Does anyone question The Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar? Livy’s History of Rome? Homer’s Illiad?
It is generally accepted that such works give us an accurate picture of history, and we rarely question their authorship. We trust that enough historians and archeologists have combed through enough piles of ancient texts and dug their way through enough dirt to have a complete picture of events that transpired thousands of years ago. Oddly enough, we are still making discoveries that often unravel pictures we’ve had planted in our mind of ancient history.
The Bible, on the other hand, is one of the most criticized books in the world. While many of us as Christians accept the Bible as God’s preserved word for us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we cannot expect non-believers to regard it with the same reverence. Most have not devoted extensive time or research to its validity and so they parrot the old argument, “It was written over 2000 years ago. It’s a biased, outdated, work of fiction by some crazy men.”
This post will not be a fully extensive argument regarding the accuracy of the scriptures. There are books aplenty which can go into greater detail, and I will give you a few links within this article. This article is simply intended some facts, quotes, and sources to light that may be unknown to many people. It is my hope to enrich the faith and conviction of believers and provide some thoughts to ponder to the skeptical. I quote heavily from The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell because McDowell (the author) has such a vast collection of sources that I simply do not possess (nor have room to possess) in my personal library.
One of the greatest failings I see in discussions between Christians and non-Christians is the impulse of the Christian to lob Bible verses at people who have no reverence for the Bible. As my long-time readers know, I am a huge advocate of reading, memorizing, writing, and applying Bible verses in our walk with Christ. However, when discussing issues with those outside Christ, there is a time and place for quoting scripture.
In discussions on homosexuality, sex outside marriage, etc., people often quote 1 Corinthians 6.9-10: “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” I agree with this passage (particularly the following self-convicting verse which reads, “and such were some of you...”) However, using these passages in a discussion with a non-believer only deepens their predisposition against the gospel, faith, and—yes—the Bible.
There is a time and a place to quote scripture, but it isn’t always the best place to begin.
When this particular verse is used in such discussions they will proceed to do one of the following:
- Argue against Paul’s apostleship
- Propose that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality
- Point to the age (and therefore, irrelevance) of the Bible
- Tell you that old crutch (the Bible) may be your truth but it isn’t theirs.
- Pronounce the Bible as an inaccurate book.
In such situations, it is important to address the crux of our disagreement:
Why do we accept the Bible?
How can we trust it’s accuracy?
A Collection of Books Unlike Any Other.
I have found in the Bible words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterance for my hidden griefs and pleadings for my shame and feebleness.Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English Poet
Write the following fact on the inside cover of your Bible and commit it to memory:
The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written over 1600 years by over 40 people.
We often refer to the Bible as a book, but it is really a set of books condensed into one volume. I have the collected works of Shakespeare, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, a book of English Poetry (with poetry spanning a few hundred years), as well as a book containing a collection of adventure novels. Often such collections are marked by difference in style, language usage, underlying belief systems, and even different time periods. In spite of the vast swath of authors, backgrounds, time periods, and even particular themes, the Bible has a continuity of purpose found in no other anthology.
As McDowell points out in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Bible is unique in the following ways:
- Unique in its Continuity
- Unique in its Circulation
- Unique in its Translation
- Unique in its Survival
- Unique in its Teachings
- Unique in its Influence on Literature
- Unique in its Influence on Civilization
No other book—or rather, collection of books—has influenced world events, survived multiple attempts to destroy it, or transformed so many lives as the Bible. Even if one chose not to believe in its divine inspiration or obey its teachings, its powerful influence and historical significance cannot be overstated.
Unparalled in Preservation
We have an overwhelming number of manuscript copies of the New Testament. As noted in the above chart, we possess over 5,000! Furthermore, the gap between the composition of the original and the copy ranges from 50-225 years. While that may seem rather large, compare it to Homer’s Illiad. Not only is there a fraction of the copies compared to the New Testament writings, there is a gap of 400 years!!
Part of the reason many of these works of antiquity (including the New Testament) do not have originals is due to the destructible nature of their writing surfaces.
