Opinions on faith and life

Bible Reliability

2002-01-01

Evidence That Demands A Verdict

©1979 by Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc. Here’s Life Publishers, Inc. of California Josh McDowell

P.19 (quoting Bernard Ramm):“”Jews preserved [the Bible] as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their Massora (traditions)... they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity: scribes, lawyers, and massoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?“

P.20 (quoting John Lea): ”With perhaps a dozen or twenty exceptions, the text of every verse in the New Testament may be said to be so far settled by general consent of scholars, that any dispute as to its readings must relate rather to the interpretation of the words than to any doubts respecting the words themselves. But in every one of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays there are probably a hundred readings still in dispute, a large portion of which materially affects the meaning of the passages in which they occur.“

P.33: The word ”apocryphal“ means ”hidden or concealed, of doubtful authenticity, spurious (fictitious)“. The Apocrypha ”abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms (chronologically out of place). They teach doctrines that are false and foster practices that are at variance with inspired Scripture. They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture. They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture its divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling.“ (Unger’s Bible Dictionary)

P.35-36 (reasons why the Apocrypha are not accepted as Scripture): ”Philo, Alexandrian Jewish philosopher (20 B.C.-A.D.40), quoted the Old Testament prolifically and even recognized the threefold division, but he never quoted from the Apocrypha as inspired. Josephus (AD 30-100), Jewish historian, explicitly excludes the Apocrypha, numbering the books of the Old Testament as 22. Neither does he quote these books as Scripture. Jesus and the New Testament writers never once quote the Apocrypha although there are hundreds of quotes and references to almost all of the canonical books of the Old Testament. The Jewish scholars of Jamnia (AD 90) did not recognize the Apocrypha. No canon or council of the Christian church for the first four centuries recognized the Apocrypha as inspired. Many Roman Catholic scholars through the Reformation period rejected the Apocrypha. Not until AD 1546, in a polemical (controversial) action at the Counter Reformation Council of Trent, did the apocryphal books receive full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church.“

P.37: Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) gives us the earliest list of New Testament books which is exactly like our present New Testament.

P.40-41 (quoting Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, top manuscript authority): ”...besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors, and this time the difference is clear gain. In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant (existing) manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts... are of the fourth century- say from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscript upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poet’s death. The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.“

P.43 (comparison of the Iliad with the New Testament):

  WRITTEN EARLIEST COPY SPAN No. COPIES
Iliad 900 BC 400 BC 500 years 643
NT 40-100 AD 125 AD 25 years 24,000+
”Only 40 lines (or 400 words) of the New Testament are in doubt whereas 764 lines of the Iliad are questioned. This five percent textual corruption compares with one-half of one percent of similar emendations (corrections by textual alterations) in the New Testament.“

P.45 (quoting Kenyon): ”... No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading...“

P.54 (quoting Gleason Archer): ”Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (AD 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.“

Internal Evidence

The previous discussion represents the external evidence supporting the Bible, that is, evidence from outside the text itself. It is the result of literary, historical, and scientific research over hundreds of years by scholars both friendly and hostile to the Bible. Now we will consider the internal evidence, which is evidence provided by the text itself.

Although critics of the Bible have long attempted to show that it is full of contradictions, none can be found. In every alleged instance of contradiction, a thorough study of the whole Bible resolves the dispute. The same is true of alleged historical and scientific errors. No other religious writings, and few ancient documents, enjoy the unrivaled accuracy and clarity of the Bible.

In spite of the Bible”s having been written over a period of about 1500 years by people from different continents and cultures, it has an amazing unity of thought and doctrine. All attempts to prove that the various books of the Bible were edited to produce this unity have failed. Regarding prophecy, only the Bible even attempts to predict the future, and with 100% accuracy. Again the critics tried to post-date the scriptures to explain away this fact, but the dates of the writings have been firmly established as pre-dating the prophecies.

There are many other ways in which the Bible is absolutely unique among religious writings. No other writings can come close to answering the most basic questions: How did everything come into existence? Why is there death and decay? How will it all end? No other religion offers a personal relationship with God or the absolute assurance of eternal life with him. No other “holy” books are written so that the average person can understand them. While other writings are often cryptic and mystical, the Bible is clear and reasonable. And no other religious writings have been the object of hatred that the Bible has been, which has survived many attempts at wiping it off the face of the earth.

Clearly, in the light of such overwhelming external and internal evidence, no reasonable person can doubt the authenticity, accuracy and uniqueness of the Bible. No reputable scholars, whether Christian or not, deny the unsurpassed reliability of both the Old and New Testaments. No other ancient document comes close to the support enjoyed by the Bible in number of manuscripts, short time span from the originals, and historical and archaeological support.

Time and again, whenever the Bible was mocked for naming an event or person who was thought to be mythical, science later proved it to be true and accurate. Biblical prophecy has also been proved to be 100% accurate, which is undeniable proof that the Bible is the Word of God (see Isaiah 46:10, 48:3-5). No other religious writings even attempt to make specific predictions.

Biblical Texts and Translations

The Origin of the Bible ©1992 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Edited by Philip W. Comfort

Texts and Terms

VERSION OT TEXT NT TEXT TYPE
1611 KJV (King James) Masoretic Received complete equivalence
1901 ASV (American Standard) Masoretic T,T,W,&H literal
1952 RSV (Revised Standard) Masoretic Nestle complete equivalence
1971 NASB (New American Standard) ? Received complete equivalence
1971 TLB (The Living Bible) ASV ASV paraphrase
1976 GNB (Good News Bible) ? UBS1 dynamic equivalence
1978 NIV (New International) Masoretic UBS4? dynamic equivalence
1982 NKJV (New King James) Masoretic Received complete equivalence
1990 NRSV (New Revised Standard) Masoretic UBS4? complete equivalence
Masoretic = Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Hebrew) Received = Textus Receptus
T,T,W, & H = Tregelles, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort UBSn = United Bible Societies (< T,T,W, & H)
Septuagint 285 BC OT Greek Codex Vaticanus 4th century Greek NT/OT
Codex Sinaiticus 4th century Greek NT Codex Alexandrinus 5th century Greek NT
Samaritan Pentateuch OT Heb. in Sam. characters Syriac (Peshito) 1st century OT and NT
Vulgate 400 AD OT and NT in Latin  
complete equivalence = as literal as possible dynamic equivalence = thought-for-thought paraphrase = highly interpretive

There isn’t much argument about OT texts, but what about the NT?

There are two main “camps” regarding which texts to use: the Received text and the UBSn text. Supporters of the Received Text will argue that it has a great number of copies that are all in agreement and is therefore the most reliable text. But the Received text, from which the KJV and NKJV are translated, was the work of Erasmus, who used 5 or 6 very late ms dating from the 10th to 13th centuries [see p. 270]. According to Origin of the Bible, Codex Sinaiticus & Vaticanus, on which most non-Received Text versions are ultimately based, are the most reliable (pp. 188-189).

Regardless of the Greek text used, it should be noted that this debate only affects a very small portion of the NT. No established doctrine rests on a disputed reading. The greatest controversy is not over the Greek text at all, but over how the translators believe the words should be translated. Does the translator hold a high view of inspired scripture (is it the inspired Word of God)? How literally should the text be rendered? What is the best balance between word-for-word technical accuracy and readability?

Translation is the process of converting words in one language (the source) to another (the target). The process of translation requires expertise not only in the two languages involved, but also in the two cultures. And the translator must decide how to balance technical accuracy with getting the correct meaning across. A literal (word-for-word) translation would be very accurate but completely meaningless in the target language; a paraphrase (thought- for-thought) would make good sense to the target but may be inaccurate, because it is what the translator thinks the source means (in other words, it is interpretive). So the best translation is somewhere between those two extremes.

In English Bible translations there are two “in-between” translations: complete equivalence and dynamic equivalence, with CE being more on the literal side and DE being more on the paraphrase side. The best way to get an accurate understanding of the original language is to consult a Bible from each of four different categories, such as:

literal - Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) or NASB CE - King James/New King James (KJV/NKJV) DE - New International Version (NIV) or New Living Translation (NLT) paraphrase - The Living Bible (TLB)
Other versions of the Bible are available, and some are superior to those in the above list in one respect or another, while lacking in others. Some bring out the sense of the Greek better than the more popular versions. For example, John 21:5 is usually rendered, “Jesus therefore said to them...”, but Darby renders it “Jesus therefore says to them...”. In other words, Darby clearly conveys the sense (present active indicative) of the Greek. (Yes, the KJV uses “saith” for “says”, but most people don’t know the difference between “saith” and “said”.)

A word of caution: Just because we can look up a word in a Greek or Hebrew dictionary doesn’t mean we can pick any meaning for it that we want. The people who translate the Bible are experts who have spent their lives studying the languages. If most translations use a certain word or phrase for something, we can rest assured that it is the most accurate meaning. An example: Matthew 28:19 says “Go therefore and make disciples...” in most English translations. But many who speak on this passage will say, “I looked this up in my Greek dictionary, and it should say ’As you go, make disciples...’”. If that’s true, then why don’t the experts translate it that way?

Can we rely on translations? The NT writers did! Whenever they quoted the OT, they used the Septuagint (a Greek translation), not the Hebrew. But keep in mind that only the original manuscripts were inspired by God, not any translations or copies. I’m sure God had good reasons for not preserving the original documents. Surely people would worship the words and forget the intent, as did the Pharisees and as do the Muslims regarding the Qur’an. This matter is at the heart of the debate between technical accuracy and understandability, between legalism and love. Let’s make technical translations for study and clear paraphrases for evangelism.

Concerning the King James Only (KJO) Controversy

This matter of whether the “letter” should dominate over the “spirit” is fueling a raging debate between people who use modern translations of the Bible and those who declare the King James version to be the only “true” Bible (KJO). What are the facts?

First of all, there wouldn’t be a debate or controversy at all without the KJO people. Have you ever heard the term “NIV Only” or “NASB Only”? The KJO people are solely responsible for stirring up this debate, which has destroyed many good churches.

Second, much literature from KJOs is full of false accusations against other translations, to an almost slanderous level. This is known as “building a straw man”: creating imaginary faults in someone else’s beliefs and then arguing against those faults.

Third, the KJV itself is guilty of many of the faults for which it condemns other translations. It should come as no surprise that cults such as Mormonism prefer the KJV because of its vagueness and archaic vocabulary. And the KJV translators themselves did not claim to be divinely inspired of God; in fact, they expected their translation to be improved as new discoveries were made concerning the original languages.

Fourth, exactly which version of the KJV is the “true” one? The original 1611? The 1769? The 1873? Most KJVOs would have great difficulty in reading the 1611 version. And what about non-English speaking people? Must they learn 17th century English? And where is the evidence that God chose the KJV to be the one “true” Bible? (The KJV is only “authorized” because it was commissioned by King James of England, not directly by God.) Did Christians not have a real Bible before 1611? What should they have used?