Can we trust the Bible?

The Accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible,

imagesAnd the importance of its message on our lives today.

The Bible in Context of Time and “Authors”

Written by more than 40 authors with varying characters and from a wide range of educational backgrounds and different statuses in society, the Bible took 1,500 to 2,000 years to complete. Three common languages were used that would have been understood by the majority of people in that part of the world: Hebrew Old Testament (with small parts in Aramaic) and Greek New Testament. Note that post Alexander the Great most of the Roman occupied world spoke this language, and Hebrew was understood by neighbouring nations. A Semitic influence was significant and not least due to many wars, expulsions and repatriation of entire peoples all dependent on the policies of the conquering nations. The Bible preserved both in the Old Testament and the New Testament was seen as an integral part to their identity and has always been perceived to be holy books. All evangelical Christians hold that the Bible is inspired through the Holy Spirit.

Accuracy of the Scripture

Today, more than ever, many liberal Theologians have pushed their twisted agenda of fervent liberal fundamentalist evangelism. By attempting to cleverly demolish the authority of the word of God they want us to believe that scripture was corrupted by a biased clergy who wanted to push its own agenda. Many liberals would say that it is “textual criticism” (analysis of available Greek and Hebrew manuscripts) that supports their assessment. Note that textual criticism is accepted by all as a science as it deals with available manuscripts and painstakingly reconstructs the original text. One should be aware however that those liberal theologians inevitably employ “higher Criticism”. (Higher Criticism, on the other hand, deals with historical and philosophical ideas and in its nature is therefore inherently based on opinions and not on hard science.)  With complicated language they hope to baffle us with science. Many young and mature Christians have suffered crises of faith, due to a lack of willingness on the part of many leaders to stand up for what is right. This is why I think we should always be supportive of our church leadership and pray that God would give them wisdom and understanding needed to protect God’s flock from attacks by Satan.

Norman Geisler, in his book, “When Skeptics Ask”, reflects on the Old Testament and its accuracy with a great insight into Jewish traditions:

Jewish traditions laid out every aspect of copying texts as if it were law, from the kind of materials to be used to how many columns and lines were to be on a page. Nothing was to be written from memory. There was even a religious ceremony to perform each time the name of God was written. Any copy with just one mistake in it was destroyed. This guarantees us that there has been no substantial change in the text of the Old Testament in the last 2,000 years and evidence that there was probably very little change before that.[1]

Regarding the New Testament, Norman Geisler, in the same book, states the following: …There are less than 40 places in the New Testament where we are really not certain which reading is original, but not one of these has any effect on a central doctrine of the faith. Note: the problem is not that we don’t know what the text is, but that we are not certain which text has the right reading. We have 100 percent of the New Testament and we are sure about 99.5 percent of it.[2]

What is driving you – how do we know the objective truth?

Lack of objectivity and lack of desire to find the truth has often been something that all seekers would point out as wrong when faced with the “blind faith fundamentalism”. However this is relevant to both sides of the argument. In his book “The case for the real Jesus” which has only recently been published, Lee Strobel puts it like this:

[3]“Many sceptics only appear to be liberals; they’re actually a species of fundamentalists. Martin Hengel said that the only difference between a fundamentalist and a radical liberal is their starting presuppositions. Their methods are the same; they start with where they want to end up and then look at all the evidence selective for their purpose, rather than being open to what the evidence actually reveals”

Recently in his bestseller book “Misquoting Jesus” (incidentally, this book does not talk about any misquotations but is a scholarly piece of work on textual criticism with highly speculative unjustifiable conclusions) Bart D Erhman suggested that there may be as many as 200K to 400K variants in the New Testaments. (Note of interest here is that the entire Greek New Testament contains 138,162 words and this point clearly confirms the fact that many of the so called errors are in fact duplications of manuscripts that deal with the same part of the text)  He states “the very meaning of the text is at stake”. Fellows from the Jesus seminary agree with him and go even further by stating that we should take great chunks of the New Testament and throw them away as unauthentic.

