Monday, November 29

Is The Bible Reliable? Has It Been Altered?

How can we know that the Old and New Testament are the authoritative and true "Word of God?" There are many people who say, "The Bible has been changed and altered over time." How do you know? Actually, it has not changed as much as may be popularly believed. The Abrahamic traditions base some of their beliefs, concepts, and ideals on the Hebrew Bible. Christianity utilizes both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, claiming that Jesus, a craftsman from Nazareth is the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Bible. Further claims are made that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, that when Jesus came, he established a new covenant, fulfilling the old. (See entry: "Covenants: Old and New") The Bible is comprised of 66-72 books (66 in Protestant branches; 73 in Catholicism), by approximately 40 different authors, all of which wrote over a span of 1500-1600 years.

The general story told in the Bible is as follows: we see the breaking and reconciling of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is replete with battles, poetry, love, prophecy, the movement of peoples, sacrifice, and ultimately, love. In Nothing But Truth, Brian Edwards said this, "The Holy Spirit moved men to write. He allowed them to use their own style, culture, gifts and character, to use the results of their own study and research to write of their own experiences and to express what was in their mind. At the same time, the Holy Spirit did not allow error to influence their writings; he overruled in the expression of thought and in choice of words. Thus they recorded accurately all that God wanted them to say ad exactly how he wanted them to say it, in their own character, style and language."

The 1st century historian Josephus recorded, "For we have an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-one books, which contain the records of all past times; which are justly believed to be divine." (Against Apion, Book 1, Ch. 8) The reason there are only 22 is because Josephus is referring to the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament"). In the Hebrew Bible, books such as 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah, etc, are grouped together and counted as one, thus he reason he states 21 instead of 39. In the 3rd century BC, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. This became known as the Septuagint, meaning "70," as there were supposedly 70-72 men involved in the translation process. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered near Wadi Qumran in 1947 were a very important discovery and evidence for Christianity and the authority of scripture - they were essentially time capsules that had been hidden for 2000 years. Portions of every book of the Hebrew Bible - save for Esther - were discovered, and in the 825-870 writings found, the books are frequently quoted.

We did not need a list of New Testament books until 367 AD by Athanasius of Alexandria, but long before the list, the 27 books were accepted as Scripture. Why did it take so long for the books to be gathered together? The originals had been scattered across the Roman Empire, which spanned from Britain to Persia. It would have taken time for any church to learn about the letters of St. Paul, even gather copies. No scroll could very easily contain more than 1-2 books or letters. Scrolls were not long enough. Also, the first century Christians that the Parousia (return of Christ) would occur within their lifetime, and therefore were not planning the future of the church. Are there any other reasons why it took so long for a list to be made of the New Testament? The early church leaders had already assumed that the Gospels and epistles showed their authority to be self-evident, and therefore did not need a list.

It was when heretics began to attack the truth of the Bible that the importance of canon became an issue. Gnostics began to write their own gospels and letters, their own false writings, such as the Gospel of Judas, though it was not finally shown to the public until 2006. There are many reasons why the Gospel is not included in scripture, but mainly because it changes the role of Judas from a betrayer to savior - which goes against the clear teaching of Scripture - and historical evidence. Now, what do we know for a fact about New Testament canon? There were only four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - used by the churches for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Gnostics gospels were immediately rejected by the church. Acts and the letters of St. Paul were all accepted without hesitation, earliest records show. The other books of the New Testament were confirmed as canon and accepted by 180 AD.

However, Long before the end of the first century, St. Clement of Rome quoted and alluded to more than half of the New Testament, claiming that St. Paul wrote "in the Spirit" and that St. Paul's letters were Scripture. There are many other examples of such instances. By 240 AD, Origen of Alexandria used all 27 of the New Testament books as Scripture, and only the 27, alongside the 39 of the Hebrew Bible - 66 books. How were these ancient texts tested? There were give tests a book went through - Apostolic (does it come from an apostle?), followed by Authentic (does it have the ring of truth?), then Ancient (has it been around from the earliest of times closest to dates being described), then Accepted (are most churches using it?), concluded by Accurate (does it conform to the orthodox [correct"] teachings of the church?). Now of course, each test had specific details and things involved, but we will not get into that in this entry. There were other books that were in contention for the New Testament canon, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, the letters of Clement of Rome, and others. But it was ultimately the 27 books that were agreed upon.

In The Canon of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger says, "There [is], in fact, no historical data that prevents one from acquiescing in the conviction held by the Church Universal that, despite the very human factors.... in their production, preservation, and collection of the books of the New Testament, the whole process can also be rightly characterized as a result of divine overruling." People claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. While this is an important part of lending reliability and credibility to scripture, we must understand that all of the supposed Bible contradictions are easily explained. This is rooted in the idea that the original manuscripts - the "autographs" - are completely different from what we have today. But the idea that the Bible has changed over time comes from a childhood game. We see this happen all the time. One child whispers to his friend sitting next to him, which continues until all the way down the row, by the time it reaches the last person, what was originally conveyed is completely changed. However, this, contrary to popular belief, has not happened with the Bible. We may not have the original documents, but we have copies - and thousands of them.

