The Reliability of the Bible: 4 Quick Thoughts
You are likely familiar with some of the hundreds of resources you can go to for an in-depth look at how Scripture has been preserved. In a conversational setting, however, it is not always practical to bring these resources into the discussion and it is difficult to recite from memory the relevant information that you’ve studied. As a part of a focus on ‘conversational apologetics’ this article seeks to provide a way to confidently outline some important aspects of defending the Bible.
Instead of trying to memorize specific facts, we recommend focusing on understanding these four areas of evidence. Having a firm grasp of these larger, more generalized topics can give you the confidence to introduce others to the facts about why we can trust that our Bible’s accurately preserve what was originally written by the authors.
These four areas will give an overview of the reliability of Scripture and includes a few memorable supporting facts for each. These points are by no means an exhaustive discussion on defending the validity of the Bible, and they are not intended to be. They will, however, help you navigate a discussion of Scripture’s reliability with truth and confidence.
Additional details can be used to supplement and strengthen these conversation points. There are recommended resources for further study at the end of each section.
1. We Have Thousands of Biblical Manuscripts
The fact is, we do not have any of the original writings of Biblical books. The original writings were often written on animal skin and other materials that deteriorate rather quickly. So if what we have are copies of copies of the originals, how can we know that they are accurate?
Fortunately, there is an incredible number of surviving copies of original Biblical writings. These copies are called manuscripts, and there are roughly 6,000 surviving manuscripts for the New Testament alone. This makes it the best attested document of all ancient writings. The next closest contender is Homer’s The Iliad, which has only 600 existing copies.
The value of having a large number of manuscripts is that it provides us with ample opportunity to compare writings, which is especially valuable when cross-checking manuscripts from different geographic areas or from different time periods. When making these comparisons you can determine whether it is apparent that the documents were reliably copied from the same source, and you can quantify how much they may have strayed from that source by seeing where and how they differ. In short, having an abundance of manuscripts shows us that copying Scripture was not like a game of “telephone.”
Comparing the incredible amount of manuscript evidence has shown that the New Testament is 99.5% accurate, and the vast majority of differences are in spelling or obvious and minor copyist errors. Most importantly, you should know that not a single variation in these thousands of manuscripts has been shown to affect a theological issue in any way. While there are undoubtedly differences among the manuscripts, we can have confidence that they stayed true to the originals because the copies themselves are so incredibly similar to each other, despite being written at different times and in different places…
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