Reliability Of The Bible
There is more evidence for the Bible’s authenticity than for any other literature of antiquity. The New Testament was written in the first century A.D. There are some 25,000 early manuscripts in existence, almost 6,000 of which (many being only recognizable fragments) are Greek texts and the others being early translations of the Greek New Testament. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied not long after the original. In contrast:
Caesar’s Gallic Wars was written in the first century B.C. There are only 10 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,000 years after the original.
Aristotle’s Poetics was written in the fourth century B.C. There are only 5 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,400 years after the original.
There are many more writings of the Church Fathers quoting sections of Scripture; we could reconstruct the entire New Testament from their writings alone. There were millions of man-hours spent in cross-checking the manuscripts. There remains only 1 percent of all New Testament words about which questions still exist; no questionable passage contradicts any Bible teaching.
The Old Testament has been more accurately transmitted to us than any other ancient writing of comparable age. The textual evidence is greater for both the Old and New Testaments than any other historically reliable ancient document. The ancient scribes were very meticulous. There were only 1,200 variant readings in A.D. 500.
The Masorites produced an official text in A.D. 500. There are other versions that confirm the accuracy of the Masoritic Text.
Samaritan Pentateuch: 400 B.C.
Septuagint Greek: 280 B.C.
Dead Sea Scrolls: 0 A.D.
Latin Vulgate: 400 A.D.
The quotations from pre-Christian writing confirm the text. The New Testament accepts the Old Testament as authentic, confirming the traditional authors, quoting from at least 320 different passages, and confirming the supernatural events cited in the Old Testament.
Facts about the New Testament Canon
There were only ever the four Gospels used by the churches for the life and ministry of Jesus. Other pseudo-gospels were written but these were immediately rejected by the churches across the empire as spurious.
The Acts of the Apostles and 13 letters of Paul were all accepted without question or hesitation from the earliest records.
Apart from James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation, all other New Testament books had been universally accepted by A.D. 180. Only a few churches hesitated over these seven.
Well before the close of the first century, Clement of Rome quoted from or referred to more than half the New Testament and claimed that Paul wrote “in the Spirit” and that his letters were “Scriptures.”
Polycarp, who was martyred in A.D. 155, quoted from 16 NT books and referred to them as “Sacred Scriptures.”
Irenaeus of Lyons, one of the most able defenders of the faith, around A.D. 180 quoted over 1,000 passages from all but four or five New Testament books, and called them “the Scriptures” given by the Holy Spirit.
Tertullian of Carthage, around A.D. 200, was the first serious expositor and used almost all the NT books. They were equated with the Old Testament, and he referred to “the majesty of our Scriptures.” He clearly possessed a canon almost, if not wholly, identical to ours.
By A.D. 240, Origen of Alexandria was using all our 27 books, and only those, as Scripture alongside the Old Testament books.
And these are just examples of many of the church leaders at this time.
Biblical text transmitted accurately over millennia
In 1946, in one of the Qumran caves near the north-west shore of the Dead Sea in Israel, a Bedouin shepherd boy, Muhammed edh-Dhib, discovered an amazing treasure trove of ancient scrolls. Manuscripts have now been recovered from 11 caves in the area, a collection known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. More than 900 ancient documents were recovered over a ten-year period.
Over a third of the scrolls are copies from books of the Old Testament, such as Genesis, Exodus, Kings, and Psalms. In the first cave an almost complete copy of the book of Isaiah was found, and this has been called the Great Isaiah Scroll. A replica of the scroll is on display at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Every Old Testament book, except for the Book of Esther, is represented among the scrolls. Researchers consider that the scrolls date from about 300 BC to AD 100.
It is generally considered that an extinct Jewish sect called the Essenes hid the scrolls some two thousand years ago to protect them. They were stored in clay jars sealed with lids, which kept them well preserved. The scrolls were mostly made of parchment and papyrus, although a few were composed of copper.
Based on analysis of the writing, as well as the ages of coins found at the sites, and other methods, researchers consider that the scrolls date from about 300 BC to AD 100. This means that the Dead Sea Scrolls are more than 1,000 years older than the previously oldest Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament still in existence, which was dated at around AD 1000.
Comparison of the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls with other manuscripts shows that the scribes have faithfully copied the Old Testament through the millennia. The latest scrolls bring scholars much closer to what authors first wrote in the original documents.
Although there are some slight differences from the later manuscripts, the differences are only minor. Generally they are changes in spelling or punctuation which do not affect the meaning of the original text, or even the pronunciation of words.
These remarkable finds confirm the faithfulness of the scribal copying processes and provide confidence that the Bible that we have had for hundreds of years has been faithfully copied from the original. They confirm the extreme care that Hebrew copyists showed, compared with copyists of Greek manuscripts.5 It means that the biblical account of human history, of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the other events in the Old Testament accurately reflects what the authors wrote in the original documents.
The Canon of the Old Testament
The Jews had a clearly defined body of Scriptures that collectively could be summarized as the Torah, or Law. This was fixed early in the life of Israel, and there was no doubt as to which books belonged and which did not. They did not order them in the same way as our Old Testament, but the same books were there. The Law was the first five books, known as the Pentateuch, which means “five rolls”—referring to the parchment scrolls on which they were normally written. The Prophets consisted of the Former Prophets (unusually for us these included Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah which included Lamentations, and the 12 smaller prophetic books). The Writings gathered up the rest. The total amounted generally to 24 books because many books, such as 1 and 2 Samuel and Ezra and Nehemiah, were counted as one.
When was the canon of the Old Testament settled? The simple response is that if we accept the reasonable position that each of the books was written at the time of its history—the first five at the time of Moses, the historical records close to the period they record, the psalms of David during his lifetime, and the prophets written at the time they were given—then the successive stages of acceptance into the canon of Scripture is not hard to fix. Certainly, the Jews generally held this view.
There is a lot of internal evidence that the books of the Old Testament were written close to the time they record. For example, in 2 Chronicles 10:19, we have a record from the time of Rehoboam that “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.” Clearly, therefore, that must have been recorded prior to 721 B.C., when the Assyrians finally crushed Israel and the cream of the population was taken away into captivity—or at the very latest before 588 B.C., when Jerusalem suffered the same fate. We know also that the words of the prophets were written down in their own lifetime; Jeremiah had a secretary called Baruch for this very purpose (Jeremiah 36:4).
Josephus, the Jewish historian writing around A.D. 90, clearly stated in his defense of Judaism that, unlike the Greeks, the Jews did not have many books:
"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine."
Council Of Nicea
There have been accusations that the council of Nicea had a tremendous effect on both choosing what books should be in the Bible and changing some of the doctrines that the church held before that time.
The council of Nicea met in A.D. 323 to discuss how Jesus Christ was related to God. There were some in the church, led by Arius of Alexandria, who denied that Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity. In order to answer these issues, the church had to make a pronouncement about which books authoritative doctrine could be based on.
The council of Nicea did not meet to discuss which books belonged in the New Testament canon. It only recognized the books that the church had from the beginning considered to be the Word of God.
The books that were recognized as Scripture had already been composed at the time. All the books contained in the New Testament were composed before the end of the first century. Some fifty existing papyrus manuscripts written before A.D. 325 contain parts of every book of the New Testament except 1 Timothy.
There is no truth to the argument, so often brought up, that some of these books were not in existence until the council of Nicea. The argument, therefore, that certain doctrines were invented at this time has no basis in fact.