Original Post: Wednesday, 22 February 2012
The Bible is an interesting style of religious text. It’s a compilation of books of ancient history, poetry, wisdom, biography, and even letters written by Christians to Christians only years after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. These books (66 of them) were written by around 40 different authors over a time span of around 1 500 years and in 3 different languages. Among their authors are kings, “prophets”, fishermen, a doctor, teachers, and lots more.
Yet despite all of this broad variation, the entirety of the Bible coalesces in an epic history of creation, fall, forgiveness and redemption. Even before I start talking about the historical reliability of the Bible, I just want to articulate that even apart from the hard evidence that I can trust in, I think the Bible speaks for itself. It was said of Jesus that “no man has ever spoken like this man”… And the more I read the Bible, the more convinced I am that it truly is the very inspired words of God I am reading.
At the same time, as I’ve really challenged my faith, I’ve sought after more empirical evidence to see just how well the Bible stands up to the tests of time and criticism.
I think today I’ll focus on one particularly significant area in New Testament scholarship: manuscript evidence.
Of all ancient documents, the New Testament has the most and earliest manuscripts still in existence and still studied today. (A manuscript being: A book, document, or piece of music written by hand rather than typed or printed) Also of note, this is by a fair margin. There’s well over 5 000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and some still around are dated within a couple generations of the original authors. Other ancient documents such as Homer’s Iliad don’t even come close to these numbers. This runner up to the New Testament is lucky to have 700 manuscripts, and well over 900 years spans between when it was first inked to our earliest known manuscript. But why does this matter?
Scholarship has shown through study of these manuscripts just how reliable New Testament scribal work really is. Despite variations in them throughout the centuries, scholarship unanimously declares that our current day New Testament is well over 99% pure to its original form. The remaining < 1% of impurities has zero effects on any major Biblical doctrine. With this alone, I feel more than confident that what I’m reading are the very same documents that tell of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, and how his church grew and developed in the years following. It also dispels the idea that the early church corrupted the documents to further a religious agenda of some kind.
Don’t take my word for it – I encourage you to check out what scholarship says when it comes to the historicity and reliability of the New Testament. If you have any questions about this topic you want explored more, let me know, as there is a lot to say on this. I may go deeper in later posts, but I think this serves as a solid intro into why we can trust the Bible.
Recommended resources: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.
The history detailed in the gospels and extracted from the letters of the apostles of Jesus furthers my confidence to the historicity of the claims made. Why would the writers of these documents lie? Why would so great a number of people profess faith in a man who had simply been murdered, knowing that doing so was putting oneself at so high a risk for a brutal death? Because they knew he wasn’t dead, and knew he and his message were worth dying for. This is often called “The Miracle of the Church” – I explore it and the questions surrounding the resurrection of Christ and the early church in another post.