Can We Trust the Bible?

Christians have heard many objections by non-Christians about the Christian faith.  Does God really exist?  Why would a good and loving God allow suffering in this world?  Did the resurrection really occur?  Many of these objections have been answered by faithful Christians with reason and with evidence.  Sadly many of our modern day critics have not done their homework, and sadly, the Christians that are asked these questions have not as well.  What we are left is apparent victory for the challenging side and a losing, confused, and now discouraged Christian.

Today we will give evidence to the question, “Can we trust the Bible?”  Perhaps you have heard this question before and even though your critic did not have an answer themselves, they enjoyed watching you bob and weave around the question.  Or perhaps you simply just said, “It takes faith to believe in the Bible.”  When it comes to proving the veracity of the Bible, there is a lot of information available.

Old Testament

The Old Testament consists of 39 books and has been preserved by meticulous copying from the original written manuscript.   To get a better idea, let’s compare the Old Testament to other ancient documents.  For most ancient documents, there are about a thousand years between the writing of the original document and the first available copy that archaeologists have found.  As an example, we have Tacitus, a Roman historian.  Tacitus wrote his works around 100 A.D. but our first manuscript copy of his work is actually from about 1100 A.D. and with 20 total copies available today.   The original document was written almost 1,000 years before our first manuscript.   In comparison, our first manuscript copy of the Old Testament dates (250 B.C.) comes about 150 years after the original book was written, and we have over 10,000 Old Testament manuscripts.[1]

Old Testament texts were preserved by the careful, strenuous and tedious copying of trained Jewish scribes by hand on animal skins.  Around 100 B.C. these scribes began to use papyrus to copy the Old Testament.  Here are some of the rules that were enforced when copying the texts to ensure it was done accurately.  Each column of writing could have no less than 48 and no more than 60 lines.  The scribes had to verbalize each word as they wrote it.  There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript was done once again.  The letters, words and paragraphs had to be counted against the original and match. [2]

Before 1948, the earliest complete manuscripts of various books of the Old Testament dated to around 900 to 1000 A.D. but in 1947 some shepherds stumbled upon a cave with scrolls in jars in a cave known as Qumran site.  Scholars soon discovered eleven caves and uncovered a library consisting that included books from the Old Testament, commentaries on Old Testament books and other non-biblical literature.  These manuscripts included parts of every single book of the Old Testament minus the book of Esther.  Perhaps the best discovery was an almost complete scroll of the book of Isaiah.  When scholars compared the Isaiah scroll to the earliest copy ( dated 900 to 1000 A.D.) before the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery they found only 13 textual variations.  Regarding Isaiah 53 which predicts the suffering and death of Jesus there was once variation between the ancient scroll and the copy from 900 to 1000 A.D.   The dead sea scrolls date back between 150 and 70 B.C.  in about 1000 years span, the text remained almost intact without major errors.  [3]

Furthermore, Jesus gave proof that the Old Testament was accurate.  He affirmed the authority of Scripture in Matthew 4:4, its doctrine in Matthew 22:29, its imperishability in Matthew 5:18, its historical reliability in Matthew 12:40 and its truthfulness in John 17:27.  Because of the dead sea scrolls, we have a good idea of the Old Testament that Jesus studied and learned and we also have that same Old Testament today.

New Testament

The New Testament was originally written in Greek after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.  It wasn’t until 1516 that the first printed Greek New Testament was published with a printing press by Erasmus  For 1500 years the manuscripts of the biblical books were passed down to us through handwritten copies.  Some of those copies were done in a script called uncials (all capital Greek letters), others were in minuscule (small Greek letters).  Another type of copy was called papyri (paper like material from the Papyrus plant).  The last type of copy was lectionaries which were collections of texts for reading and public worship. [4]

The number of manuscripts between these four types of copies is staggering compared to the manuscripts available today of other known ancient works.  For example, there are 10 existing manuscripts of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars written between 58 and 50 B.C. The copies date from the 10th century or later.   There are only eight manuscripts of the History of Thucydides who lived 460-400 B.C….and the list goes on and on. [4]

Now the manuscripts of the New Testaments…..(drum roll please)….The Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Muenster, Germany, has 322 uncial texts, 2,907 minuscule texts, 2,445 lectionary pieces and 127 papyri for a staggering 5,801 manuscripts.  These are all hand-written copies of the New Testament or parts of it.

In comparison to the works of Tacitus mentioned at the beginning of this blog, our first manuscript copy of the New Testament (John Ryland’s papyri dating from 117-138 A.D.) comes from about 30-40 years after the original book was written (i.e. Gospel of john in about 90-95 A.D.).

When the New Testament documents were copied sometimes an error was made.  But these errors amounted to be very minor.  Here are some errors that were made:

Dittography – writing twice what should have been written once.  For example, writing “latter” instead of “later.”

Fission – Improperly dividing one word into two words.  For example, “nowhere” into “now here.”

Fusion – combining the last letter of one word with the first letter o the next word.  For example “there in” into “therein.”

Haplography – Writing once what should have been written twice.  For example, writing “later” instead of “latter.”

Metathesis – an improper exchange in the order of letter.   For example, writing “mats” instead of “mast.”

Homophony – writing a word with a different meaning for another word when both words are pronounced the same way.  For example, “meet” and “meat.”

When errors like this were copied, the copy became the new master and so other copies of the “new” master copy contained the same error.  Thus scholars who do textual criticism – the science of verifying ancient documents, counted the errors in ALL of the copies, even though it was an error that was only found in an older copy that was used as a master.  So in reality the number of mistakes that are really there are less than all the mistakes tallied up among all the manuscripts.  Statistically speaking, the New Testament is 95% accurate.  And any errors that are found do not contradict biblical teaching or sway to come up with false doctrine.

If people want do discredit the veracity of the New Testament, they must also discredit other ancient texts.  Homer was written in 900B.C. but our earliest copy is from 400 B.C. and have 643 copies.  That’s a difference of 500 years between the original and the earliest copy.  Plato was written in 427-347 B.C.  The earliest copy is from 900 A.D.  That’s 1,20 years difference and there are 7 copies.

The evidence for the veracity of the New Testament blows all these ancient texts out of the water.  The New Testament was written between 50-90 A.D. Our earliest copy today is from 130 A.D.  That’s 30 years difference and we have about 5,801 manuscripts available today.

God in his sovereignty has preserved his holy Word throughout the course of history.  The next time someone tells you that  the Bible is not credible, ask them if they have done their homework and present the evidence to them.  When you read the Bible, think of how blessed you are to be reading God’s very own words!  It is simply amazing.  Read it, study it, pray it, sing it, learn it and teach it!  Paul instructed Timothy the following in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”   All of it is there from God to you, for our benefit.  Let us not take it for granted!


[2] Connoly, W. Kenneth (1996). The indestructible book: the Bible, its translators and their sacrifices.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.