What they fail to mention for the unacquainted reader is the following:

  • They will use a single mistake in 2,000 (e.g.) manuscripts and count it not as one mistake but as 2,000 errors e.g. if text is saying “God is love” and next manuscript is saying “The God is Love” and yet another one is saying “God love is” these will all be classed as 3 errors regardless of the fact that it is the same part of the text and the same mistake. It was very obvious to external examination and all assessors could easily ascertain what the correct meaning of the original text was here.
  • More than 90% percent of these so called errors are grammatical errors of sentence structures things like “A” and “The” that we use in the English language and the order of the words mentioned above. These are known as “movable nu” in original Greek manuscripts. The Greek letter nu or ‘n’ is used at the end of the word when the next word in the sentence would start with a vowel. Note also that out of these high percentages of grammatical errors up to 80% are actually spelling errors that have no impact on the interpretation of the text in question. A point to consider is that in many cases the text that is being disputed would take the word of Jesus and would then substitute it in some parts of the text as “he”, or “Lord”. Any reader could work out for themselves through context clearly who they were talking about. Often “apparent errors” are only existent in Greek. We are not able to translate these subtle nuances from this (Greek) complicated language. At no point is the reader ever left wondering about who or what we are talking about. Name endings with differing last letters due to grammatical rules are not able to be translated into English and note that English versions therefore get it right every time.
  • The rest is a difference in spellings of the names and numbers in Hebrew. Please note that in Greek there are more than 10 ways of saying “Jesus loves John”. These are not mistakes, they are simply variations.
  • There is less than 1% that is “really questionable” but even this 1% can be explained in more than one way. For example, the ending to the Gospel of Mark is viewed by many to be a later addition. However, this can be explained easily especially as some parts of the text in question here are not contrary to the rest of the New Testament. Their teachings and ideas are also found in other books of the New Testament (except parts such as picking up snakes).
  • One of the most surprising things that you find in Dr Bart D Erhman’s book is that he dedicated his book to professor Bruce M. Metzger whom he calls “Doctor – Father” under whom he also studied, Professor Metzger himself held that today we can come to very confident high percentage of Biblical accuracy due to a large number of manuscripts we have in the original language of the Bible (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic). He agreed that most variations are minor. On the question of what have all the years of studying done for his faith, Professor Metzger replys like this to Lee Strobel

It has increased the basis of my personal faith to see the firmness with which these materials have come down to us, with the multiplicity of copies, some of which are very ancient” [4]

  • Let me also quote from Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for the Real Jesus”. Again this time he quotes the highly respected New Testament Scholar Gordon Fee

“Unfortunately, Erhman too often turns mere possibility into probability, and probability into certainty, where other equally viable reasons for [textual] corruption exists” [5].

  • This is how Professor Metzger describes the painstaking work and complexity of the translation of the modern Bible for the New International Version (NIV). Note that none of it suggests the blaze approach to the textual criticism as some may have suggested.

The publicity released with the publication of this translation stressed the interdenominational and international character of the work. The preface (p. vii) lists thirteen different denominations represented. As for the countries represented, a pamphlet The Version of Our Time gives a “partial list” of ninety-seven persons, of whom eighty-seven were Americans; there were three each from Canada and Great Britain, and two each from Australia and New Zealand. These worked in twenty teams, each of which was composed of five persons: two co-translators, two consultants, and one English stylist. Each team’s work went to an intermediate editorial committee (either of the Old Testament or the New Testament), then to the general editorial committee, and finally to the fifteen-member committee on Bible translation.[6]

Note this high standard and attitude applies to the most common translations used today in the English speaking world. All big and commonly used Bible translations have used groups of scholars. This includes translations like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), King James Bible, New King James Bible, and New International Version. For the observer, this is highly reassuring as all of them were critically examined by the peer reviews before the final versions were published.

The Bible remains to be on its own, high above any other book in terms of quality and the seriousness of its patrons to preserve the original text. The availability of a substantially high number of materials is nothing short of amazing as this is used to help us understand God’s message to us.

As F. F. Bruce says, [7]“The historical ‘once-for-all-ness’ of Christianity which distinguishes it from those religious and philosophical systems, which are not specially related to any particular time, makes the reliability of the writings which purport to record this revelation a question of first-rate importance”

Readers of the Bible should be confident that we have a significant amount of evidence to support our claim of Biblical reliability and trustworthiness.

We have many New Testament Greek manuscripts, the various versions of which are found in a number of other languages, (This, compared to other historical documents, is nothing short of amazing) in which the New Testament is translated, and the writings of the Church fathers with their quotations from the Bible can almost completely reconstruct the entire New Testament.

