The Bible – Altered or Authentic?
Before the invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century, all Bibles were manuscripts copied by hand. This was, of course, a laborious process. Scribes certainly got their share of writer’s cramp, backaches and headaches. So how can we be sure that the Bible we have today is the same now as when it was written?
Scholars evaluate the authenticity of every ancient book by considering the following three questions: How many manuscripts are there? How consistent are they? What is the time span between the existing copies and the original?
Quantity of Manuscripts
OLD TESTAMENT: The ceremonial destruction of worn and imperfect copies by Israel’s scribes leaves us with a relatively small number of manuscripts. But the existing manuscripts are well supplemented by ancient Greek and Samaritan translations, Jewish paraphrases, and especially the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls since 1947. All but one of the Old Testament books were among the Scrolls, but none was as important as a complete copy of Isaiah copied around 1(10 B.C. When compared with the existing Isaiah test, dated A. D-900, the experts found no significant differences between these two manuscripts whose dates differed by 1,000 years:
NEW TESTAMENT: The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and 4,000 manuscripts in other languages, plus tens of thousands of citations by the early church fathers.
In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies from Greek and Latin authors such as Plate, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, ranges from one to twenty.
Quality of Manuscripts
OLD TESTAMENT: The quality of the Old Testament manuscripts is phenomenal. Because of the reverence Jewish scribes held toward the Hebrew Scriptures, extreme caution was exercised when copying them. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail (for example the scribes verified copying accuracy by counting lines of text and characters on a page) and, as a result, the quality of the Old Testament surpasses all other ancient manuscripts.
NEW TESTAMENT: The quality of the New Testament manuscripts is also considerably better than other documents from antiquity. The thousands of manuscripts bring many slight variations, but these variations are actually useful in reconstructing the original text. Only a fraction of the differences are of any consequence with none seriously affecting any major doctrines. Experts note that the New Testament text can be considered as 99.5% certain!
Time Span of Manuscripts
The time span of the manuscripts (between the date of the original writing and the date of the earliest copies we possess) was dramatically reduced for the Old Testament after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The time span for the New Testament is exceptional. Most New Testament books are represented in manuscripts created less than 300 years from their date of authorship and one fragment of the Gospel of John can be dated to around 125 A.D. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years for all other ancient writings.
The following chart summarizes the compelling evidence for the authenticity of the Bible based on manuscript dating and number of copies.
AUTHOR DATE WRITTEN EARLIEST COPY TIME SPAN NUMBER OF
Homer 900 B.C. 400 B.C 500 Yrs 643
Plato 380 B.C AD 900 1300 Yrs 7
Aristotle 350 B.C AD 1000 1400 Yrs 49
Caesar 60 B.C AD 900 950 Yrs 10
Tacitus AD 100 AD 1100 1000 Yrs 20
NT AD 40-100 AD 125 25-50 Yrs 24000
The verdict is in-the Bible is the single most authentic ancient document in our possession. If you have a friend who has questions about the Bible, share this information with them. And as you read and study your Bible, you can do so with great confidence that this is God’s Word for you.
The above material was published by Search Ministries, Inc. This material is copyrighted and should be used for study and research purposes only.