How do I know the Bible is true? (Part 2)

This is the second in an eight-part series addressing skeptics’ claims against the Bible. Click on the “Bible” link to the right to see part 1.

Objection 2: The Bible has been copied so many times, with so many variations, there’s no way to know what was originally scripted.

Mormons and Muslims allege that the Bible’s documents were substantially corrupted in their transmission, but there is overwhelming evidence that proves these claims wrong.

Scholars of almost every theological persuasion attest to the profound care with which the Old and New Testament documents were copied.

For the New Testament, for example, the books were copied in Greek, and later translated and preserved in Syriac, Coptic, Latin and a variety of other ancient European and Middle Eastern languages. In the Greek alone, more than 5,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of portions of the New Testament have been preserved from the early centuries of Christianity.

As William Lane Craig explains, “The oldest of these is a scrap of papyrus containing John 18:31-33, 37-38, dating from A.D. 125-130, no more than forty years after John’s Gospel was most probably written. More than thirty papyri date from the late second through early third centuries, including some which contain good chunks of entire books and two which cover most of the gospels and Acts or the letters of Paul. Four very reliable and nearly complete NTs date from the fourth and fifth centuries” (“The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 194).

While it’s true there are variations among the manuscripts, the vast majority have to do with changes in spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of words or phrases. Only about 400 have any significant bearing on the meaning of the passage, and most of these are noted in the footnotes or margins of modern translations and editions of Scripture. The only textual variants that affect more than a sentence or two are John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20.

William Lane Craig writes, “Neither of these passages is very likely to be what John or Mark originally wrote, though the story in John (the woman caught in adultery) still stands a fairly good chance of being true. But overall, 97-99% of the NT can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages” (“The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 194).

Next — Objection 3: The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books — perhaps some equally inspired writings.

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips