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IS THE BIBLE A RELIABLE TEXT?

November 6, 2009

By Dr. Gary S. Day

BibleIt’s interesting to know that the reason why many today disregard the Bible is because it is an ancient text.  It is written so long ago, these dissenters of the Word of God say, that besides being inaccurate it is irrelevant to the modern age.  Though many other books, such as the Hindu Vedas, do not deal with verifiable history and faith as the Bible does, nor is their antiquity proven, yet many would laud them as pertinent for today.  In this writing the accuracy of the Biblical text will be shown, which will reflect upon the pertinence of its use for today, because the Bible is historically based.

In fact, it is the historical reality of the Biblical narratives that are viciously attacked because the Christian faith is bound to the veracity of the historical content of the Biblical text.  If the historical content can be proven incorrect, then the Christian faith can be seen as incorrect also.  Yet it is in this very area, the subject of history, which is more verifiable than philosophical thought that Christianity can be strongly defended, for the historical facts the Bible portrays actually happened, as is born out in many areas of investigation, including archaeology.  The measure of the accuracy of the Biblical text is called Canon, meaning ‘measuring rod,’ and often the Bible is called the Canon in theological and apologetic writings.  Attacks against the Canon are primarily aimed against its reliability.

Attacks in the past three hundred years have been aimed at the accuracy of the information in the Canon, and for some time those who opposed the Bible seemed to be winning their points, but since the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries literally thousands of manuscripts and tens of thousands of references to the history recorded in the Bible have been discovered, by God’s grace.  This includes national libraries.  So much so, that today the Bible stands as the most verifiable of ancient books.

Even though the Bible has been proven to be a reliable text, many still say that there are many errors in the text that make it unreliable.  This error in thinking comes from outright deceivers of the truth of the matter or those who are too lazy to investigate the facts for themselves. 

On a practical level, the Biblical texts were passed down for generations, this being the job of the Hebrew priests, such as Ezra.  But after the Babylonian exile professional scribes whose job it was to preserve, copy and transmit the Hebrew text and other writing such as commentaries, became numerous.  They became known as the preservers of the Law during the Hellenistic period and developed rules that stipulated the way the Biblical manuscripts were to be handled, as well as their personal behavior as handlers of the
Word of God. 

During the time since the Babylonian and Assyrian exile of the Jews and through the Hellenist period, the Jewish peoples were dispersed to every known nation of the world.  The common language of the Hellenist period was Greek, and many of the Jewish people were forgetting the Hebrew language.  The Hebrew text of the Bible was translated into the Greek language for common use.  That text is called the Septuagint until this day, but the scribes continued to copy the Hebrew text as they always had, using capital letters only and no vowels, until about AD 500.  Until then the vowels were supplied in the reading of the text.  Because of the loss of the spoken common Hebrew it became feared that the Biblical text would not be known how to be read, so the Massorites scribes carefully compared the handwritten copies of the Old Testament, developed and introduced vowel marks so that there would be no confusion what a word meant in its reading.  Very strict rules were applied to the whole process of copying the Biblical text.

Though the Massoritic Text (MT) was produced 1,000 years after the original Biblical texts were written, and whose text were constantly debunked by atheists and others, the finding of hundreds of Hebrew Biblical manuscripts and fragments in 1947, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, proved the incredible accuracy of the Biblical text that the Massorites preserved.  The comparison of the Massoritic Text with the Dead Sea Biblical manuscripts, some which are as much as 1,200 years older than the Massoratic Text, demonstrated the purity of the Biblical text once again.

As far as the New Testament goes, suffice it to say that numerous copies, over 40,000 Greek manuscripts, copies and translations of early versions survive unto today.  Because of the overwhelming number of ancient NT manuscripts, the purity of the Greek New Testament Canon is undeniable.  The assurance of the accuracy of the Old and New Testaments far out weighs the accuracy of any other ancient writing, including Shakespeare.

During the intertestamental period, the time between when the last Old Testament book was written and the first New Testament book was written; the Jewish people felt the need to distinguish what books were the ones of Divine Origin and so the Canon was spelled out.  This was necessary to do because of the lapse of time and the possibility of usurpers and forgeries, not to mention the deliberate attempts to destroy the Word of God.  For instance, the Roman Emperor Diocletian, ruling from 20 Nov AD284-1 May AD305, ordered that all religious books be burned.  If the Canon of the Old and New Testaments had not been set, it would not be known which books to hide in such times.

Other practical considerations contributed to the demand to spell out the Canon, such as when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the translators needed to know which ones to translate.  The recognition of the Canonical books was not done randomly or arbitrarily, but strict rules of recognition were applied, as well as traditional understanding taken into consideration concerning the circumstances the children of God received the texts, e.g., the Exodus and the Law books of Moses.  An example of the stringency of examination each Biblical text underwent to be included into the Hebrew Canon is the well know story about the book of Ezekiel.   Because of some of the theological teaching found in the book, a Hebrew scholar spent 150 nights studying the book of Ezekiel trying to determine whether it should be entered into the Biblical Canon before it was approved as a book inspired by God and thus entered into the Canon.

What this all means to us today is that the Hebrew and Greek Biblical texts that we have today is the reliable and authoritative Word of God that we can trust.  Many translations into other languages are good, but must conform to the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

Bible translations from the Mormons, 7th Day Adventist and Jehovah Witnesses and other cults are translations which should be ignored because they do not conform to the original texts of the Biblical Canon.

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