Is the Bible Trustworthy, Part 3 – Textual Evidence

Intro: A book caught my interest as I perused the items in a used book store recently. It was entitled “How to save money on your taxes“. Now there is a useful book. Who doesn’t want to save money on their taxes? But I did not buy it. I looked more carefully at the front of the book. It was published for the year 2005. I completely lost interest. If a book on taxes must be anything, it must be current. Things have changed since 2005. Time made this book obsolete. The information is no longer relevant to living today. What about the Bible. I often see Bibles at used bookstores. I have never turned one down because I considered it obsolete.

  • Is the Bible relevant to today?
  • Has time corrupted the Bible? As we noticed last week, the books that comprise the Bible you own were written by various authors over a period of 1500 years. By the most popular calculation, the most recent of those books was written over 1900 years ago. How is it that we can trust the Bible?

I. The Providential Protection of the Word. My investigation into the various external evidences concerning the accuracy of the text of scripture is undertaken in a vacuum. As I said before I am a satisfied customer when it comes to the Bible, and I believe what the Bible says about itself. Although I am going to talk more about the Bible, than from the Bible today, I believe that the greatest evidence of the Bible’s validity is the Bible itself.

A. The Strength of God’s Promise: God promised to protect His Word. Look at several scriptures that indicate the supernatural provision of God in preserving His word.

        • Psalms 12:6-7The words of the Lord are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
        • Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
        • Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
        • John 10:35The scripture cannot be broken.
        • 1 Peter 1:23 –having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever.
        •  If I believe that God inspired the prophets and apostles to write His very words so that men and women could know Him, can you believe that He would allow that word to corrupted or lost?

II. The Textual Evidence for the N.T.: We do not have any original (autographs) copies of the books of the Bible.To some this is very disconcerting, but when the textual transmission of the Bible is investigated this fact is of little significance. WE do have enormous textual support in the ancient manuscripts. The printing press was not invented until 1438. Before that all transmission of the scriptures took place through copying.

A. The handwritten copies are called manuscripts. As with any ancient writing, the more manuscripts available, the more confidence you have in the document. How does the N.T. compare with other ancient writings?

Author Book Written Earliest Copy # of
Heroditus History 480-425 B.C. 900 A.D. 3 1350 yrs.
Plato 400 B.C. 900 A.D. 7 1300 yrs.
Caesar Gallic Wars 100-44 B.C. 900 A.D. 10 1000 yrs.
Homer lliad 800 B.C. 400 B.C. 643 400 yrs.
Apostles N.T. 50-100 A.D. 125 A.D.(325) 24,000
(more than
4000 in Greek)
25-75 yrs.(225)
        • The number of manuscripts of the N.T. is up to 40 times larger than the Homer’s Iliad. Have you ever heard a professor question than authenticity or reliability of Homer’s Iliad or Plato’s writings?

B. Another consideration is the time gap that exists between the original writing and the earliest copy. (look at our chart again). The time gap for the text of the N.T. is far better than any other ancient writing.

1. William Shakespeare wrote his plays in the 17th century. Yet in every one of his plays we have gaps in the printed text, where we have no idea what originally was said. Textual scholars must make emendations (a good guess) to fill in the blanks. We see that every historical document has problems when it comes to the number of copies which exist and how many years removed the copies are from the original. But the Biblical text is the most documented of all ancient writings, and there are no recognized gaps in the text.

C. In addition to these abundant and early manuscripts we have the numerous quotations found in the writings of the early church leaders.

        • Norman Giesler says… “… The early church fathers—men of the second and third centuries such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and others—quoted the New Testament so much (36,289 times, to be exact) that all but eleven verses of the New Testament can be reconstructed just from their quotations … So we not only have thousands of manuscripts but thousands of quotations from those manuscripts” (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 2004, pp. 225-228).

1. Are there variations in the text of these manuscripts? Consider this… If you only have seven copies of an ancient manuscript, and a few have a discrepancy, it is hard to know what the original said. However, when you have over 24,000 ancient manuscripts, if some of the manuscripts have a discrepancy, it is easy to know what the original was because of the majority reading of the other manuscripts. The fact is only 1/2 of one percent is in question (compared to 5 percent for the Iliad) Even then, it can be stated: “No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading… Sir Frederic Kenyon, authority on ancient manuscripts, sums up the status of the New Testament this way: “It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world” (Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, revised by A.W. Adams, 1958, p. 23).

III. What About the Old Testament? – There is phenomenal manuscript evidence for the O.T. as well.

In Romans 3:2 Paul said that the “oracles of God” were committed to the Jews. God used the Jews to preserve His word through the centuries. They carefully and meticulously preserved their sacred writings through copying.

A. This meticulous care was perpetuated by the Masoretes, a special group of Jewish scribes who were entrusted with making copies of the Hebrew Bible from about A.D. 500 to 900. Their version of the Old Testament, widely considered the most authoritative, came to be known as the Masoretic Text. This text is the oldest complete copy of the O.T.

1. The Masoretes followed very stringent requirements in creating their manuscripts.The Masoretes required that all manuscripts have various word numbering systems. They counted the actual words, letters, and syllables in the copy and the original. If they did not match the copy was destroyed. In fact the copyists were so sure of their work that they felt they could destroy the original after they were finished.

B. But critics used to point out the gap between the original writings of the O.T. and the earliest copies. There was a gap of about 1300 years. Did the copies differ from the originals?

1. The Dead Sea Scrolls: In 1947 a large collection of manuscripts (scrolls preserved in large clay jars) were discovered by a shepherd boy near the Dead Sea. These were called the Dead Sea Scrolls

            • After the boy’s initial discovery more than 100,000 fragments have been pieced together into about 800 documents, many of them copies of the O.T. scriptures.
            • These scrolls were 1000 years older than any other manuscripts in existence.
            • There were fragments of every book in the O.T. except Esther. In the find was a copy of the entire book of Isaiah. Many wondered how these early scrolls would compare with the present day text.

2. Gleason Archer observed that the two copies of Isaiah proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. The scrolls gave an overwhelming confirmation of the Masoretic text. Some of the variants show parallels to the Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX).

3. Scholars examined Isaiah 53, one of the clearest prophecies about Christ, and here is what they found: Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word “light,” which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the LXX [Septuagint]. . . . Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission-and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage. (James MacDonald)

Conclusion: God has written a book. He has preserved His word even to today. The Bible you hold in your hands is trustworthy, reliable, powerful and will never be destroyed.

  • “After trying to shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture, I came to the conclusion that it is historically trustworthy. If one discards the Bible as being unreliable, then one must discard almost all literature of antiquity.” – Josh McDowell, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict
  • “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.” – Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts