So far we have determined that for empirical and philosophical reasons together, the physical universe had a beginning, and that someone, whom we call God, must have caused it, and as a result we humans have been created. We then determined that this God has to be a person due to the necessity for an agent to create the universe; someone (an agent) had to knock the first domino for the successive dominoes to fall (events). We then determined that this God is the best explanation for objective moral standards, and that people are messed up and fail to keep those standards. God has communicated all this through his creation, called natural revelation. But this revelation is limited in what we can know about God. Sure, we can know that God exists and that something is wrong, but we can’t know if God expects something from us or if there is a fix to a problem unless God communicates that to us. If God is to further communicate his thoughts to use he must reveal them to us in a more specific way.
Potential Modes of Communication
If God was to communicate the fix to mankind to all generations of all times, all locations, and all languages, he must find a universal way to do so. He could put it up on the internet but the internet didn’t exist 2000 years ago. He couldn’t have recorded His message in a tape recorder either, because those didn’t exist back then either. He could have communicated His message directly to everyone but then again that’s exactly what both Joseph Smith and Mohammad claimed, and they both resulted in two different sacred texts (The Book of Mormon and the Koran) that differ significantly from each other. In that case who is right? God could communicate His message to a select few, to avoid universal confusion, and back up His message with the unity found through His messengers. It would seem that either way, to communicate a message to all people of all times of all generations of all languages, a written medium would be most efficient. It seems that the best way for God to deliver His message would be through multiple authors with a unified message to avoid any one person possessing complete control over God’s message, through writing that all humans can understand, and validating the message through something only God could do (miracles). If God has indeed communicated to us, a source that exhibits these characteristics would be the most likely subject.
Sources such as the Illiad, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Mahabharata and the Bible are all religious texts, but they all claim different things. If you look carefully at these religious texts only the Bible claims to be from God, claims a problem mankind has, proposes the fix that only God can fix, and authenticates its claims by God’s fingerprint. Let’s take a look.
Claims of the Bible Being from God
The Bible makes several specific claims of being from God and provides credentials with compelling evidences (discussed in a later section) of why we should trust what it has to say. Each individual book of the Old Testament claims for its own authority and the New Testament supports these claims both individually and as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:15-16 which claims that all scripture, referring to the Old Testament, is breathed out by God.
(1) As a whole, the NT supports the OT by using the phrases “it is written” (Mark 14:21, Luke 21:22), “that it might be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), “the law” (1 Corinthians 14:21), “the law and the prophets” (Matthew 5:17), “the word of God” (John 10:35), “the Oracles of God” (Romans 3:2, Hebrews 5:12), and “from Abel to Zechariah” (Matthew 23:35).
(2) Individually, the New Testament references individual books of the Old Testament with authority. Some examples are Jesus quoting Genesis in Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus quoting Exodus 16:4 in John 6:13, Joshua 1:5 being quoted in Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 3:34 being quoted in James 4:6, and Jeremiah 31:15 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 being quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and Hebrews 10:15-17 respectively. Paul refers to the OT as scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).
(3) The OT claims testify about itself to be a prophetic utterance as God commands his prophets to record his word and write down his message (Exodus 34:27, Jeremiah 36:28, Isaiah 8:1, Isaiah 30:8, Habakkuk 2:2). Also in the individual books of the OT, phrases such as “The Lord spoke to Moses” (Numbers 4:1), “The Lord said” (Judges 1:2, 1 Samuel 3:11) are used. Also, God’s divine providence can be clearly seen in the OT books that don’t explicitly claim for inspiration such as the historical and poetical books.
(4) The New Testament claims inspiration for itself as well. An example of this is 2 Peter 3:16 where Peter refers to Paul’s epistles as scripture. Another example is Paul quoting the Gospel of Luke as scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18.
All this is to say, that the Bible claims unity and claims to all be from God. But just because a text claims to be inspired doesn’t mean it is. There are other religious books out there that claim to be about a god or from a god, but that does not mean that they are. In contrast to the other religious texts out there, there are very good reasons to believe that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible supports the claims it makes about itself for being inspired, or God breathed, with evidences for inspiration. However, for our purposes here, all we have to do is show that the Bible is historically reliable.
Even though the Bible may be the word of God, how do we know it’s reliable and that the message God was trying to communicate with us hasn’t been distorted? The Bible we have today is a reliable witness to the original manuscripts as we have enough evidence to determine the text of the original manuscripts of the Bible. The evidence for the accurate transmission of the Bible is given to us from a multitude of OT and NT manuscripts, secondary witnesses, and the science of textual criticism. Let’s take a look.
