Is the Bible Reliable?


bible2by Rob Lundberg

Many times a Christian will be asked at some time or another, how they know that the Bible is true?  The response is often varied, sounding more like circular logic,  “I know the Bible is true, because the Bible says it is true?”

But this is nothing more than the committing the circular reasoning fallacy.  So how do you we know that the Bible is God’s Word written to us?  How did the Bible come about to what we know it as today? There is a more detailed response that goes beyond the appeal to circular reasoning.

First and Foremost

The question of reliability is challenged in the halls of the academy today.  This and the lack of training in the church when things get difficult draw people to  inwardly challenge the Bible’s reliability. How can we be sure that it is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses that were written during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, and record for us supernatural events that are direct fulfillment to specific prophecies and the writers claiming that the writings are divine rather than human in origin? (See 2 Peter 1:16-21 and Luke 1:1-4).

This is a good and valid question. I am happy to say that we don’t need to rely on the myth of ‘blind faith’ to answer that question.  We apply the same tests to the biblical documents as we would to any other ancient writing.

In 1952, a professor of military history, Chauncey Sanders, set down three tests which can be used for any historical writing. He named these tests the bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. Since the Bible is a collection of  historical documents, we can examine the Bible with these tests in the same way we would examine other ancient documents.

How Well Were the Original Documents Transmitted to Us Today? — The Bibliographic Test

Whenever a document is written, there is always only one original. This is the document from which copies are made. Sometimes, many copies will be made. Other times, only a few will be made. What we want to find out is, if we had to construct the original document from the copies, how accurate would it be? Clearly, 100% accuracy would be a perfect copy.

The Old Testament

There are very few copies of the original Old Testament writings. This is because copies were lost, ceremonially buried when worn out, or destroyed if imperfections were discovered. Before 1947, the earliest Hebrew manuscript available was the Masoretic text.
But in 1947, approximately 1100 scrolls known as the the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The amazing thing about these scrolls is that they are dated between 200 BC, and 68 AD, and contained a complete copy of the Prophet Isaiah.[1]  There are very few variations between these two manuscripts. No variations affect the meaning of the documents in any way.

The New Testament

Archaeologists have found copies of quite a few ancient manuscripts, written by different authors. Here is a table that present good comparison.

Author

Date Written

Earliest Copy

Time Span

Number of copies

Accuracy

Homer

850 BC

1757*

95%

Herodotus

450 BC

about 900 AD

about 1350 years

8

there

Euripdes

440 BC

about 1100 AD

about 1500 years

9

are 

Thucydides

420 BC

about 900 AD

about 1300 years

8

not 

Plato

380 BC

about 900 AD

about 1300 years

7

enough

Aristotle

350 BC

about 1100 AD

about 1400 years

5

copies 

Caesar

60 BC

about 900 AD

about 960 years

10

to 

Catullus

50 BC

about 1500 AD

about 1600 years

3

reconstruct

Livy

10 BC

20

the 

Tacitus

100 AD

about 1100 AD

about 1000 years

20

originals

New Testament

45 AD

about 130 AD

about 90 to 100 yeas

14000 +

99.5%

taken from “I’m Glad You Asked, by Boa & Moody
*Homer’s figure has been updated to more recent archaeological findings.  

Apart from the New Testament, the only other ancient writing which has any level of accuracy associated with it, is Homer. And yet the New Testament has a far higher degree of accuracy than Homer. Scholars universally accept the copies of Homer’s writings as being accurate. It is undeniable, then, that the New Testament is by far the most accurately reconstructed ancient document. It passes the bibliographic test with no problems whatsoever.

The Internal Test – Do The Writers of the Bible Claim Their Writings Are True?

 

In any document, we are justified in discovering what the writer of that document says about it.  Many of the writers of the New Testament were eyewitnesses of Jesus. They saw him, knew all about him, and in some cases, were his followers. And they said as much:


The eyewitness to these things has presented an accurate report. He saw it himself, and is telling the truth, so that you also will believe.

 

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.

“We were there on the holy mountain with Jesus.” We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears. We couldn’t be more sure of what we heard – God’s glory, God’s voice.

Even when the writers were not eyewitnesses, they showed that their writings were not made up from thin air:

So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out.

And since the New Testament was written between AD 47 and AD 95, there was just not enough time for myths and falsehoods about Jesus to grow. There were enough eyewitnesses of Jesus to challenge any historical errors, or blatant lies. Yet no-one did. The Bible passes the internal test.

