According to traditional Christian teaching, the Bible is God’s book, written for us, containing everything we need to know to live in this world. We can trust what we read because the author is God. He is in control of all things. He knows all that has happened and will happen for all time.
We can only speculate why He chose the means of transmission to us that He did. But because He controls things, we can trust that the final product is truthful in all regards. He could have spoken the Bible into existence instantaneously. He could have chosen a single author through whom he presented the entire text in its completed form.
But instead, over 1500 years, he utilized at least 40 different individuals through whom He spoke. These individuals He inspired to write such that their writing is without error. Their works were later collected and compiled into a single volume containing the Old Testament written before Jesus’ birth and a New Testament containing books written after.
What we now hold in our hands today are copies and translations of the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic autographs. The original, completed work was inerrant, without error or contradiction of any kind, under the direct inspiration from God. But God’s interaction did not end there. He not only inspired the writing of the original manuscripts but providentially orchestrated the compilation, transmission, and translation of these writings into what we now have today.
The early church holds that the writers of the Gospels and Acts were Matthew, the Apostle; Mark, a companion of Paul and Peter and writing Peter’s recollections; Luke, a companion of Paul; and the Apostle John. The bulk of the remainder of the New Testament was written by Paul, with contributions from Peter, John, and others. There is controversy over these attributions but more than sufficient evidence to support the truth of these claims. No matter what anyone claims, no evidence or argument exists that can conclusively deny the authenticity of the Biblical authors as any different than we identify here.
Over the centuries, minor copyist discrepancies have been found in a few manuscripts, but thousands are error-free. Today’s volume of manuscripts shows remarkable consistency and presents a wholly uncompromised overall message.
We possess over 24,000 New Testament manuscript pieces. Some fragments date earlier than AD 600, before the compilation of the Quran. The Greek NT was written between AD 50-100, with the earliest known manuscript dated AD 130, a time gap of mere decades, and having 5,795 existing manuscripts. The majority are not complete manuscripts but mere fragments of pages, but that does not detract from the value they provide in the search for truth. The quantity and consistency available for study and comparison overwhelmingly exceeds that of any other writing of antiquity, attesting to the value the material held over the centuries to those possessing it and of the message they contain. By comparison, Homer’s Iliad, written in 800 BC, boasts only 1,757 manuscript copies, the earliest known dated 400 years after its writing. After that, no other work of antiquity has more than 350 copies, the earliest manuscripts dating hundreds and thousands of years from the original autographs. 1
Comparing the Biblical manuscripts gives us reasonable assurance that the Bibles that we have in our possession accurately reflect the material in the originals. We can be more confident in the content and message contained in the Bible than in any other ancient historical writing. One cannot justifiably doubt the content of the Bible without also questioning much of recorded history.
The evidence available also provides a reasonable probability that most New Testament writers were eye-witnesses and close companions of Jesus and wrote within fifty years of the His crucifixion. Many eye-witnesses to the events would still have been alive at that time. Refutations and rebuttals from those receiving the testimony would have stifled the spread of the writings and destroyed their credibility. The lack of refutations and the rapid spread of the message, along with the sheer volume of available manuscript evidence, validate the truth of the events and message the writings portray. Furthermore, most Apostles and many early church leaders died horrific deaths as martyrs for their faith, prompting the question, “would they die for something they knew to be a lie?” After witnessing the death and resurrection of Jesus, they feared God more than anything people could do to them. They believed that death and entrance into the Kingdom of God were better than life.
The discovery of the Old Testament Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 further validates the authenticity of the Old and New Testament scriptures, attesting to the meticulous copyist rituals engaged in by those entrusted with the care and transmission of God’s Word. We can say much about the process Jewish scribes undertook when copying the Torah and other Old Testament books that I will not go into here. But the process the copyists undertook carried great importance, with specialized attention and technique, including counting letters and words on a page and other quality checks to ensure each copy was identical to the original.
Next time, we will look further into Biblical reliability regarding Science, archaeology, and prophecy. Please check out other posts in this series here.