Since we have thousands of copies of both the Old and New Testament, we can determine that scholars meticulously and careful copied the sacred texts. How? Here's a famous example. One man is given his mother's recipe for chocolate-chip cookies. 50 of his friends want the recipe, so he allows them to make copies. The friends of his friends wants copies, so on and so forth, and eventually, there are over 2000 copies. If the original copy is lost, so does that make all of the other copies incorrect, or changed? No. Why? Here's the reason: say perhaps that one person misspelled a word in the copy process. Say another missed an ingredient, and another intentionally left out some of the directions. That's only three out of fifty who copied the original. That is still 47 true copies. By looking back at the oldest texts available, we find that nothing has changed in the Bible, only the translation. Now, are there inconsistencies and issues in texts in some English versions? Yes, but not in ALL copies. Some copies, such as the KJV, NAS, and NIV are correct, while others, which have come to be known by their glaring typos, spelling errors, or what have you, have not.

For example, the Ears to Ears Bible (1810) states in Matthew 13:43, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." It is supposed to be, "He who hath..." and we know this because of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and other translations, as well as older documents and texts. Another example is the 1653 KJV version (this was fixed later) - in 1st Corinthians 6:9, "The unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God." The correct translation says, "The unrighteous shall NOT inherit the kingdom of God." But  we see here is an example of the recipe concept. Merely because a only a few translations "got it wrong," changing a minor thing here and there, certainly does not negate the fact that thousands of other translations have been shown be 100% accurate. The only difference between say, the King James Version, and the New International Version, is language structure. Those who speak English typically do not walk up to someone and say, "How fares thy day, be it good, or be bad? Thou shalt not complain, we all have days such as this." But we may say, "How's your day going? Is it an okay day?" Now that isn't to say that some have more advanced vocabulary than others, but since the structure of our language has changed in the last four hundred years since the KJV was translated, a newer version, better understandable and readable to today's generation had to be made, one of the many resulting translations was the NIV.

Now, going back to this recipe model. Even if each of the 2000 people made one mistake per copy - be it spelling, punctuation, missing or adding a word, or what have you, how would you be able to know what the original recipe looked like? Not every person copying will make the same mistakes. Say for example, chocolate is spelled "chokolate" by one recipe. All 1999 other copy's have "chocolate," so by comparing each copy, we can determine the original. The Dead Sea Scrolls gives us another example. One of the scrolls that was found was Isaiah from 250 BC - to the Masoretic Text of the 11th century AD. Scholars were able to compare and by looking at the 1300 year difference... they found a 99.8% exactly the same language. (The language structure has changed) Many of the other writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the historicity of the New Testament, confirming the culture, events in the first century, and what have you, giving even more credence to the biblical accounts. Oxford Scholar Eugene Ulrich was quoted as saying, "The scrolls have shown that our traditional Bible has been amazingly and accurately preserved for over 2000 years." The Dead Sea Scrolls showed that the texts were very carefully preserved and copied correctly - down to every punctuation mark. There are other significant translations, the Septuagint and Masoretic Text were already mentioned, The Aleppo Codex from the 10th century AD, and Saint Jerome's 4th century translation now used by Roman Catholic Churches - the Vulgate.

Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Since Jesus was also God, he was stating that his Word, the Word of God, will never pass away. To this day, his words remain true. No matter how many times people have tried to destroy his Word by burning it, or by other means, it is still there. Our earliest manuscripts for each book aren't millenniums removed - they are mere decades, if even. Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written in, is known for careful and meticulous perfection in translating.

So when the Greeks translated the Hebrew Bible, they Greek scholars made sure they had each and every little thing correct, even down to the punctuation. Now, it is true that there are several versions of the English Bible that are odd. We look at the RSV, the NIV, and perhaps the NET. Though all three were translated by different groups with different philosophies - not one "cardinal truth" has changed. All three teach the same thing.

No, we do not have the originals, just imperfect copies. However, we have a tremendous amount of copies of the Old and New Testament. There are 1,000's of copies in Greek alone - and many quotations from both used by different writers throughout the time of the Bible's writing. Since we can look at the earliest manuscripts, along with translations within a few years of the earliest manuscripts - and see that it is self-evident: all show unity.

We have now been able to determine that 99% of the New Testament is accurate. What is the 1%? Name spellings. The name John, for instance, may have been spelled as John or Johnn. That is the only inaccuracy, and that is not due to God's infallible Word, merely a mishap from man - which does not in any sway the reliability and authority of scripture. The name changing for John does not mean much - William Shakespeare's last name was spelled a plethora of different ways until it was decided to spell it Shakespeare.

The Bible has more historical and textual evidence than any other ancient manuscript. What you read is what was written, only not in the same language. The Bible is mostly history, with prophecy, poetry, the like involved, but it is at the most history. We can compare other writings to see that very little of the historical narrative of the Bible is still in question - more and more biblical history is proved, again confirming the authenticity and reliability of God's Word. The seven-inch spike lodged in a man's heel bones was found in a Roman tomb a few years back, confirming that Romans truly did crucify people - and afterwards more evidence was found. The concept put out by critics was that Jesus was tied to the cross, not nailed, as the Bible clearly states, because "Romans did not crucify." We found evidence that they did. Discoveries such as these have provided further credibility to the historicity and reliability of Scriptural corpus.

Troy Hillman


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