The famous apologist, Josh McDowell, in his book “Answers to tough questions” lists the following arguments for the reliability of the Bible:

  • The New Testament was originally written in Greek. This was beneficial as most of the local world spoke this language. There are approximately 5,500 Greek copies in existence that contain all or significant parts of the New Testament.
  • While we do not have the original Bible, we have very early copies. The New Testament was written from about a.d. 50 to a.d. 90 (this is accepted even by the most liberal of scholars). The earliest fragment (p. 52) dates to about A.D. 120, with about fifty other fragments dating within 150–200 years from the time of composition.
  • Two major manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (a.d. 325) and Codex Sinaiticus (a.d. 350), a complete copy, date within 250 years of the time of composition. This may seem like a long time span, but it is minimal compared to most ancient works.
  • The 5,500 copies of the manuscripts that we have are incomparable to any other ancient book, indeed, any other book.
  • New Testament documents have been translated into several other languages at a very early date. This strengthens the argument of reliability as when manuscripts are compared they show close, almost identical, text.
  • The New Testament could be almost reproduced within 250 years from its composition simply by using the writings of the early Christians. In commentaries, letters, etc., John Burgon has catalogued more than 86,000 citations by the early church fathers that quote different parts of the New Testament.
  • F. F. Bruce makes the following observation:

[8]“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning.” “And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt”

Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, was one of the foremost experts on ancient manuscripts and their authority.

[9]“The interval between the dates of original composition (of the New Testament) 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”

Decline of doctrine and Biblical Authority

Gone are the days of simple faith first advocated by early church fathers because unfortunately, we have had the rise of philosophy like Existentialism and the influence of Søren Kierkegaard upon our churches and at the top of our academic and theological institutions and unfortunately upon their training programmes for our clergy. In a way we have capitulated. We have agreed that there is no need to engage in apologetics (defence of our faith) anymore and protect the doctrines that we find in the Bible. In fact since the 19th century we have seen a  gradual decline in this useful discipline which was first advocated by the Apostle Paul and agreed with by Peter when he tells us “to be prepared to give answer to those who will question our teachings”.

1 Peter 3: 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

This involves knowing our Bibles, of which I am ashamed to say we know so little. It seems unbelievable that today our long struggle through the time of reformation, which we waged against the Catholic Church, to allow Bibles to be translated into local languages (in order to be read by ordinary church members) is now being readily abandoned by ignoring the Word of God. We are now conceding defeat, even though this victory was initially acquired through the blood of the saints who gave their lives to make it accessible to us.

The Bible in the real World

According to our tradition; when British monarchs are crowned they are given the Bible stating that this is the greatest reaches/treasure they could attain on earth. When the Bible was first made available and was translated into English, (note that the Bible would cost you as much as a price of the house) this “luxury” was only affordable to the very rich. Indeed, church Bibles were chained to the pulpits in the Anglican churches as they were highly valued.

In Russia, many Christians would frown upon western believers when they place their Bibles on the floor. During the time of communism, due to a lack of Bibles sections of the Bible would be passed from church member to church member who would painstakingly copy each section, until the entire New Testament or Bible was completed, often at the cost of losing their positions, families and even their own lives if and when the possession of one’s Bible was discovered by the ruling communist party.

Is the Bible relevant today as it was for the time that it was written in?

Many have argued that there are a number of scriptural texts that have been written specifically for the nation of Israel with specific guidelines for temple worship. Therefore, they would argue that those have become obsolete and have wrongly used this argument to carve up significant chunks of it to eliminate any disagreeable texts that may clash with our modern ideology. So how does that square up with the teaching of the Bible itself?

2 Tim 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof,  for correction, and for training in righteousness, 3:17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

Some have argued that the Bible itself is elitist, sexist, unreasonable and unforgiving. These all seem to contradict the sayings of Jesus who on the other hand appears to be used by anyone and everyone with their own agenda so that they may utilise it to further their objectives when targeting a religious audience.

I have heard some unkind words during my 25 years of debating with Christians and non Christian friends. What struck me most was a recent TV comment made by a conservative Christian who proclaimed. “In the early second century there were Gnostics who were kind of leaches intending to feed off the success of the hard working Christians. They perceived Christians to be receptive of their message and have therefore tried to infiltrate, corrupt and take over with their ideology and introduce Greek philosophy. Indeed one of the early church fathers exclaimed what has Rome got to do with Athens?” Meaning Roman Christianity was different from Greek philosophy. He went on to say today, we have similar effects with many people twisting Christianity to fit their ideology.

