In our lesson last week, we simply looked at the science to consider what makes reasonable sense concerning how everything came into existence. Is it reasonable to think that the great complexity that we see in the universe came into being by mere time and chance? The odds calculate to an impossibility that all that existence happened into existence by a stroke of luck. The complexity that we see argue for design and leaves us with the reasonable belief that everything was placed here by an intelligent higher power. The next step is for us to find out what this higher power wants us to do. We want to know why we are here? Why did he make all of these things? The scriptures, what we call the Bible, argues that it is God’s words for us.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
I want you to see that the Bible makes its claim to be the very words of God and not the words of man. This is a lofty claim which needs to be analyzed and tested before it is accepted as fact. There are two areas where we need to consider and test to see if the Bible we have in our hands is the very words of God. We need to consider if what we have today has been accurately transmitted to us since the 2000 years these words were originally penned. Then we need to test to see if the scriptures are really God’s words. Let us first see if what we have is an accurate copy from the first century and then we will test if what we have is really God’s words.
Confidence in the Scriptures as a Historical Document
Let us begin with the fact that there are not any surviving originals of any of the New Testament manuscripts. But the Bible is not unique to this situation. We do not have the original manuscripts to any of the historical documents of antiquity. So having a lot of copies from different geographical areas at different times throughout history is very important. The more copies we have, the more we are able to determine what the original writing actually was. To understand why the Bible is reliable we need to know about other historical documents.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who wrote Annals of Imperial Rome in about 116 AD. His first six books exist today in only one manuscript which dates to about 850 AD. Books eleven through sixteen are in another manuscript which dates to around 1000 AD. Books seven through ten are lost.
Josephus was a Jewish historian in the first century and we have nine Greek manuscripts of his work The Jewish War. These nine copies date to the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. We have a Latin translation from the 4th century. This gives us an idea of how manuscripts from the first and second centuries. Documents do not survive very long.
Pliny wrote Natural History in the first century. We only have seven copies of this writing and the earliest dates to about 850 AD.
Homer’s Iliad comes in second with the number of ancient manuscript copies available with 643. However, there are 764 disputed lines out of about 15,000 lines.
With all of the criticism concerning the New Testament, we would expect the numbers to be about the same as these. With so many claiming that we cannot know if what we have today was what was originally written we would expect to only have a handful of New Testament manuscripts, at best, and the earliest copy being dated hundreds of years after the first century. But this is not the case.
There are currently 5664 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The earliest manuscripts that we have date to within 20-40 years after the originals would have been written. This would be like one of us writing a history on Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, or even Richard Nixon. An accurate history would be easy to accomplish. In addition to these more than 5600 Greek manuscripts, we also have more than 17,000 early translations of the New Testament in other languages like Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. Many of these translations are also early, within a few hundred years from the first century. This is important because if we did not have any Greek manuscripts today, we could reproduce the whole New Testament from these early translations. But even more fascinating, we could lose all of the Greek manuscripts and all of the early translations and still reproduce the contents of the New Testament from all of the quotations from the scriptures found in commentaries, sermons, and letters from the early centuries.
So how do we know what we have today are the original words? Very easily. Scholars sit down with the more than 24,000 manuscripts and translations and compare them. Some are copies from the early centuries, some are date to the Byzantine era, and some date to the Middle Ages. Do we find major discrepancies and variations? No. In fact, not only has the New Testament have more surviving manuscripts than any other book of antiquity, but the New Testament has the greatest purity (lack of variation) between the manuscripts than another other document of antiquity. We see 99.5% agreement among the manuscripts. The 0.5% represent 40 lines of questionable texts out of about 20,000 lines. The 0.5% include instances like Acts 8:37 where some manuscripts have this verse and others do not. But it is not an important statement because its teachings can be found in a number of other places in the New Testament. There is no doubt about the accuracy of transmission of the scriptures. These are the words that were written down in the first century. So the question we need to answer is: Are these words from the first century really God’s words?
Regarding the Old Testament evidences, the earliest complete manuscript we had of the Old Testament was 900 AD, 1300 years after the canon had close on the Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a monumental find because these scrolls date to around 150 BC, only 250 years after the close of the canon. There was great fear that all our Old Testaments would need to be reprinted since we closed the manuscript gap by more than 1000 years. However, the accuracy was absolutely staggering, showing the meticulous effort of the scribes who copied the Old Testament scrolls.
Confidence in the Scriptures as an Inspired Document
So how do we go about telling if this is really God’s words? I think we need to apply the same tests to the scriptures as we do to other historical documents to determine the answer. First, literary critics follow Aristotle’s dictum that “the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.” Simply put, this means that it is not our burden to prove the scriptures to be from God, but to disprove it is from God. The scriptures make the claim to be the very words of God. Therefore, we must disprove its claim. The following the method used as described by literary scholars: “One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and no assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”
Are there contradictions in the Bible? Many have tried to suppose that there are, but there is a good and sufficient answer in the scriptures itself to refute every charge that has ever been leveled against it. Most supposed contradictions are based upon a failure to recognize basic principles of interpreting ancient literature. People act like the scriptures were written yesterday, in our culture, in our language, with our understanding. This false premise leads easily to believing there are contradictions. It also leads to ridiculous interpretations like we see in the book of Revelation. The scriptures were not written to Americans in the 21st century, but to Greeks, Romans, and Jews in the first century. We must work to learn more about that day and time and when we do, we have been able to resolve the supposed contradictions.
Are there any error or geographical inconsistencies in the Bible? For many years, charges have been laid against the scriptures for having inaccuracies, declaring that people like David, Pilate, and Caiaphas never existed. But then we found inscriptions proving the Bible to be historically accurate. Other writings which claim to be the very words of God have not stood up this kind of critical scrutiny. Other writings have geographical errors. Other writings claiming to be from God have been found to have historical inaccuracies.
The nature of the scriptures also indicate it to be the very word of God. It is not simply that there is no contradictions or geographical errors made by one person sitting down and writing these things. It is that there are no errors or contradictions from more than 40 authors who wrote from various geographical locations over a span of more than 1500 years writing about the controversial topic known to man. To have such a seamless teaching without contradiction cannot happen without divine intervention. If 40 people in this room sat down and wrote about the doctrines of God and Jesus, we know that we would have some contradictory points. We see this all the time in religion as people do not agree about important concepts concerning God. But the books of the scriptures agree.
The content of the scriptures also reveals itself to be inspired. The brevity of the scriptures is certainly notable. If mere men wrote about Jesus, we would have a whole book just about the childhood of Jesus. Yet the scriptures are silent about Jesus’ childhood. We would not read simple, brief statements like “and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). Mere humans would have gone into more detail about exactly the tools used, how long the beating took, and what condition Jesus was in after the scourging. Yet the scriptures remain silent. When the first apostle dies, we would expect mere humans to spend much time describing what happened and why the first apostle died. Yet all that is recorded is that James was killed by the sword in Acts 12. Even today, we see humans elaborating and adding to the birth of Jesus. But the scriptures just spend a couple of verses detailing the birth of Jesus. There is so much fanfare today in Christianity about the birth that one would suppose volumes had been written about the birth.
The scriptures claim to be the words of God. The writers declare that they did not write down their own words. The evidence proves these claims because there are no inaccuracies, contradictions, or historical errors. Therefore, the burden rests on the person who does not believe. He or she must prove that the evidence shows the Bible not to be God’s word. Many have tried for thousands of years. But all have failed and the scriptures continue to be understood as the very words of God.