As Christians (and especially Protestants) we rely on the Bible as the primary source of our information about God. Indeed, we believe that the Bible is the ONLY fully complete and accurate revelation from God to His people.
It would behoove us then to understand why we believe that, don’t you think?
After all, in an age where machines can read your mind and men can travel to the moon, what sane, rational person could possibly believe in a 2000 year old book filled with fairytales? One of the most common objections you’ll hear from a skeptic is the ‘game of telephone’ argument. You know how it goes:
Isn’t the Bible really just like the children’s game of telephone? One person whispers a message to the person next to them, who then repeats it to then next person, and on and on in a circle. By the time the message gets back to the original person, it’s changed so much that it’s completely unrecognizable! And the Bible has been copied and copied for thousands of years, and translated into so many different languages, there’s just no way that the Bible we have today is the same one that was originally written.
That’s actually a completely reasonable assumption to make…as long as you don’t know the facts behind how the Bible we have today came to be. In reality, the Bible is the most reliable ancient text in all of history in any culture. No other ancient book even comes close to matching the Bible’s reliability.
Consider the following: in determining the authenticity of ancient writings, two of the main pieces of evidence that scholars look at are how many copies of that manuscript still exist, and how long these copies were written after the original. For example, here are the numbers for some of the most famous and influential writers of antiquity:
|Author, Title||# of Copies||Time Gap|
|Homer, Iliad||643||400 years|
|Tacitus, Annals||20||1000 years|
|Caesar, Gallic Wars||10||1000 years|
|Herodotus, History||8||1350 years|
It’s important to note that each of these works is regarded as firmly reliable by historians. By contrast, the wealth of manuscript evidence supporting the Bible is almost embarrassing:
|# of Copies||Time Gap|
|Bible, New Testament||24,970||50 years|
For the New Testament, we have 24,970 manuscripts available, with the earliest fragments within 50 years of the original writing!
For the Old Testament, there are fewer manuscripts in existence, but this actually serves to increase its reliability in this case. The reason is because each copy of the Old Testament was regarded as absolutely sacred by the Jewish scribes; after all, they believed they were copying the very words of God. If a scribe made one single error while making a copy of the Torah (Old Testament), if they made one letter wrong, they burned the entire copy and started over from the beginning. This was in the days when you had to do it all by hand!
Let’s go back to the game of telephone, but add one simple rule to it. Instead of listening to the message once and then passing it on, let’s say you can now repeat the message back to the person whispering it to you and ask them if you got it right. And you can do this as often as you want until you get every single word right. Wouldn’t you think this would vastly improve the accuracy of the message?
In fact that’s exactly what we see with the Bible. Do me a favor and read Isaiah 55 really quick. Does that sound like anybody you know? Yeah, I thought so. In fact, this passage so closely mirrors the life of Jesus in the New Testament that for a very long time, skeptical scholars said that it was obvious the early Christians had rewritten that passage to force it match up with their beliefs. And for a very long time, there wasn’t much a Christian scholar could do to directly disprove this claim, because the earliest manuscripts we had of the Old Testament were dated at 900 A.D.
But then a funny thing happened. In 1947, a young shepherd boy threw a rock into a small cave. Instead of banging off the wall, he heard the rock shatter some pottery. Inside these clay jars was an astounding treasure: what we know today as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were dated at 125 B.C. In one fell swoop we gained a thousand years of proximity to the original Old Testament, and more importantly, found copies that predated the birth of Jesus.
Upon comparing Isaiah 53 from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the next earliest copy, about a thousand years later, only seventeen letters were different. And not a single one of those differences changed the meaning of the passage. In fact, most of those differences were simply a matter of spelling the same word differently, kind of like ‘theater’ and ‘theatre’.
By the way, does anybody else think it’s incredibly awesome at the poetic ways in which God continues to reveal Himself to us? Think about it: a young shepherd boy who’s proficient at slinging rocks? Treasures in (literal) jars of clay? Our God is gracious, elegant, and likes to give us a playful, knowing wink every now and then. How could you not love that?
So the next time someone says you can’t trust what you read in the Bible, tell ’em about Homer and Caesar, telephones, and boys throwing rocks!
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.