When someone attempts to diminish the Bible’s accuracy, have a copy of this chart handy. Point out that no document in antiquity can compare to the New Testament’s massive collection of manuscripts nor do they come close to bridging the time gap between original and copy.
Historically Verifiable Events Recorded in the Text
When people throw doubt on the historicity of the scriptures, it is a good practice to know some of the non-Christian references to these events. Here is a short list:
- Luke 2.1-3 mentions the census demanded by Caesar Augustus
- Pliny the Younger, Roman administrator, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan regarding the conduct of early Christians, specifically their worship service and teaching.
- Josephus (a Pharisee) gives several references including the execution of John the Baptist by Herod, the existence of Jesus, and the already accepted 39 books of the Old Testament.
- Existence of Christ, His Crucifixion, and the connection to Pontius Pilate. Tacitus’—a first century Roman—made a brief reference to theorigin of Christians: “Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out, not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…”
- Tablets found in the palace of Ashurbanipal (an Assyrian king) make several references to their forays with the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. This includes a record of Sennacherib who attempted to destroy Hezekiah (c.f. 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 31-32, Isaiah 36-37)
This short list barely scratches the surface of the historical references to Biblical events.
Translated, Yet Unchanging
The original text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic. The Septuagint (often referred to as LXX)—translated from 250-100 B.C. in Alexandria—is the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Copies of the Old Testament were painstakingly copied by Jewish Scribes who considered it their duty to get every bit of it correct. Jesus quoted often from the septuagint as well, lending credibility to its use as a source for the Old Testament text we currently use today.
The New Testament was composed in Koine Greek—a common language used from the Hellenistic period and into the period of the Byzantine Empire. With the New Testament gospels and letters written in this common language, to gospels and apostolic letters could be understood by people throughout the Roman Empire. This allowed the gospel to be spread rapidly during the first and second centuries.
Koine Greek—like latin—is considered a “dead language” since it is not used as a form of communication in our present day. Because the Bible was written in these “dead languages” the words retain their original meanings without being altered. This allows the Bible to be translated from the original language into other languages without losing the original intent of the passage. Bible skeptics are quick to make claims to “errors in translation” yet in spite of any minor errors, the essential doctrines laid out in scripture are unaffected by such errors.
Preserved in spite of heresies, persecutions, and power-plays
I truly appreciate the Rose Book of Bible Charts Maps & Timelines’ layout of “How We Got the Bible.” They have a beautiful timeline, chronicling many of the people involved in the translation and collection of the scriptures.
During my reading in preparation for this post, I found it interesting that many leaders within worldly prominent churches attempted to prevent the Bible from being translated into common languages. I suspect that their primary motivation was control over the masses. In spite of their efforts, people like Tyndale persisted in making God’s word available to everyone.
In spite of persecutions, wars, power plays, and corrupt church leaders, the pure text of the Bible managed to survive. Even more profound is the fact that discoveries in the 1900s (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) verified the text we currently use today.
God has preserved his Word for our benefit and the benefit of generations to come.
Do not be afraid to dig more deeply or ask questions. I have been a follower of Christ for over 25 years, and I have discovered that God’s word can stand up to the strongest scrutiny. If you are discussing issues with someone and they begin criticizing the Bible, take a side trip to defend the Bible. Bring up the wealth of manuscripts, the historical verifiability, or its preservation throughout the ages.
Unless we can come to an agreement that the Bible is reliable, or arguments will simply be “our truth” versus “their truth.” We’ll boiling lots of hot water without cooking anything—all steam (anger), no substance (persuasion)! All the hot topics of our day—abortion, homosexuality, fornication, etcetera—really boil down to an issue of authority. We do not oppose such things because we are self-righteous, but because we believe an authority higher than ourselves (God) has condemned such practices.
Additional Reading & Resources:
“The Case for the Bible” from The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.
The Rose Book of Charts, Maps, and Timelines has an excellent section with visuals entitled, “How We Got the Bible.”
A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix
What are some questions you have had in your discussions on the Bible? What resources have you found helpful? Please share in the comments section!
This is part 4 of the Series Teaching The Truth in Love. To read the previous posts, please click the links below: