Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Part II: Authenticity

Going forward in examining whether or not the Bible truly is the Word of God (thus, confirming the validity of the Christian faith), it is important for us to look at a claim that some people make. This is the claim that the Bible has been changed over time. This idea supposes that the 66 books that we have in our Bible today are not the same as when they were written down thousands of years ago. While we know the historical accounts in the Bible are true, some argue that certain things about Jesus, and what he preached, and who he claimed to be, has been tampered with in the New Testament. If this is true, and the primary teachings from the Bible have been changed over time, we have a serious problem. If the Bible's main teachings and claims have not changed over thousands of years, then we see evidence that our God has protected his Word. If the Bible really is the Word of God, the evidence should reveal that the Bible is authentic, and has not changed over time.

We can easily see if a text has changed over time by comparing it to the autograph, or the original text. For example, we can know that the Declaration of Independence that we read online is the same as the original by comparing it to the actual Declaration of Independence from 1776. However, when we don't have the original of a text, more work must be done to verify its authenticity. Unfortunately, we do not have the originals of the Bible. However, this is not a serious problem. We do not have any originals of ancient works. So, how can we know that the Bible is authentic? Let's look at some facts.

When examining the authenticity of ancient works, we need to do a couple things. First we need to find out how many years went by between the date the text was originally written, and the earliest copy of that text that we have. Secondly, we need to see how many copies of the text have been discovered. The results are quite interesting. Let's take a look at a couple examples before we see how the Bible does (the New Testament specifically). 

Thucydides and Herodotus were both great historians, whose works are widely accepted by scholars. They both lived around 400 BC. However, the earliest copies of their texts date back to 900 AD. This is 1,300 years apart from when the texts were originally written, to the earliest copy we have. And, we have 8 copies of each text (McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, page 71). Only 8! Looking at that, a the highly regarded scholar F.F. Bruce said the following: "No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable)." 

Let's look at some more examples (McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict):

Aristotle (any one work): 7 copies found, with 1,400 years between original and earliest copy.
Plato Tetralogies: 49 copies found, with 1,300 years between original and earliest copy.
Homer's Illiad: 643 copies found, with 500 years between original and earliest copy.
Josephus's The Jewish War: 9 copies found, with 900 years between original and earliest copy.

Now let's take a look at the New Testament. Over 5,000 copies of the New Testament in the original language (Greek) have been discovered. Over 5,000! This is an amazing number, especially when we compare it to other ancient texts. This number does not include the thousands of Latin manuscripts, which would bring the number over 25,000! And, this number continues to grow as discoveries are made! What is the span of years between the original and the earliest manuscript of the New Testament? 50 years max. Simply amazing. Because of the many copies of the New Testament, we are able to compare them, and find out with great accuracy the authenticity of the New Testament that we have today. We can find out whether our New Testament is the same as when it was written 2,000 years ago. 

What do we find when we compare the ancient manuscripts? Bart Ehrman published a book nearly a decade ago on this subject called Misquoting Jesus. In this work, Ehrman discusses how there are many variances within the New Testament manuscripts. He estimates that there are between 300,000 to 400,000 variants within the manuscripts. At first glance, this is a serious problem! However, it should not be a big surprise that there are variances within New Testament manuscripts. The New Testament was copied by scribes, word for word, for many years! Another thing to consider is the large amount of manuscripts that have been found. With the thousands of copies, along with humans--who are prone to mistakes--copying them, of course there are going to be errors. 

However, we need to look at what these variances are. If they are minor, and nothing of doctrinal importance is violated, then we know God has protected his Word. If different manuscripts are teaching different things about who Jesus was, or what he did, then we have a problem. 

What we now know is that 75% of these variances are spelling errors (Komoszewski, Reinventing Jesus). Many of these were differences in spelling names. Even today the same names are spelled differently. This does not change the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

Another large chunk of these variances is the use of synonyms. Once again, these do not affect the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

The amount of variances which affect the meaning of the text are less than one percent. And, even these are all footnoted in our Bibles. And to be honest, none of these affect any doctrine of importance. Look for yourself in you Bible if you don't believe me.

So, what is the conclusion we have come to today? The Bible we have today is authentic. We know that the Bible has not changed over time. While there are slight variances that have been found, God has protected his Word. The main message of the Bible, and the main teachings of Jesus and the Apostles has not been tampered or changed in any ways. We can read our Bibles with confidence, knowing that God has protected his Word, and we are reading the same message Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples preached. 

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