Monday, 9 August 2010

The Bible - Good Book or God's Book?

It has had a massive effect upon our society, our culture, our politics, even our language, but is the Bible just a book of great influence or is it a book of divine inspiration?  How seriously should we take it?  There are two questions that need to be addressed and we will address these questions in this post and the next.  The two questions are these:
Is the Bible reliable?
Is the Bible relevant?
Many people dismiss the Bible as unreliable mythology, others think it is irrelevant history, but let's look at the evidence.
Is the Bible reliable?
To investigate the reliability of the Bible we will address two issues:

1. Do we have what was originally written?
2. Is what was originally written really true?

1. How can we be certain that what we have in the covers of our Bible is the same as what was originally written? After all, the books of the Bible were written long ago, far away and in different languages. How can we be sure the message hasn’t been lost or corrupted over time? We don’t need to wonder or worry! The Bible stands head and shoulders above any ancient literature in terms of its reliability. Just consider the following facts:

There are over 5,500 handwritten Greek copies of all or part of the New Testament from the first to the fifteenth centuries (and over 19,000 handwritten copies in other languages dating from the same period). No other ancient document can compare to this number. The famous epic poem Iliad is second, but not a close second – there are only 643 surviving manuscripts! The sheer number of manuscripts of varying ages added to the fact that these manuscripts are from Asia, Africa and Europe (proving that there were multiple lines of transmission, and therefore the text of the New Testament could not have been corrupted without other manuscripts highlighting this) allow us to have complete confidence that we have access to what was originally written. The varients that exist are minor and threaten no doctrine of Scripture. But even this doesn't tell the whole story! Practically the entire text of the New Testament can actually be reconstructed from the writings of the early “church fathers” who quoted extensively from the New Testament. All of this means that there are multiple, independent ways of confirming that we have in the covers of the Bible a complete and accurate copy of what the New Testament writers wrote, translated into our language. No other ancient document has anywhere near the confirmation and certainty of our Bible. These facts resulted in Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, (who was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum), making this statement: “Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

As far as the Old Testament is concerned we are again very well off and well placed to have complete confidence in the text of the Bible. The reliability of the Old Testament is ensured by the following two factors:

Firstly, the meticulous process of textual transmission with the amazing (almost amusing) checks scribes went through to ensure the accuracy of the copies.

Secondly, the confirmation of the text by documentary evidence, such as the discovery of a complete copy of the prophecy of Isaiah in a cave on the west side of the Dead Sea in 1947 (this scroll was one of many found in the area, and they came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls). The scroll containing the whole text of the prophecy of Isaiah dated back to 125 BC. When it was examined it was found to be 95% the same as the text which we possess, with the 5% variation consisting “chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling” (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction). This was a remarkable indication of the trustworthiness of the Old Testament text, and a conclusive vindication of our trust in it.

In conclusion for this part – there is no reason to suppose that the text of the Bible as we have it today is not the same as what was originally written, and there is every reason to be sure that it is the same. These facts should be enough to silence any argument and dispel any doubt.

I'll post shortly on the next question - is what was originally written true?