Reliability of the Old Testament
Although the copies of the OT Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts we have today are relatively few, we have many good reasons to believe that these manuscripts are accurate transmissions of the OT autographs. First, the various Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts, the main source of the Old Testament we have in its original language, are in agreement with each other with few variants amongst them. The earliest of these Masoretic manuscripts date to the 10th century AD with the Leningrad codex being the only complete manuscript of the OT. The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT which dates back to the 3rd century B.C., is in widespread literal agreement with the Hebrew Masoretic text. In addition to the LXX, the Samaritan Pentateuch (SmP), with the earliest copies dating to the 11thcentury, is in literal agreement with the Masoretic texts that we have with only 6000 variants. About 1900 of these instances are in agreement with the LXX. The nature of the variants is orthographic and includes such variances as repeating a word or deleting a letter. Despite these variants, the message is retained. With textual criticism, given these manuscripts, the original text can be restored with high accuracy. It’s highly curious how all these ancient manuscripts can be separated by time, location, and tradition and still remain consistent.
Second, we have evidence from the scrupulous rules of the Jewish scribes. They had high reverence for scripture. They would destroy old copies that were not in agreement with the standardized OT manuscripts and would destroy copies with the slightest of errors. This is a reason why we don’t have a high number of Hebrew texts. They were carefully regulated and unorthodox copies were destroyed so that copies with errors wouldn’t be retained.
Third, we have confirmation from archeology about the historical details in the text. If the text is credible in the historical matters, then we should give it the benefit of the doubt in theological matters.
Finally the greatest confirmation we have to date is that from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which date back as early as the 4th century B.C. From the DSS we have fragments and sometimes entire copies of almost all the OT books. These copies are almost in complete agreement with the Masoretic texts. There is also evidence of the LXX and SmP traditions in the DSS. Because of the few variants among these traditions separated by time and location, we have confidence in the meticulous reproduction of the OT texts by Jewish scribes and confidence in the fidelity of the transmission process.
Reliability of the New Testament
In contrast to the Old Testament, we have many New Testament manuscripts, but with that, also a lot of variants. There are about 5,336 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament today. That doesn’t include the copies in different languages. In comparison we only have 643 manuscripts of the Illiad, 10 of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, 7 of Plato’s works, and 49 of Aristotle’s works. We have way more copies of the New Testament!!!
Fortunately with the amount of manuscripts we have, textual criticism is able to use the variants in all these manuscripts to restore the original text. The more manuscripts you have, the more accurate rendering you can have of the original manuscript. This is done by comparing the variants using textual criticism. Compared to other religious books out there like the Illiad and the Mahabharata, there is a far greater number of manuscripts for the New Testament. The accuracy of the NT is seen in a less than 1% variance among the manuscripts, as compared to 5% for the Illiad and 10% for the Mahabharata. The nature of the variants is orthographic, such as a slip of the pen. This gives evidence to a more accurate transmission of the New Testament as compared to these two religious books.
In addition to these manuscripts, we have secondary witnesses to support the fidelity of the transmission process. The citing’s from the church fathers are so extensive that David Dalrymple was able reconstruct the whole NT through these citations alone, except for eleven verses. Additionally, the papyri we have provides a link to the first century apostles and the third and fourth century manuscripts of the NT we have today.
So What Does This All Mean?
This shows, if nothing else, that the Bible as we have it now is an accurate translation of what was originally written. After all, if we can’t get that much, it would be difficult if not impossible to verify what was originally written since we don’t have the original manuscripts. A reliable transmission of the ideas and message are vital for the purposes of God communicating with mankind. This is a necessary quality of a proposed message from God, but it’s not enough on it’s own. The information in the message must actually be true. Of course, it’s hard to determine if theological claims are true or not. After all, how can we possibly know apart from God telling us what His desires are, or what He intended for humans to do or be? That’s rather complicated. It’s also why, as a test, God has provided a sacred text which is historically reliable. The events in the Bible that are presented as historical have not been shown false by archeaological discoveries. That is to say, we have no historical reasons to deny the events having occurred as presented. To be honest, we simply do not have the resources to go through many of the historical events, and others have already done that elsewhere. We encourage you to check out the websites listed in the endnotes to see for yourself. However, it’s much more likely that the reason people often deny specific events in the Bible has nothing to do with history and everything to do with an anti-supernatural bias. “That couldn’t have happened because miracles are impossible.” That’s not a historical judgment. That’s a philosophical one. One that deserves a response.
Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels – Gary Habermas
The Historical Accuracy of the BibleInvestigating Bart Ehrman’s Top Ten Troublesome Bible Verses – Cold Case Christianity
Is the Bible Historically Reliable? – One Minute Apologist Video