Can we really trust the Bible?
By: Chuck Colson|Published: August 9, 2010 12:00 AM
From Chuck Colson:
Your question is absolutely critical. If the Bible is not accurate and reliable, then nothing we Christians believe about ourselves, the world around us, or even God, has any ultimate foundation.
The question is so critical, that I devoted an entire chapter (chapter 3) of my latest book, The Faith, on the reliability of Scripture. The Faith is available at our bookstore here at BreakPoint.
So, how about it? Is this collection of ancient documents which we received through millennia of transcription and translation really the Word of God?
To start off, you’re right in saying that the Bible was not given at a specific point in time. The chain of authors which penned what we now know as the Scriptures spanned three continents and some 1,500 years. The majority of this time represents the formation of the Old Testament, which, (aside from the addition of new books) remained basically unchanged for over a thousand years.
How do we know this? Well, the Levitical priests who copied and maintained the Torah went to unbelievable lengths to preserve its integrity. 19th Century Bible scholars Samuel Davidson and E. W. Bullinger describe in their commentaries some of the Jewish scribes’ painstaking procedures, which included precise records of the syntax in each line, page geometry, word count and even letter-by-letter comparisons between the work of multiple scribes.
Jesus Himself had full confidence in the Old Testament. Few Christians appreciate just how many of the words Christ spoke during His earthy ministry were verbatim quotations from previous Scripture. The phrase “it is written” alone appears twenty-eight times in the Gospels, and represents only a fraction of His references to the Law and prophets.
More support for the accuracy of the Old Testament comes increasingly from the science of archaeology. Renowned historian Paul Johnson has said, in fact, that evidence for scriptural accuracy is mounting—so much so that the skeptics, not the Christians, must fear the further course of scientific discovery.
I’d invite you to read the text of a remarkable speech that Johnson gave several years ago called, “A Historian Looks at Jesus.” It’s one of the best pieces on the accuracy of Scripture I’ve ever read. The link is here.
As for the New Testament, it was almost certainly finished within the first fifty years following Christ’s ministry. Each of the several authors either walked with Jesus in person or consulted eyewitness. All but a few of the twenty-seven books were widely recognized as inspired before their ink had dried. Nearly all of them were quoted by Christian writers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus as early as the middle of the Second Century.
Nonetheless, it took some 300 years of prayer, debate, research, and deliberations by the Church to determine the final Canon of the New Testament. In the year 270, the bishop Eusebius (who is often called the “Father of Church History”) listed all twenty-seven books of today’s New Testament. The Council of Carthage did the same in 397, officially recognizing these books, which had long been accepted throughout the Church.
Now, a lot of time has passed since all of this happened. Couldn’t the Scriptures have been corrupted since the days of the Church Fathers?
It might surprise you, but we can answer this question with almost absolute certainty.
First, the sheer number and quality of our manuscripts provides stunning evidence for the Bible’s accuracy. Consider another influential body of literature from antiquity—the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Today, we possess a mere twelve manuscripts which represent the entire life’s work of both of these ancient philosophers. On top of that, these manuscripts have undergone countless transcriptions and are separated from their originals by a gap of more than 1,300 years.
Not so with the New Testament. Today, we possess around 24,000 manuscripts representing the Christian Bible. Hundreds of these were compiled before 600 A.D. and a handful of them date to within fifty years of the originals!
In reality, our evidence for the accuracy of the New Testament is far better than our evidence for the most influential secular philosophers of Western Civilization.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias summarized it this way: "In real terms, the New Testament is easily the best attested ancient writing in terms of the sheer number of documents, the time span between the events and the documents, and the variety of documents available to sustain or contradict it. There is nothing in ancient manuscript evidence to match such textual availability and integrity."
Despite this overwhelming evidence, skeptics continue to question Scripture—especially the Old Testament and its seemingly impossible prophecies.
But in 1947, many of those skeptics were forced to reconsider their conclusions. In a remote area of the
Gleason Archer, one of the most respected Old Testament scholars of the Twentieth Century, examined and commented on the scrolls:
“Even though the two copies of Isaiah …were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls are just one more piece of evidence which compel me (and millions of others) to an inescapable conclusion: The Bible we have today really is the Bible which God inspired thousands of years ago.
For me, it’s not a matter of blind faith. I believe in the Bible and the earth-shattering claims it makes because the sheer weight of the evidence is impossible to ignore! When you understand this, you will understand why I could never rank Scripture, or choose between the sections I like and the sections I don’t like. I have no right to do so, because the Bible doesn’t rest on the authority of Chuck Colson. It rests of the authority of God. And because God never changes, I believe with all of my heart and mind that His Word never changes, either.
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” –Isaiah 40:8Chuck Colson