The External Test – What Does Outside Evidence Say About the Bible?


Because the Bible is a collection of documents written within history, it contains references to history which can be verified by archaeology. It is interesting that before the 20
th century, many critics of the Bible discredited it, due to lack of evidence for certain biblical claims. Yet, in the 20th century, archaeology exploded, and all such claims have been reversed. Archaeology has made astonishing finds which provide evidence for the claims of the Bible. Archaeology cannot prove the Bible, but every new find gives more weight to the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Here are just a few examples of the historical reliability of the Bible:
  • Critics once claimed that the Law of Moses could not have been written by Moses, since writing was largely unknown at that time (about 1500 BC). Then, the Laws of Hammurabi (1700 BC) were found. This showed that writing was definitely known at that time, and left no reason why Moses could not have written the Law of Moses.
  • For a long time, critics questioned the accuracy of Daniel 5, which mentions a Babylonian King named Belshazzar. Archaeological records show that Nabonidus was king at the time, and do not mention Belshazzar. Yet, in 1956, three stone slabs were found. These slabs showed that while Nabonidus went off to war to fight the Persians, he entrusted the kingdom to his son, Belshazzar.
  • Many critics have tried to discredit Luke as an accurate historian. So far they have been unsuccessful. A notable example is where Luke says that Lysanius is the Tetrarch of Abilene. Recently, archaeologists found two Greek inscriptions, which show that Lysanius was the Tetrarch of Abilene between 14 and 29 AD.[2]
  • In the past, people have doubted whether Jesus even existed. Was he a historical person, or a made-up character? In fact, early Greek, Roman and Jewish sources make mention of Jesus. These include Tacitus (Annals), Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), Pliny the Younger (Epistles) and Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). As well, there is a letter from a Syrian, Mara Bar-Serapion, to his son. In it, he compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras and Jesus.

The Bible has no problem meeting the external tests.  In fact, when the bibliographic test, the internal test and the external test are applied to the Bible, the Bible emerges as a completely trustworthy book. This is even more amazing considering how many different writers contributed to the Bible. It points to a “common author”, God, and shows how God not only gives a message to us, but also takes care to ensure that we can trust that message.

_______________

[1]In 1947, a young Bedouin goat herdsman found some strange clay jars in caves near the valley of the Dead Sea. Inside the jars were some leather scrolls. The discovery of these “Dead Sea Scrolls” at Qumran has been hailed as the outstanding archeological discovery of the twentieth century. The scrolls have revealed that a commune of monastic farmers flourished in the valley from 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. It is believed that when they saw the Romans invade the land they put their cherished leather scrolls in the jars and hid them in the caves on the cliffs northwest of the Dead Sea.

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls include a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, a fragmented copy of Isaiah, containing much of Isaiah 38-66, and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament. The majority of the fragments are from Isaiah and the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The books of Samuel, in a tattered copy, were also found and also two complete chapters of the book of Habakkuk. In addition, there were a number of non-biblical scrolls related to the commune found.


These materials are dated around 100 B.C. The significance of the find, and particularly the copy of Isaiah, was recognized by Merrill F. Unger when he said, “This complete document of Isaiah quite understandably created a sensation since it was the first major Biblical manuscript of great antiquity ever to be recovered. Interest in it was especially keen since it antedates by more than a thousand years the oldest Hebrew texts preserved in the Masoretic tradition.”

[2]Sir William Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House reprint; 1949 from 1894 lectures). Intent on discrediting Luke’s writings, in the last century this hostile scholar traveled across the Mediterranean to that end. But he was astonished to discover that his archaeological findings confirmed the full accuracy of the customs, locations, and the governing titles (e.g. “magistrates” Acts 16:35; “proconsul” Acts 18:12) Luke had mentioned. These varied widely from region to region. Ramsey concluded, “Great historians are the rarest of writers…[I regard Luke] among the historians of the first rank” (pp. 3-4)

Author: roblundberg

I am a blogger, writer, equipper, and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and communicate it to a confused culture in a "brave new world" steeped in a post-truth mindset. My mission follows the lines of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. My desire is the equip you to address today's issues from a worldview perspective, and know how and when to incorporate the discipline of apologetics into the task of evangelism, so as to communicate the gospel in a persuasive and compassionate manner. I currently serve as the local Chapter Director and Community Apologist for Ratio Christi, at Germanna Community College and the University of Mary Washington; both in Fredericksburg, VA.

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