The Bible Part II: The Bibliographical Test
by Jonathan Sherwin
Have you heard something like this following objection to the reliability of the Bible?
“Well, how do we know that what we have in our hands today is what was written by the authors? How do we know that the text hasn’t been modified to suit the political, theological, and personal aspirations of countless numbers of people throughout the ages?”
In this, the second article of the series, we are examining the history of the transmission of the texts, through the use of the Bibliographical Test.
The Bibliographical Test
When dealing with any book of antiquity, including the Bible, we can subject the texts to scrutiny to examine where and when they came from and how they got into our hands today.
One big question that we would want to know would be, ‘Is the copy of the text that I have now reliable?’ That is, have the words been changed since they were first written down? If the answer is, ‘yes’ – there have been substantial revisions of the text – then we lose credibility of the historical testimony that the Bible offers. We then move from the realm of the Bible being reliable as ‘evidence’ to simply some ‘nice ideas’.
But if the copies that we have today are shown to be accurate to their original manuscripts, then we can say that we have a true representation of what the authors wrote. Of course, you may well say at this point, ‘Well how do we know the authors were telling the truth?’ And that’s a great question. This specific test doesn’t deal with this question, but other tests that we will be looking in Part III do. But first things first, is what we have now what was written then?
To begin with it’s worth comparing the Bible to other famous literary works of history and see how many manuscripts, or copies of the original works, we have.
At this point it’s important to note that we don’t have any of the original autographs. That is, we don’t have, for example, the actual letter St Paul wrote to the Roman church. For that matter, we don’t have any of the originals of the other works we’re mentioning here.
Plato, Caesar, Sophocles, and Homer all wrote various pieces of literature in a similar time-period so let’s look at those.
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