuracy and the authority of the Bible.