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How Reliable is the Bible?

This question has no doubt been pondered since the Scriptures were first written thousands of years ago. From the time of Moses, who penned the first five books of the Bible, to the apostolic age of the first century, when the New Testament was written, we can only imagine how many have wondered if they can trust what the Bible says is true. So is the Bible— the Word of God true, reliable and totally trustworthy? Here are several reasons why we can answer that question with an emphatic, “Yes!”

1. Scripture itself says so.

2 Timothy 2:16-17 plainly states that All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Also 2 Peter 1: 20-21,  Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Clearly, God, the Holy Spirit was behind every word that came through the pen of the biblical writer. Not only that, but He communicated, the Scripture says, at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). The meaning of “various times” according to John MacArthur,  can be understood as “many portions,” (as of books). “Various ways” included visions, symbols, parables—written in both poetry and prose. Through the literary form and style varied, it was always God’s revelation of what He wanted His people to know. Which leads to the second reason:

2. Scripture is God’s main source of special revelation to man.

Therefore, He would guide in not only the accurate recording of it (John 14:26; 15:26) but in its preservation as well. It is God’s expectation of us not only to read His word but to meditate upon it. The promise here is that when we are being obedient to God’s ways, we will be successful in His eyes (Joshua 1:8). From the earliest times of God’s revelation to man, He made a way for His word to be properly recorded. But even before there were written documents, information was transmitted orally so that accuracy depended upon the memory of the orator. How long these traditions were transmitted orally is not known, but at some point, they were committed to writing to better ensure accuracy. Even Jesus’ teachings were transmitted orally for several decades before being transcribed.

Further, over time was the improvement of the various writing materials and writing surfaces, with papyrus, leather and eventually parchment as the primary materials. This helped preserve the manuscripts of both the Old and New testaments. Indeed, because of its durability, parchment became the preferred writing material for Scripture.

3. The Reverential Treatment of Scripture.

There are no original manuscripts (autographa) of either OT or NT, due to age, decay and even through the calamities of war that Israel suffered (pertaining mainly to the OT). So the question becomes, “How can we be sure of the accuracy and reliability of the Bible we have today if there are no originals?” In a word, “reverence.” According to Bible translation expert Paul D. Wegner, “When manuscripts began to show signs of wear, the scribes reverently disposed of them because they bore the sacred name of God. Disposing of the manuscripts also avoided defilement by pagans. Since scribes were meticulous in copying biblical manuscripts there were little reason to keep old manuscripts.”

4. The Meticulous Copying (transmission) of Scripture.

From about 500 B.C. to A.D. 100 an influential group of teachers and interpreters of the Law called Scribes arose to preserve Israel’s sacred traditions, and especially its sacred Scriptures. During the first century, a movement emerged to standardize the text of the Hebrew Bible. Once this standardization took place, the scribes were meticulous to ensure that the Hebrew text did not become corrupted. “Indeed, over time, meticulous rules were developed to preserve the OT text scrolls. Including: the quality of the parchment, the numeric accuracy of the column of the scrolls, the fact that no word or letter was to be written from memory, to name a few,” according to Wegner. It is also significant that while extreme care was maintained in the copying of these manuscripts, the written Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek language (New Testament) also continued to develop and improve. This only helped to ensure a more consistent level of transmission of the texts.

Today, we have hundreds of translations of the Bible, whereas just over one hundred years ago there was essentially one English translation, the King James Version, using at its primary source one set of manuscripts. Though it may appear confusing when choosing a translation, each translation attempts to fulfill a need that, as Frederick C. Grant states, “ is an endless process, as languages change, as additional copies of ancient manuscripts continue to turn up, and as scholars come to know and understand the ancient languages better.” Indeed, advancements in archaeology, linguistics, and technology overall have not only helped uncover additional ancient manuscripts but because of the consistency of the texts, we can be assured that the Bible you ready today is accurate!

Also, various translations (King James Version, New International Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, just to name a few), reflect different preferences on the part of Bible scholars and translators.  For example, some scholars believe that it is preferable to reflect the sentence structure, verbal nuances and idioms of the original languages in order to assure of accuracy in emphasis and style. Other scholars believe that it is not crucial to carry over the style, structure and idioms of the host language but to use those elements of the new language. Also, according to Wegner, “It is also possible to achieve a delicate balance between these two translation policies to provide even greater accuracy.”

Especially useful for Bible study, using various translations could be helpful in better understanding difficult passages or even the different wording used which broadens an author’s meaning of a particular verse or passage. Just a simple word change can open up a greater understanding of a concept that, in some cases could change the way we apply a verse or idea to our lives. For example, in the New King James Version, John 9: 4 records Jesus as saying, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” However, when I read that verse in the New International Version, the “I” became a “We!” In that one word change, Jesus just shared His ministry (as co-laborers) with us!

My point in all this is to demonstrate how Bible transmission and translation is an exact science! Over 2,000 years of history have proven not only its reliability but that it is, in fact, God’s inerrant, infallible Word! Check out a Bible-reading plan that works for you!

-Pastor Joe Garofalo

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