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The Bible is one of the most influential and important books in history, containing the sacred scriptures of Christianity, and is widely regarded as the word of God by Christians worldwide. Throughout the centuries, the Bible has been translated into numerous languages and copied countless times, making it one of the most reproduced texts in history. As a result, many skeptics and critics have questioned the accuracy and reliability of the Bible’s content over time. However, extensive research has been conducted to show that the Bible has been accurately copied down through the centuries. This paper will provide evidence to support this claim.
The Early Manuscripts
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence that the Bible has been accurately copied down through the centuries is the sheer number of early manuscripts that have been discovered. These manuscripts, some of which date back to the second century, provide an invaluable source for verifying the accuracy of the text. The early manuscripts include the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947 in the Qumran caves in the Judean desert. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of the earliest known copies of the Old Testament and demonstrate that the text has remained largely unchanged over time.
The Codex Sinaiticus, which is believed to date back to the fourth century, is another significant early manuscript. The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the oldest complete copies of the Bible and includes both the Old and New Testaments. The manuscript was discovered in the 19th century in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai and is currently housed in the British Library.
The Codex Vaticanus, which is also believed to date back to the fourth century, is another important early manuscript. The manuscript is held in the Vatican Library and includes both the Old and New Testaments. The Codex Vaticanus is considered to be one of the most important biblical manuscripts in existence and is known for its high level of accuracy.
The Early Church Fathers
Another piece of evidence that the Bible has been accurately copied down through the centuries is the writings of the early church fathers. These were the leaders and theologians of the early Christian church who wrote extensively about the Bible and its teachings. Many of these writings date back to the first few centuries of Christianity, providing valuable insight into the accuracy of the text during this time.
For example, Irenaeus, who lived in the second century, wrote extensively about the Bible and its accuracy. In his book “Against Heresies,” Irenaeus argued that the Bible had been accurately passed down through the generations and that its teachings were consistent with the teachings of the apostles. He also refuted several heretical teachings that were circulating at the time, demonstrating that the Bible had not been corrupted over time.
Tertullian, who lived in the third century, also wrote extensively about the Bible’s accuracy. In his book “On the Prescription of Heretics,” Tertullian argued that the Bible had been accurately preserved and that its teachings were consistent with the teachings of Christ and the apostles. He also refuted several heretical teachings that were circulating at the time, demonstrating that the Bible had not been corrupted over time.
The Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is another important piece of evidence that the Bible has been accurately copied down through the centuries. The Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew text of the Old Testament and was meticulously preserved by Jewish scribes over the centuries. The scribes were known as the Masoretes and were responsible for preserving the text by meticulously copying it by hand and ensuring that no errors were made.
The Masoretes developed a system of vowel pointing and accentuation to aid in the accurate copying of the text. They also developed a system of textual criticism to identify any errors that may have been made and to correct them. This involved comparing different manuscripts to determine the original wording of a passage. Scholars would carefully analyze variations in wording, spelling, and other details to determine the most likely original text.
One of the most famous examples of this is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th century. These scrolls contained copies of Old Testament texts that were a thousand years older than any previously known copies. The comparison of these texts with later copies confirmed the remarkable accuracy of transmission. While there were some variations in wording, the essential content of the texts had been preserved.
In addition to textual criticism, scholars also used other tools to ensure the accuracy of the biblical text. For example, they compared the text with other ancient documents to confirm historical details and cultural practices. They also consulted ancient translations of the Bible in other languages to verify the accuracy of the text.
Despite the care scribes and scholars took over the centuries, some errors inevitably creep into the text. For example, some scribes may have accidentally skipped a line or repeated a phrase. Others may have made intentional changes to the text to clarify a difficult passage or to harmonize different accounts.
However, scholars have been able to identify and correct most of these errors through the use of textual criticism and other methods. The vast majority of these errors do not affect the meaning of the text, and those that do have been noted in modern translations of the Bible.
It is also worth noting that the Bible has been subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism by skeptics and scholars over the centuries. If there were any significant errors or discrepancies in the text, they would have been discovered and publicized long ago. Yet despite the intense scrutiny, the accuracy of the Bible has stood the test of time.
In conclusion, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the Bible has been accurately copied down through the centuries. While some errors have inevitably crept in, scholars have developed a rigorous system of textual criticism to identify and correct these errors. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient manuscripts has confirmed the remarkable accuracy of transmission. Moreover, the Bible has been subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism over the centuries, yet its accuracy has withstood the test of time. As a result, we can have confidence that the Bible we have today is a faithful representation of the original text.
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 200+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).
On this question, Christian apologist Norman L. Geisler wrote,
The Bible is the most accurately transmitted book from the ancient world. No other ancient book has as many, as early, or more accurately copied manuscripts.
Old Testament manuscript reliability is based on three factors: their abundance, dating, and accuracy. Most works from antiquity survive on only a handful of manuscripts: only 7 for Plato, 8 for Thucydides, 8 for Herodotus, 10 for Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and 20 for Tacitus. Only the works of Demosthenes and Homer number into the hundreds. Yet even before 1890 a scholar named Giovanni de Rossi published 731 OT manuscripts. Since that time some 10,000 OT manuscripts were found in the Cairo Geniza, and in 1947 the Dead Sea caves at Qumran produced over 600 OT manuscripts.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls, containing at least fragments of all OT books except Esther, all date from before the end of the first century A.D. and some to the third century B.C. The Nash Papyrus is dated between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D.
The manuscripts’ accuracy is known from internal and external evidence. (1) It is well known that Jewish scribal reverence for Scripture led to its careful transmission. (2) Examination of duplicate passages (e.g., Pss 14 and 53) show parallel transmission. (3) The early Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, substantially agrees with the Hebrew manuscripts. (4) Comparison of the Samaritan Pentateuch with the same biblical books preserved within the Jewish tradition shows close similarity. (5) The Dead Sea Scrolls provide manuscripts dating a thousand years earlier than most used to establish the Hebrew text.
Comparative studies reveal word-for-word identity in 95 percent of the text. Minor variants consist mostly of slips of the pen or spelling. Only 13 small changes were discovered in the entire Dead Sea Scrolls copy of Isaiah, eight of which were known from other ancient sources. After 1,000 years of copying, there were no changes in meaning and almost no changes in wording!
The reliability of the NT is established because the number, date, and accuracy of its manuscripts enable reconstruction of the original text with more precision than any other ancient text. The number of NT manuscripts is overwhelming (almost 5,700 [5,898 now] Greek manuscripts) compared with the typical book from antiquity (about 7 to 10 manuscripts; Homer’s Iliad has the most at 643 manuscripts). The NT is simply the best textually supported book from the ancient world.
The earliest undisputed NT manuscript is the John Rylands Papyrus, dated between a.d. 117 and 138. Whole books (e.g., those contained in the Bodmer Papyri) are available from around the year 200. And most of the NT, including all the Gospels, is available in the Chester Beatty Papyri manuscripts, dating to about 250. Noted British manuscript scholar Sir Frederick Kenyon wrote, “The interval then between the dates or original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” Thus both “the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the [NT] may be regarded as firmly established.” No other ancient book has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the NT.
Not only are there more and earlier NT manuscripts, but also, they were more accurately copied than other ancient texts. The NT scholar and Princeton professor Bruce Metzger made a comparison of the NT with the Iliad of Homer and the Mahabharata of Hinduism. He found the text of the latter to represent only 90 percent of the original (with 10 percent textual corruption), the Iliad to be 95 percent pure, and only half of 1 percent of the NT text to remain in doubt. The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson estimated that NT textual concerns have to do with only a “thousandth part of the entire text,” placing the accuracy of the NT text at 99.9 percent—the best known for any book from the ancient world. Sir Frederick Kenyon noted that “the number of [manuscripts] of the NT, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the older writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or the other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.”
In summary, the vast number, early dates, and unmatched accuracy of the OT and NT manuscript copies establish the Bible’s reliability well beyond that of any other ancient book. Its substantial message has been undiminished through the centuries, and its accuracy on even minor details has been confirmed. Thus the Bible we hold in our hands today is a highly trustworthy copy of the original that came from the pens of the prophets and apostles.
 Norman L. Geisler, “Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?,” in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 468–469.
When we say manuscripts for OT & NT books are still available, do these MSS contain the non-canonical books, or only those books that are already popularly accepted as canonical when those copies were made?
Both. The vast majority of the NT Greek MSS by far just contain the 27 books. The Same with the Hebrew OT. What you have to realize even the few MSS with the Apocrypha were own or made by people hat did not see those books as canonical but saw them like we see Christian books, nothing more.