The Reliability of the New Testament Text

“All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God…” 2 Tim. 3:16a). However, the mind of the cynic like Dr. C. A Briggs who wrote, “We will never be able to attain the sacred writings as they gladdened the eyes of those who first saw them and rejoiced the hearts of those who first heard them. If the external words of the original were inspired, it does not profit us. We are cut off from them forever. Interposed between us and them is the tradition of centuries and even millenniums”. However, Dr. J. H. Skilton demonstrates faith in God’s ability to guard His inspirited writings throughout the millennia. “Quite distinct from the inspiration of the original manuscripts have been the care and providence whereby the Scriptures have been kept pure. It is by virtue of these two separate considerations – the immediate inspiration of the sacred writings in their original form and the singular divine care and providence – that the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek are to be regarded as authentic.”

How can anyone trust the Bible to be reliable? The Bible has been copied over and over again? It has been translated over and over again Is it reliable enough to represent what the original writers intended to convey? After all, none of the original books written by the hands of the authors exist today.

  • Accuracy of the Scribes

Before the invention of the printing press most books had to be written by hand. A scribe was someone who copied the sacred texts by hand. However, scribes are human and prone to make mistakes. “Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora 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, massorets. Whoever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?” (73/230,231).

  • Massive Manuscript Evidence

Overwhelming manuscript evidence exists demonstrating the New Testament has not been corrupted from its original form. All four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were written within the time of the apostles who walked and talked with Jesus. All four of these Gospels are found in the Chester Beatty Papyri written in about 250 AD. They speak to the perfect accuracy and preservation of the Gospel for the past two thousand years. Over 5,300 manuscripts from the second to the fifteenth centuries all affirm the preservation of the New Testament. The John Ryland Fragment dated between 117-138 AD shows that the verses from John 18 have not been corrupted. Even if the New Testament had been corrupted by subsequent generations the 86,000 quotations of the New Testament by early Christian writers would have exposed this corruption and could be used to restore an accurate copy.

  • Few Variants

One Muslim writer argues, “It is admitted by the most learned men in the Hebrew language, that the present English version of the Old Testament contains at least 100,000 errors (this would amount to approximately three errors in every verse)” (8.9 Ron Rhodes).

The above statement does not represent the facts. There are about 200,000 errors or variants found among the thousands of different ancient copies of the Bible. Most of these are variant spellings or grammatical errors or a change in word order. To put these in a proper perspective, of the 5,300 manuscripts of the New Testament one word with one letter change in 2000 manuscripts would equal 2000 variants. This alone would account for one percent of the 200,000 errors. Over ninety-nine percent of these errors or variants are insignificant and do not affect the meaning of the text. For example, if five variants are found among five manuscripts you would still be able to understand the meaning of the original writer.

1) Jesus Christ is the Son of God
2) Christ Jesus is the Son of God
3) Jesus Christ is God’s Son
4) Jesus is the Son of God
5) Jesus Christ is hte Son of God

Because of its age and the number of manuscripts available for comparison, the Bible is the most accurately transcribed book in the world.

  • Dependability of Manuscripts

Since we do not have the original biblical manuscripts (that is, the very pages upon which the authors wrote scripture), the question is, “how good are the copies?” The Bible has a stronger manuscript support than Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar and Tacitus have for their writings. Furthermore, the Bible record is confirmed through the eyewitness credentials of the authors. Moses participated in the Exodus.

Luke, who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts, was a first-rate historian. “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:1-3; see Acts 1:1-3).

Peter said, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). Secular historians like Josephus (100); Tacitus (120); Suetonius (110); and Pliny the Younger (110) all corroborate the teachings of the Bible in their writings. The early Christian writers often quoted from the Old and New Testaments. Someone has said that if all the manuscripts of the New Testament were lost that it could be replicated with great accuracy from the writings of Christians like Irenaeus, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, Clement of Rome, etc. All of them wrote before AD 250.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy threw a stone into a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea. He heard the breaking of pottery. Upon investigation, tall clay jars were found which contained scrolls dating back from 150 to 50 BC. Many of these manuscripts were complete books of the Old Testament. These prove that the scribes were very trustworthy in faithfully transcribing the scriptures. There is a thousand-year gap between the next oldest manuscript of Isaiah, and yet both manuscripts are virtually the same. “The Old Testament books from Qumran are those which we find in our Bible. Minor textual variants occur as they do in any document which depends on hand copies for multiplication, but the Biblical texts may be regarded as essentially reliable” (Charles Pfeiffer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, p. 114).

  • Compared to Scriptures of World Religions and Denominational Creeds

This fact appears even more compelling when the Bible is compared to other religious writings. Consider the Koran, Vedas, Granth, Zend-Avesta, Analets, Toa Tasang, Torah, Koriki & Nihongi. All of these contradict, are difficult to understand, and are illogical. Yet the Bible is not a book of blatant contradictions.

The denominational creeds of men that are said to be based upon the Bible, such as, Baptist Manuals, Lutheran Catechism, Methodist Discipline, Book of Mormon, Presbyterian Confession of Faith, writings of Ellen G. White, etc. do contradict the Bible. However, these are the writings of mere men and not the inspired word of God. If these creeds say more than the Bible, they add to the word of God. If they say less, they subtract. If they say the same thing, then why do you need them?  Let’s just read the Bible.

The Bible even claims to have originated from the very breathe of God, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

– Daniel R. Vess

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