M-A-P-S to Guide You through Bible Reliability
by Hank Hanegraaff
Have you tried to show someone the historical reliability of the Scriptures, and not known where to start? A quick trip to your local well-stocked Christian bookstore likely will overwhelm you. Where among the dozens of impressive, comprehensive reference books should you start?
Fortunately, while there is a wealth of information available to support the reliability of Scripture, you don’t have to burn, the midnight oil to give a reasonable answer to those who ask, “How can we know the Bible is reliable?” Four basic principle chart your way to understanding basic biblical reliability.
To help you remember, I’ve developed the simple acronym “MAPS.” Remember the word MAPS and you will be able to chart Bible reliability.
Manuscripts relates to the tests used to determine the reliability of the extant manuscript copies of the original documents penned by the Scripture writers (we do not possess these originals). In determining manuscript reliability, we deal with the question: How can we test to see that the text we possess in the manuscript copies is an accurate rendition of the original? There are three main manuscript tests: the Bibliographic, Eyewitness, and External (a second acronym — BEE — will help you remember these).
The bibliographic test considers the quantity of manuscripts and manuscript fragments, and also the time span between the original documents and our earliest copies. The more copies, the better able we are to work back to the original. The closer the time span between the copies and the original, the less likely it is that serious textual error would creep in. The Bible has stronger bibliographic support than any classical literature — including Homer, Tacitus, Pliny, and Aristotle.
We have more than 14,000 manuscripts and fragments of the Old Testament of three main types: (a) approximately 10,000 from the Cairo Geniza (storeroom) find of 1897, dating back as far as about AD. 800; (b) about 190 from the Dead Sea Scrolls find of 1947-1955, the oldest dating back to 250-200 B.C.; and (c) at least 4,314 assorted other copies. The short time between the original Old Testament manuscripts (completed around 400 B.C.) and the first extensive copies (about 250 B.C.) — coupled with the more than 14,000 copies that have been discovered — ensures the trustworthiness of the Old Testament text. The earliest quoted verses (Num. 6:24-26) date from 800-700 B.C.
The same is true of the New Testament text. The abundance of textual witnesses is amazing. We possess over 5,300 manuscripts or portions of the (Greek) New Testament — almost 800 copied before A.D. 1000. The time between the original composition and our earliest copies is an unbelievably short 60 years or so. The overwhelming bibliographic reliability of the Bible is clearly evident.
The eyewitness document test (“E”), sometimes referred to as the internal test, focuses on the eyewitness credentials of the authors. The Old and New Testament authors were eyewitnesses of — or interviewed eyewitnesses of — the majority of the events they described. Moses participated in and was an eyewitness of the remarkable events of the Egyptian captivity, the Exodus, the forty years in the desert, and Israel’s final encampment before entering the Promised Land. These events he chronicled in the first five books of the Old Testament.
The New Testament writers had the same eyewitness authenticity. Luke, who wrote the Books of Luke and Acts, says that he gathered eyewitness testimony and “carefully investigated everything” (Luke 1:1-3). Peter reminded his readers that the disciples “were eyewitnesses of [Jesus’] majesty” and “did not follow cleverly invented stories” (2 Pet. 1:16). Truly, the Bible affirms the eyewitness credibility of its writers.
The external evidence test looks outside the texts themselves to ascertain the historical reliability of the historical events, geographical locations, and cultural consistency of the biblical texts. Unlike writings from other world religions which make no historical references or which fabricate histories, the Bible refers to historical events and assumes its historical accuracy. The Bible is not only the inspired Word of God, it is also a history book — and the historical assertions it makes have been proven time and again.
Many of the events, people, places, and customs in the New Testament are confirmed by secular historians who were almost contemporaries with New Testament writers. Secular historians like the Jewish Josephus (before A.D. 100), the Roman Tacitus (around A.D. 120), the Roman Suetonius (A.D. 110), and the Roman governor Pliny Secundus (A.D. 100-110) make direct reference to Jesus or affirm one or more historical New Testament references. Early church leaders such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, and Clement of Rome — all writing before A.D. 250 — shed light on New Testament historical accuracy. Even skeptical historians agree that the New Testament is a remarkable historical document. Hence, it is clear that there is strong external evidence to support the Bible’s manuscript reliability.
Returning to our MAPS acronym, we have established ,the first principle, manuscript reliability. Let us consider our second principle, archaeological evidence…
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