You are likely familiar with some of the hundreds of resources you can go to for an in-depth look at how Scripture has been preserved. In a conversational setting, however, it is not always practical to bring these resources into the discussion and it is difficult to recite from memory the relevant information that you’ve studied. As a part of a focus on ‘conversational apologetics’ this article seeks to provide a way to confidently outline some important aspects of defending the Bible.
Instead of trying to memorize specific facts, we recommend focusing on understanding these four areas of evidence. Having a firm grasp of these larger, more generalized topics can give you the confidence to introduce others to the facts about why we can trust that our Bible’s accurately preserve what was originally written by the authors.
These four areas will give an overview of the reliability of Scripture and includes a few memorable supporting facts for each. These points are by no means an exhaustive discussion on defending the validity of the Bible, and they are not intended to be. They will, however, help you navigate a discussion of Scripture’s reliability with truth and confidence.
Additional details can be used to supplement and strengthen these conversation points. There are recommended resources for further study at the end of each section.
1. We Have Thousands of Biblical Manuscripts
The fact is, we do not have any of the original writings of Biblical books. The original writings were often written on animal skin and other materials that deteriorate rather quickly. So if what we have are copies of copies of the originals, how can we know that they are accurate?
Fortunately, there is an incredible number of surviving copies of original Biblical writings. These copies are called manuscripts, and there are roughly 6,000 surviving manuscripts for the New Testament alone. This makes it the best attested document of all ancient writings. The next closest contender is Homer’s The Iliad, which has only 600 existing copies.
The value of having a large number of manuscripts is that it provides us with ample opportunity to compare writings, which is especially valuable when cross-checking manuscripts from different geographic areas or from different time periods. When making these comparisons you can determine whether it is apparent that the documents were reliably copied from the same source, and you can quantify how much they may have strayed from that source by seeing where and how they differ. In short, having an abundance of manuscripts shows us that copying Scripture was not like a game of “telephone.”
Comparing the incredible amount of manuscript evidence has shown that the New Testament is 99.5% accurate, and the vast majority of differences are in spelling or obvious and minor copyist errors. Most importantly, you should know that not a single variation in these thousands of manuscripts has been shown to affect a theological issue in any way. While there are undoubtedly differences among the manuscripts, we can have confidence that they stayed true to the originals because the copies themselves are so incredibly similar to each other, despite being written at different times and in different places.
2. Archaeology Supports the Biblical Record
Archaeology has repeatedly confirmed the accuracy of Biblical places, events, and people. Thousands of finds have corroborated the accounts of the Bible, and such evidence quickly puts an end to allegations that the history recorded in the Bible is suspect. BeThinking.org has a few important examples.
No archaeological finds have ever disproved a single Biblical event, civilization, or individual. Additionally, there are numerous incidents where archaeology has upheld the facts recorded in Scripture and disproved the skepticism of academics. Archaeology provides further value when considering the discovery of ancient manuscripts, such as with the Dead Sea Scrolls discussed next.
3. The Original Writings Were Faithfully Preserved
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940’s allowed scholars to compare Old Testament manuscripts that were separated by hundreds of years. Of particular importance was the newly discovered copy of Isaiah, which predated the earliest known copy of the book by 1,000 years. Comparing the two ancient documents revealed that they were nearly identical, except for some minor spelling or stylistic differences. Even though one of the manuscripts had been copied countless times more than that which was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was no substantial difference between the two texts.
This is one important example of how faithful scribes were when copying the Scriptures. These copies were accurately created by those dedicated to preserving the Word of God. Even though we do not posses any of the original writings, we can be confident that the copies we do have were reliably handed down over the centuries.
4. The New Testament Was Written Shortly After the Events it Records
Once you have established that our Bibles contain reliable copies of what was originally written, you may find it necessary to show that the originals were accurate to begin with. After all, it would mean very little to have accurate copies of New Testament books if the originals were not true. So how can we present the fact that the Bible is an accurate account of historical events?
When it comes to the New Testament, it is important to know that the gospels were recorded relatively soon after the events which they record. At the very latest, the four gospels were written 40-60 years after Jesus’ resurrection. While this may seem like a great deal of time between the events and the writings, it is helpful to note that these dates are incredibly early for ancient documents.
Since the written record was created in close proximity to the actual events, those who wrote these books were in a position to know if they were true or not. This is especially true in the case of John the apostle, who was a close companion of Christ and wrote the gospel which bears his name.
Many New Testament books predate the gospels. Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, for example, were written 15-20 years after the time of Christ. Furthermore, there would have been living eyewitnesses who could have discredited these texts if they were not accurate.
There are many compelling facts you could commit to memory and hundreds of resources you could point to for further study in this area. The purpose of this article has not been to give an extensive defense of each of these aspects, but to instead equip believers with a general road map that they can use to navigate a conversation regarding the accuracy and reliability of the Scriptures. We strongly recommend further study into why we can have confidence that our Old and New Testaments are accurate depictions of historical events that have been faithfully preserved through the ages.