Is the Bible reliable? Should we trust what it says? Should we even trust that the books that are in it should be? I have heard as I am sure you have different comments on the Bible such as it has been translated so many times we do not know it originally said, it has been edited so many times we cannot know what was originally said, or that the contents were cherry picked. Now, at first, these claims might seem to have some weight and make many people respond with “yeah that’s right”, but it is not right at least not in the way people mean it.
I want to start with by saying these are very good questions. I think they are important questions too. If we are going to base our lives off the teachings in this book called the Bible we should know it’s origins. We should know about the book and how it came to be. Who wrote it, and is it reliable are good and important questions. I know sometimes people ask these questions or make these statements as a way to be difficult but as Paul said in Philippians 1:18 “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” So I am ok with questions as long as it gets the ball rolling.
So one claim laid against the Bible is that we don’t really know what was said right? Well, that is not exactly true. In fact, it is more like the opposite of that. We do not have the original writings (autographs) but we do have copies (manuscripts). Now I am sure at this point you might think great copies but let’s decide what the parameters for judgment are before we rush in. For Homer’s Iliad we do not have the originals but we do have 643 copies and they are about 95% in agreement with each other.That is a pretty good average. The writings of Aristotle, for example, only have about 49 copies, but most people though are ok that those are Aristotle’s words. Pliny and Plato only have 7 copies, so you can see copies are hard to come by. Where does the Bible come in then? Well, there are about 6,000 Greek copies of New Testament and 10,000 Latin copies. With that, they agree about 99% of the time on substantive issues. You might think I through that part to be tricky but we are all about transparency here at Freedom in Truth. There are actually some 200,000 – 300,000 variations and that sounds real bad, but in fairness the vast majority have no meaning. It is things like a scribe did not dot his I’s and so on. For real issues, there is only about a 1% variation. To be even more transparent most Bible translations will even tell you if there is an issue with a text. Look at John 8 for example. This just being a high-level overview we’ll stop there but we can see that what we have in our Bible today is about 99% accurate to what was written originally.
What about it being translated all the time? Good question and we need to address that in two parts. Part one Latin and Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek originally and then shortly later translated into Latin. If you are a Catholic then you more than likely have a Bible translated from Latin. Most Protestant Bibles are translated from Greek and are translated from either the Majority Text or the Textus Receptus (possibly a combo). These are two great bodies of text that make up what we have. So yes the Bible was translated but from that language into yours. Really the idea of “the Bible being translated all the time” is true but from the source language into another one not from one to another to another and so on.
Lastly and I know this a crowd favorite but no the Bible was not created by a church council in a dark room. Yes at one point the New Testament Canon was closed meaning that it was recognized that these are the books that belong; however, it was not a single meeting that made this happen but a long tradition of acceptance. It would help if we looked at a document called the Muratorian fragment (or Muratorian Canon) because this is a very old document and list at least 22 of the 27 New Testament books. How old is it you ask? Well accepted dating puts it at about 170 A.D. This means that before the church councils ever got together to “decide” what books belong in the Bible there was an accepted list that was a few hundred years older than them.
But didn’t they do some choosing? I think a better phrase would be did they have a test to know what belonged and that answer is yes. They looked at four things to see if the book was valid. 1) Apostolicity – Direct or indirect association of a given work with an apostle. Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, etc. direct. Mark, Luke indirect but worked with the apostles. 2) Orthodoxy – Did the book conform to apostolic teaching? 3) Antiquity – Was the writing produced during the apostolic era? 4) Ecclesiastical Usage – Was it widely used in the early church? So it was not a willy-nilly I don’t like what that book says, instead, what has already been accepted.
I do not find any reason to doubt that the books in the Bible were written when they were written or that they belong. Now I concede that there could be edits to some books for clarification purposes (John 8 again as an example), or that or occasion the authorship maybe should be attributed to different writers, but these things do not change the story, message, or relevancy of the Bible. It is an issue that at least for me has been put to rest. Maybe now that you know a little more about it, you can put the issue to rest and feel good that the Bible is indeed God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
Just a thought,