Lesson 1: The Bible Manuscripts

Lesson One: The Bible Manuscripts

Is the Bible the Word of God?  Christians answer in the affirmative.  We have a solid foundation for our faith.  Our Christian beliefs are based upon the holy Scriptures.  If the Bible is not the Word of God we are left with nothing but human presumption, speculation, and uncertainty.

Is the Christian faith reasonable?  Do believers blindly accept the Scriptures as true?  Is there no rational basis for our belief in the truthfulness of the Bible?  The purpose of this course is to demonstrate that the Bible is truthful in all areas in which it can be validated.

The original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments do not exist today.  Without the original autographs just how reliable are the Scriptures that we presently have in our possession?

 

The Reliability of the Old Testament

We'll begin with the 39 books of the Old Testament.  Two categories of evidence lead to the conclusion that the Old Testament is indeed reliable.  These are the work of copyists, and archaeological discoveries.

 

The Work of Copyists

The original Bible manuscripts were written on material such as papyrus, which deteriorated quickly.  It was necessary for copyists to copy and recopy the Old Testament books letter by letter.  The copyists are known as "scribes."  They knew they were duplicating the Word of God, so they were especially careful to be accurate.  To ensure accuracy they actually counted every line, word, syllable, and letter.

In the second chapter of Matthew we have the account of the wise men visiting Herod at the birth of Jesus.  Their disturbing news caused Herod to gather the chief priests and scribes together to learn where the Messiah was to be born.  They informed the king that the Old Testament prophet Micah had written that Christ would be born in Bethlehem.  See Matthew 2:1-6 and Micah 5:2.  The scribes were thoroughly acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures because of their work.

How good a job did they do?  The Masoretic Text was the oldest existing Old Testament manuscript, and it was dated around a.d. 900.  In 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  Fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament were found, dated as far back as 150 b.c.  Textual critics discovered that the copyists had performed their task well.  Ninety-five percent of the text proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible.  The five percent of variation was related mostly to spelling differences.  For all practical purposes today's Old Testament Scriptures are exactly the same as they were when originally inspired by God and recorded.

 

Archaeological Discoveries

In the past many scholars could not confirm the existence of people, places, and events of the Old Testament.  For example, they used to claim that the Hittites mentioned in Genesis did not exist at the time of Abraham.  Apart from the Old Testament record they had no evidence indicating their existence.  They were assigned a place in ancient mythology.  However, the archaeologists' spade uncovered evidence that the Hittite civilization had been around for more than a thousand years.  So much historic data became available that the University of Chicago offered a doctorate in Hittite studies.

Critics insisted that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, because Moses lived before the invention of written language.  Throughout the Scriptures reference is made to Moses as the author of those books of the Law.  Could it be true that Moses didn't know how to write?  Since 1974 more than 17,000 tablets have been unearthed in northern Syria.  They contain a record of laws, customs, and events from the same area that Moses and the patriarchs lived.  These Elba Tablets prove that written language existed at least 1,000 years before Moses.

Many cities mentioned in the Old Testament by Moses and others were thought to be part of legendary tales.  Jericho was often dismissed as unreal by skeptics.  In 1908 archaeologists discovered the city.  Some critical scholars dispute the discovery, insisting it was not Jericho.  They were proven wrong, as the site was verified by three archaeological organizations.

Here is something to remember:  No archaeological discovery has ever proved the Old Testament wrong.  In every instance where the Bible could be examined historically by reliable non-biblical sources the Bible has always been found to be accurate.

 

The Reliability of the New Testament

More than 24,000 partial and complete copies of the New Testament are in existence today.  Second in number of documents from antiquity is the Iliad with 643 surviving manuscripts.  The New Testament manuscripts have been more thoroughly scrutinized than any other literature in the history of the world, and as the apostle Peter wrote, "The word of the Lord endures forever."  1 Peter 1:25.

If the New Testament Scriptures are deemed unreliable, then virtually all other books from antiquity must be regarded as unreliable.  That hasn't happened.

 

Early Church Fathers' Quotations

Besides the New Testament manuscripts, there are more than 86,000 New Testament quotations in the writings of the early church fathers.  In fact, there are enough quotations from them that even if we did not have a single manuscript, scholars could reconstruct most of the New Testament from material written by them during the first two centuries.

 

A Short Time Span

There is a short time span between when New Testament events actually happened and when they were first recorded.  It's believed that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within 30 years of Jesus' death and resurrection.  Most New Testament books were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.  What's the point of this?  There was not enough time for legendary material about Jesus to develop.

It is true that we do not possess the original New Testament manuscripts.  Bible scholars do have in their hands copies of manuscripts dating to within a generation of their original writings.  Textual debate does not affect one in a thousand words of the Greek New Testament.  No established doctrine is called in question by any doubts about the correct reading of this or that.  We can read the New Testament with confidence that it is the Word of God.

Our historical examination of the Old and New Testament manuscripts confirms their reliability, but the strongest evidence of the inspiration of the Scriptures is found in the Scriptures themselves, as we will see.

 

Lesson 2: Two Important Scripture Passages

 
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