The Reliability of the Bible, Part 1
The traditional claim of the Christian Church is that the Bible represents the Word of God handed down through the centuries by God’s people. Judaism has, likewise, regarded that portion known to Christians as the Old Testament as having the stamp of divine authority. Of course there is much more to Judeo-Christianity’s understanding of the nature of the Bible than this, but for the purposes of this article we will begin by assuming the truth of these simple statements.
Flowing from the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of God in the writing of Holy Scripture is the question of the historical transmission of those documents. In other words, can we trust the copying process that produced the current biblical texts? Confidence in the Bible depends to a large degree on our assurance that the documents scholars use for modern Bible translations are faithful to the original writings. As far as anyone knows, none of the original manuscripts of the Bible written by the actual authors are still in existence. This fact leads to the very legitimate question of whether what we read in the Bible is really what Moses or Isaiah or Paul originally wrote.
Because of the lack of proven original material, scholars must rely on a comparison and analysis of manuscript copies to reconstruct the contents of the original text of the Bible. Scholars trained in the discipline of manuscript study have sifted out the small percentage of variant texts of the various ancient copies and synthesize the original content of the source document penned by the original writer. This process, greatly aided by computer technology, has yielded a high degree of confidence in the current biblical text. Later articles in this series will show in greater detail, the high degree of confidence many scholars have in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments.