Has the Old Testament been corrupted?
by Ryan Turner
An important question raised by skeptics, Muslims, Mormons, and many others is whether the Old Testament has been corrupted. The short answer is “No.” How do we know this? There are a number of ways in which we can test and see how accurately the Old Testament has been preserved including the number of manuscripts, the copying process, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the testimony of Jesus.
The Number of Old Testament Manuscripts
A helpful way to look at the Old Testament’s textual history is to compare it to other documents of antiquity. For most ancient documents, we have about a thousand year gap between the writing of the document and the first available copy that archaeologists find. For example, with a Roman historian called Tacitus, our first manuscript copy of his work comes from around 1100 A.D. and we have 20 total manuscript copies today. Interestingly, Tacitus actually wrote his works around 100 A.D. Most historians do not doubt that we have a really good idea what Tacitus actually wrote, even though we only have about 20 total partial or complete manuscripts and the earliest manuscript comes about 1,000 years after the original writing.
In comparison, our first manuscript copy of the Old Testament (dates from 250 B.C.) comes about 150 years after the original book was written (i.e. probably Malachi about 400 B.C.). Also, we actually have over 10,000 Old Testament manuscripts!
The way Ancient Texts were Copied
Ancient texts were not preserved by Xerox copy machines unfortunately. Instead, as with the Old Testament, trained Jewish scribes would copy portions of Scripture by hand on animal skins. Around 100 B.C., these scribes began to use papyrus or paper to copy the Old Testament. When these Jews copied various portions of the Bible, they took extreme care to ensure the precision of their scribal copying. In fact, in some cases, if there was one error between a copy and the original, the copy was to be burned.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Age of the Old Testament Manuscripts
Even if scribes carefully copied manuscripts and burned copies with errors in them, what evidence do we have textually that these scribes actually copied the texts correctly? In order to answer this question, we will have to look at the Dead Sea Scrolls as a test case…
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|Recommended Resources: On the Reliability of the Old Testament | The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant?|