There is an expression in America for some “progressive” modern Christians. They call them “Ted Kennedy Christians”. What they mean by that is that this kind of Christian is a democrat; he or she is concerned with equality and that Jesus preached fairness and love. In a way he was fighting for the underdog, filled with social justice. Some will say what is wrong with that issue? The point here is not that we should not care for the needy but that this should be a direct result of our faith which is driven by the teaching and doctrine of the Bible. See James 2:14-16

The truth is therefore more complicated. It involves both parts of the argument: care for the needy riveted and driven by the instructions given to us for the whole being; Christ indeed does teach us to care for the needy but never forgetting the eternal truth of the eternal life which is far more important for the salvation of human souls. Some would argue that modern Neo Evangelists are preoccupied with business methodology, church mysticism, philosophy of existentialism and materialism. Modern Christians are therefore looking to the world for recognition and acceptance of their faith and is therefore undergirded by relativism and scientism, evolution of thought and any other part of science. In fact some have been very careful to spell out that Christianity and Science are two separate entities. One is based on faith whilst the other is on facts.

1 Peter 1:24 For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off,25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. 

What about the interpretation of the Bible?

Many have complained that the Bible itself is a matter of interpretation, and that therefore we can not assert with any deal of certainty or accuracy what its real meaning is. After all don’t we have too many denominations as it is? And doesn’t this prove that none of us has the full truth and that we all see only partial truth? The story of 5 blind men all holding different parts of the elephant and coming to 5 different descriptions of the object they are examining is often used to prove their point. However it has to be noted that this is a self refuting example as it works on the ASSUMPTION that the author of the story possesses full / complete unadulterated truth as he/she is competent to judge the full picture and make the assessment that there are 5 incompetent and blind men who possess only partial truth and furthermore, that the author is capable of seeing the entire elephant. We must therefore not allow philosophical views to govern our understanding of the Word of God. Indeed, what we as evangelicals say is that “the Bible interprets the Bible” meaning that it is coherent, meaningful and non-contradictory. Its internal consistency is indeed being used to show higher standards and God’s involvement in the original development of his word.

Modernism and Relativism

It is all according to some, a problem of our modern society that propagates both Modernism and relativism. As Richard Dawkins puts it, if you were born in India you would be Hindu and if you happened to be born in a part of Japan that is Buddhist then that is what you would grow up to be: a Buddhist.

James 1:16 – 18 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters.17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

Dawkins goes on to argue that the notion of truth is dependent upon the location of your birth and education. Does this mean that he is an Atheist only because he was born a western existentialist who was educated in the secular system that tries very hard to deny God? He removes the notion of constants by claiming we only have variables that constantly evolve as society moves up. This “growing up” process makes us understand that what was true yesterday is incorrect today and that the new MODERN world is capable of rejecting old dogmas and embrace change.

This goes directly against James 1:17: God who is our father and who does not change, God is a constant and his law is therefore unchanging. It is true that everything is undergoing change but we need to remember that God is not created, he is the creator. Whilst the 2nd law of thermodynamics continues to erode and degrade all materials in the universe, note that the creator is one unchanging constant, the very foundation to which we can look to for guidance and understanding. As his word comes from the unchanging God we can agree that his word will last forever.

Do many Christian denominations prove that Christians can’t agree the meaning of the Bible?

Corinthians 1:10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. 11 For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels[10] among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollo’s,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided?

Note the following:

  • There are central truths that have been agreed upon by the majority of Christians. We call these creeds or statements of faith. Even atheists will often quote these as commonly agreed beliefs when attacking Christianity.
  • The problem is that people often bring their preconceived ideas to the Bible and attempt to make God’s word support and fit their philosophy. We cannot blame the Bible for this distortion. This is often a sign of human sin and distance from God.
  • The reason for many denominations can also be explained by the facts of cultural, ethnical, and social differences. E.g. Mennonites oppose wars whilst Baptist would support what we call “just war”.
  • When closely compared with one another, the doctrinal differences are not always that important. E.g. Presbyterian Church supports predestination (also known as Calvinism) and Methodist Wesleyans support free will (known by some as Armenianism). Both sides would agree that this teaching is non-essential for salvation. We know also that John Wesley closely co-operated with the members of his “holy club” and revivalist John Whitfield who was a staunch Calvinist.

Textual Criticism definition and alleged problems

Some have argued that through Textual Criticisms we know that the Bible is a bit like “Chinese whispers”. However, this analogy has several problems, most, if not all conservative Christians embrace and love the science of Textual Criticism.

  • Textual Criticism deals with the written and not the spoken word
  • Modern critics have many resources and in addition they don’t have to rely on the last available resource. Indeed, they can go much closer to the original text.
  • There are many available roots of manuscripts available from different regions /schools and time. They can all be reconstructed and if you have ever had the pleasure of playing any deductive reasoning games you will understand how relatively easy it is for careful scholars to reconstruct the original text. Today we have more than 5,700 copies of the Greek New Testament
  • Almost the entire New Testament can be reconstructed solely through the quotations of the early Church Fathers.
  • All so-called “textual additions” over time are so minor, indeed they comprise slightly more than 1% percent. (This is very low considering how many pages of the Bible there are.) These are often explanations of the text/corrections of old scribe errors and are not additions of  new material. As we mentioned before, there are only about 3 small segments of the text that are of “questionable” origin but even those are not contradictory to the rest of the Bible nor to its teachings or theology.

Final Words

Too often we have abdicated truth to post modern scientism. Our duty to defend and fight for the truth should not be forgotten. We need to stop running like headless chickens, learn the truth and not bury our heads in the sand. A simple look at the multitude of manuscripts with even a modest understanding of old customs of the people of Israel and surrounding nations will serve us well to confirm that our faith is based on solid facts. When we are questioned by sceptics about the Bible, “can we trust the word of God?”, the answer has to be an unequivocal “Yes”. The Bible is historically reliable, archaeologically sound; it confirms precisely the names of old long forgotten places (often only used in that particular time in history) and locations of towns etc, customs of different nations and even civil structures of leadership. Errors often cited by critics are really very insignificant, translations may vary in order of words and colloquial use but the meaning of the text is persistently the same. We can determine with a very high degree of accuracy the exact wording of the Original text thanks to textual criticism. (This is done through painstaking work of many scholars comparing multitudes of early manuscripts, written in original languages.) Many have objected that this debate is driven by ideologies not scientific data. However, when looking at objective data and the use of objective “Textual Criticism”, rather than subjective, and highly opinionated “Higher Criticism” which depends on individual interpretation of ideas, with its philosophy driven views and historical anomalies, then I would say, the verdict is clear. Our faith in the Bible is not misplaced. On the contrary we should continue to use it to fashion our lives according to the plan that God has for us which he has revealed to us through his word.

Here is how John MacArthur explains our eagerness to abandon the truth and reasons behind our unwillingness to confront the error.

[11]“Contemporary Christians are determined to get the world to like them—and of course in the process they also want to have as much fun as possible. They are so obsessed with making the church seem ‘cool’ to unbelievers that they can’t be bothered with questions about whether another person’s doctrine is sound or not.” The Truth War

Let me finish with the words from the Bible

Jude 1:3 Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly10 for the faith[12] that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

“The Greek verb for contend literally means “agonize against.” The word describes an intensive, arduous, drawn-out fight. There’s nothing passive, peaceful, or easy about it.”[13]

Acts 20:29-31 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves [14] will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 20:30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth [15] to draw the disciples away after them. 20:31 Therefore be alert,  remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.

P.S. If you are going to use only a small portion of this article please direct the readers to where I will publish the entire article.

Kind regards

Defend the Word

[1]Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990), 159.

[2]Ibid, 160.

[3] Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, (Zondervan, 2007), 73

[4] Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, (Zondervan, 2007), 99

[5] Ibid, 72)

[6]Bruce Manning Metzger, The Bible in Translation : Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 139.

[7]FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 8

[8] FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 15

[9] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, pp. 288-89

[10] Or “rivalries, disputes.”

[11] John MacArthur, The Truth War Study Guide (Nashville, Tennessee.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 1.

10 the verb ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnizomai) is an intensive form of ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai). As such, the notion of struggling, fighting, contending, etc. is heightened.

[12] Τῇ πίστει (tē pistei) here is taken as a dative of advantage (“on behalf of the faith”). The term “faith” has a variety of meanings in the NT. Here, the faith refers to the doctrinal content embraced by believers rather than the act of believing. Rather than discuss the points of agreement that Jude would have with these believers, because of the urgency of the present situation he must assume that these believers were well grounded and press on to encourage them to fight for this common belief.

[13]John MacArthur, The Truth War Study Guide (Nashville, Tennessee.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 62.

[14] That is, people like fierce wolves. βαρύς on the term translated “fierce.” The battle that will follow would be a savage one

[15] Greek “speaking crooked things”; BDAG 237 s.v. διαστρέφω 2 has “λαλεῖν διεστραμμένα teach perversions (of the truth) Ac 20:30. These perversions of the truth refer to the kinds of threats that would undermine repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead these false teachers would arise from within the Ephesian congregation (cf. 1 John 2:18–19) and would seek to draw the disciples away after them.


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One Response to Can we trust the Bible?

  1. No matter which way you look at it, or how you count errors or differences in the Greek New Testament text, the Hebrew Bible is still many, many times more reliable and consistent and error-free that the Greek New Testament. The care and reliability with which Jews have copied the Hebrew and Aramaic text is completely without parallel in the history of the Greek NT.

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