I have scoured the wonders of the Internet, examining reliable views of biblical accuracy, from both sides of the fence, to present to my students after they expressed serious doubts. As promised, here are snippets of what I have learned thus far.
Put aside whether or not you believe in the Bible and let’s take a look at whether or not the Bible as a historical text is accurate and reliable.
Firstly, I had an extremely difficult time finding any reliable sources for proving biblical manuscripts inaccurate from a historical or archaeological standpoint. Finding people who do not believe in the Bible as a sacred text was simple, but not the purpose of my research. If you happen to find a viewpoint which disagrees with the Bible as a historical text, please share!
Here are highlights of what I have found to help answer the question: Is the Bible accurate and reliable? *For a deeper and more complete look, click the source links provided*
How old are and how many copies of Scripture do we have compared to other ancient texts?
This is a vital place to begin. If our copies of Scripture are few and far between, then the possibility of inaccuracies increases exponentially.
“In terms of quantity, the New Testament is represented far more than any other piece of ancient literature. Consider the known manuscripts of four well known Greek and Roman works: Homer was the earliest and most popular author of the ancient Greek world. His book, The Illiad, dates to 750 BC. To date, 647 manuscripts of this book have been found. Only 190 contain a complete copy. When compared to other classical Greek writing, Homer’s work is an exception. Copies of his work are much more plentiful than other ancient books. For example, Caesar’s Gallic War, dates to 50 BC. Only 9-10 manuscripts exist with the earliest copy dating to 900 AD. Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War dates to 450 BC. Eight manuscripts have been found with the earliest copy dating to 900 AD. (There are some fragments of this book that date to the time of Jesus.) Finally, Tacitus’ Histories was written in 100 AD. Only two manuscripts are available. One dates to 800 AD, the other to 1000 AD.” Source
When it comes to the Bible, even simply looking at the New Testament, we have over 5,000 copies, both partial and complete, dating back as early as 50 AD. Roughly 20yrs after Jesus’ ascension! Read more here.
Imagine finding a letter your grandmother wrote or even one your great-great grandmother wrote and you get an idea of how close we are to the original New Testament manuscripts. “no text coming from the ancient world has the originals”
How accurate are the ancient texts in comparison to what we use today?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are paramount to not only Old Testament accuracy, but as a reflection of the care put into preserving the Word by those who penned and copied it’s text. The Ugaritic Tablets shed additional light, but I’ll get to touch on them more when I jump to archeology.
DeadSea Scrolls: “What was learned? A comparison of the Qumran manuscript of Isaiah with the Massoretic text revealed them to be extremely close in accuracy to each other: “A comparison of Isaiah 53 shows that only 17 letters differ from the Massoretic text. Ten of these are mere differences in spelling (like our “honor” and the English “honour”) and produce no change in the meaning at all. Four more are very minor differences, such as the presence of a conjunction (and) which are stylistic rather than substantive. The other three letters are the Hebrew word for “light.” This word was added to the text by someone after “they shall see” in verse 11. Out of 166 words in this chapter, only this one word is really in question, and it does not at all change the meaning of the passage. We are told by biblical scholars that this is typical of the whole manuscript of Isaiah.”” Source
Keep in mind that once we translate any text from one language to another we lose a layer of understanding. For example, the Greeks have four (some say five) words used to describe love whereas in English, only one. Take this example from John 21:15 –
[Jesus] said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
When Jesus says love He uses the word agape which is unconditional, sacrificial, and the highest form of love. However, Peter replies not with agape but with phileo or brotherly love. This understanding takes this simple verse and the verses that follow to an entirely new level. You can examine the next verses by CLICKING HERE.
This doesn’t make our translations inaccurate, they simply lack the same depth than if we each learned to read the Bible in the original languages (Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament). To clarify a verse or passage, I encourage you to visit www.BlueLetterBible.org and discover words in the original language.
- This thorough article by James Hannam entitled Did Early Christians Destroy Pagan Literature? addresses the issue of whether or not Christians are responsible for the destruction of other ancient texts for the purpose of preserving the faith. The answer is “not really” but I encourage you to read it for yourself. (grab some coffee)
- I attempted to see how the Qur’an (Koran) compared to the Bible as a historical text and was surprised to find numerous articles on both sides. I did not find this kind of opposition when it came to the Bible as a historical text. These articles each raised the question of the accuracy and authenticity of the Qur’an today and the oldest text available. Though the text is only 150yrs after Muhammad’s death, which by ancient text standards is close, there is great debate on whether or not it really is as old as claimed and authorship. In addition, and you can correct me if you find articles otherwise, I found that the defense of the Qur’an leaned heavily on what the Qur’an says rather than how the book itself stands up against history. To learn more visit any or all of these articles: The Qur’an’s Manuscript Evidence, Preservation and Authenticity of the Holy Quran, and Would the Earliest Quranic Manuscripts of Sana’a Spell the Downfall of Islam?.
As a historical text, the Bible is both accurate and reliable. If you disagree, I would love to open a dialogue with you and check out what you’ve discovered. Remember, today we only looked at the Bible as a historical text rather than through the eyes of faith.
To view the complete list of my sources and read more extensively on the subject, visit #GodProof where I have saved all the links. Some of the articles will have repeat information to verify it’s truth. If you would like to contribute to this list, leave a link below and I would be happy to read through before adding it the list. I will continue to add articles to this list as I answer additional questions.
Up next for my students is taking a look at archaeology and biblical prophecy. It’s quite a bit for them to take in, so we are taking our time so that they have an opportunity to digest information and ask follow-up questions. Stay tuned!