Is Our Copy of the Bible a Reliable Copy of the Original?
by Rich Deem
Many skeptics believe that the Bible has been drastically changed over the centuries. In reality, the Bible has been translated into a number of different languages (first Latin, then English and other languages, see History of the Bible). However, the ancient manuscripts (written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) have been reliably copied over the centuries – with very few alterations.
How do we know the Bible has been kept in tact for over 2,000 years of copying? Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, our earliest Hebrew copy of the Old Testament was the Masoretic text, dating around 800 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls date to the time of Jesus and were copied by the Qumran community, a Jewish sect living around the Dead Sea. We also have the Septuagint which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating in the second century B.C. When we compare these texts which have an 800-1000 years gap between them we are amazed that 95% of the texts are identical with only minor variations and a few discrepancies.
There are tens of thousands of manuscripts from the New Testament, in part or in whole, dating from the second century A.D. to the late fifteenth century, when the printing press was invented. These manuscripts have been found in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, making collusion unlikely. The oldest manuscript, the John Rylands manuscript, has been dated to 125 A.D. and was found in Egypt, some distance from where the New Testament was originally composed in Asia Minor. Many early Christian papyri, discovered in 1935, have been dated to 150 A.D., and include the four gospels. The Papyrus Bodmer II, discovered in 1956, has been dated to 200 A.D., and contains 14 chapters and portions of the last seven chapters of the gospel of John. The Chester Beatty biblical papyri, discovered in 1931, has been dated to 200-250 A.D. and contains the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s Epistles, and Revelation. The number of manuscripts is extensive compared to other ancient historical writings, such as Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” (10 Greek manuscripts, the earliest 950 years after the original), the “Annals” of Tacitus (2 manuscripts, the earliest 950 years after the original), Livy (20 manuscripts, the earliest 350 years after the original), and Plato (7 manuscripts).
Thousands of early Christian writings and lexionaries (first and second century) cite verses from the New Testament. In fact, it is nearly possible to put together the entire New Testament just from early Christian writings…
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