Reasons to Trust the Bible: Unlocking the Bible's Reliability
In our second session of this series, we delve into a critical aspect of understanding the Bible's trustworthiness — manuscripts, and textual variants.
The central question we're tackling is: Can we genuinely trust what the Bible records? To address this, we're examining whether the Bible, particularly the New Testament, can be considered historically reliable. We're exploring five key reasons that support our belief in its reliability, one aspect at a time.
Manuscripts and Variants
Some skeptics challenge the Bible's reliability by suggesting that because we lack the original documents penned by the authors themselves, the copies we have must be corrupt, rendering us unable to know the authors' original words. This notion implies that we're dealing with "a translation of translations of translations," obscuring the original meaning. However, this claim doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
Now, we focus on the question of transmission: Can we have confidence that the original Bible texts have been accurately preserved throughout history? Are we, as some suggest, left with "hand-copied copies of copies of copies"?
Copies of Copies of Copies?
It's essential to acknowledge that we don't possess the original biblical manuscripts. All we have are hand-copied copies, and yes, the scribes made both unintentional errors and intentional corrections. Furthermore, there are approximately 400,000 variations among Greek manuscripts.
However, this doesn't mean we can't be highly confident about the Bible's original text. The key lies in the thousands of pieces of original-language text found in papyrus, vellum, and parchment from each book of the Bible—around 5,400 distinct pieces for the New Testament alone. These ancient documents, dating back to the first 3-4 centuries of Christianity, offer valuable insights.
The Importance of Many Manuscripts
The presence of numerous manuscripts is significant. Early Christians, churches, and individuals sought copies of these biblical texts. This demand, combined with the absence of the printing press, led to hand-copied versions. While scribes strived for accuracy, they still made some errors.
The existence of so many variants is partly due to the vast number of manuscripts. Variants appear clustered around specific sections of the text. Only in a few isolated cases are there more extensive doubts about the original text.
While the number "400,000 variants" may seem overwhelming, it's essential to clarify this number. Variants don't mean unique readings; they indicate instances where words, phrases, or letters may differ. However, these variations are not uniformly distributed throughout the text. Most variants are quite unremarkable, with spelling differences comprising around 70% of them.
Textual Criticism: Solving the Puzzle
Textual criticism allows us to piece together what the original document most likely said, just like solving a logic puzzle. By identifying why a scribe introduced a change, we can infer the original text. Some variations are accidental, while others are intentional corrections or clarifications.
Scholars use these variants to arrive at confident conclusions about the original text, and this isn't a critique of the Bible. It's a method for discovering the original message. The vast number of manuscripts, along with textual criticism, underpins our confidence in understanding the Bible's original text.
The charge that we cannot know what the originals said is unfounded. The gap between the original documents and our earliest copies is not extensive. The numerous manuscripts we have, even with variations, enables us to reconstruct the original text with a high degree of historical confidence like the picture on a jigsaw box. The Bible's reliability remains intact.
As we continue this series, we'll explore more facets that affirm our trust in the Bible. But beyond these scholarly discussions, the core question remains: Are we truly trusting the Bible in our daily lives? The Bible offers wisdom for various aspects of our lives, from marriage to finances, calling us to heed its teachings. We'll address this fundamental aspect in the weeks to come.