Why you can Completely Trust the Text of your Bible

Let’s talk about the beautiful process which gave us our inerrant, authoritative Bible.

We have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. First of all, you should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God. -2 Peter 1:190-21

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic between 1500-400 BC.

Writing was first done on hard surfaces like stone (and copper).

Then it was done on Clay Tablets.

Then it was written on Leather Parchment (Animal skins-sheep and goats mostly).

The Dead Sea Scrolls (an amazing find of Old Testament books) had all of those things in Ancient Clay Storage Jars!

The Old Testament was translated into Greek from 250-100 BC by 70 Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt (Often called the LXX, the Septuagint, because of those 70 scholars).

NOTE: A copper writing in Hebrew is obviously written earlier than a Greek translation on parchment, right?        That’s right!

The New Testament was written in Greek between AD 45-100.

Between AD 1 and 100 scrolls of leather gave way to bound volumes (codexes) made from sewing papyrus sheets together. Papyrus was a plant that was cut into strips and pressed into sheets of writing material.

In the 1800’s and 1900’s numerous discoveries were made of portions of the New Testament in Greek written on papyrus.

Fine animal skins from calves or antelope (vellum) in addition to some parchment were used to make copies of the Bible between AD 300 and 1400.

Many of these are not written in Greek but translations into Coptic (Egypt), Syriac (Syria), or Latin (which overtook Greek as the primary language).

Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, begun in AD 410, became THE Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. The Latin Bible (Vulgate) was the first book ever printed on the Gutenberg Press in 1455.  

NOTE: A Greek writing on papyrus is obviously written earlier than a Latin writing on vellum, right?  Earlier means closer to the perfect original, right?

In the 15th and sixteenth century the first English Bibles began appearing, based mostly on the same later manuscripts the Vulgate had been.  

In the 1800’s and 1900’s hundreds of original language (Hebrew and Greek) copies were found that were written hundreds of years earlier than the copies that the earliest English translations had been based on. All modern English translations incorporate those earlier manuscripts that have now been found.

When there is a difference in the text, preference must be given to the earliest copies written in the same language the Bible was originally written in!  

Look at this chart:

Comparison of Ancient Documents

Author:

Book:

Surviving Portions:

Percent of Document:

Date Written:

Years between writing and earliest copy:

Holy Spirit

New Testament

5,800 Greek;

10,000 Latin; 9,300 others

More than 100%

AD 50-100

40 (fragment)

100 (books)

150 most NT

225 all NT

Homer

Iliad

1,757

Less than 100%

800 B.C.

400 years

Herodotus

History

109

Less than 100%

480-425 BC

1350 years

Plato

Tetralogies

210

Less than 100%

400 B.C.

1300 years

Caesar

Gallic Wars

251

Less than 100%

100-44 BC

950 years

Tacitus

Annals

33

Less than 100%

AD 100

750-950 years

Pliny , the Elder

Natural History

200

Less than 100%

AD 49-79

400-750 years

 

 

The data is clear: The N.T. is by far the MOST reliable ancient document.

With all other ancient documents we have relatively few manuscripts: we base everything we know about some events on just the handful of those manuscripts we have.  Meanwhile we have thousands of New Testament manuscripts!

And none of those other ancient documents put together give us 100 % of what was said in those documents: there are places we are simply guessing at the content!

But with the New Testament, we have 101% of what was said: not only the perfect original, but extra as copyists added a little!

So each author of the New Testament wrote a perfect book. Then it was copied by others who copied the copies who copied the copies and then translated them into other languages and then those new language copies were copied!

So over time a few extra things wound up in the copies. And when you compare the older copies with the earliest copies, those things really stick out as being a variant, not part of the original!

Let me show you a few examples.

A simple omission  - John 6:64   Other manuscripts omit NOT

Sometimes – A instead of THE

A clarifying comment that was probably first added on the side with an arrow – John 7:8    Once written in the text, all other copies would have had it.

An Eye Double-take, like in Romans 8:1 and 8:4. Later copies add the statement made in verse 4 at the end of verse 1, and all subsequent copies have it that way.  

Most of the differences in the later manuscripts than the earlier ones are as simple as those things, but there are a few places where a whole paragraph was added.

For instance, the Gospel of Mark ends abruptly, and later writers couldn’t help but add an ending that looks more like Matthews ending.

When critics say that there are errors in the Bible’s text, this is the kind of thing they are referring to: that later manuscripts contain some things that are different than the earliest ones we have found.

Regardless of their motivation, though, they don’t tell the whole story about this. They don’t put the whole transmission process in the proper context where they compare the Bible’s miraculous preservation with other ancient documents.    

As we take the kind of closer look we just did, it actually gives us MORE confidence in the Bible, not less! 

All totaled, the 5,800 Greek manuscripts we have include more than two million plus pages of biblical text. Within those, there are less than 400,000 variations in wording or spelling. In a complete New Testament, there are about 138,000 words. To have that much text and so few variations is statistically insignificant.

SO do we know what the original Bible said?

Absolutely, with as near a certainty as humans can get!  I can boldly proclaim to you that what you are holding is the inerrant, authoritative Word of God! Where something seems to have been added, it sticks out and is footnoted in all modern English translations.

So not only did God the Holy Spirit work through people to write the perfect original 66 books of the Bible, He also worked through God’s people over the centuries before the printing press to make thousands of more copies than any other ancient document, and to preserve not only 100% of the perfect original, but a little extra that came along with the copying process! 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation though faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.   -2 Timothy 3:14-17