Summary: First in a series of three sermons on the reliability of the Bible. Are the words of the Bible really the words of God? Can you set your life by it? The Bible has some powerful defenders: generations of faithful scribes, an army of textual scholars, & God
Does It Really Matter?
(First is the series Our Still Point with God: The Reliability of the Bible)
DISCLAIMER: The material in these three messages come from others who are better scholars than I! Contact me if I can credit anything in this series to its original source.
Are the words of the Bible really the words of God? Can you set your life by it?
It is not unusual to have questions about the Bible’s reliability. Not only do non-Christians doubt it; sometimes we Christians do as well.
Common doubts about the biblical text include:
•It’s so old—it must have changed over time.
•Original copies of the manuscripts don’t even exist anymore. Anyone could have made it up.
•If we knew what the original texts really said, we wouldn’t need so many different translations.
The Bible invites these kinds of arguments because it makes such outrageous claims—
•It contains the words of Almighty God
•It is absolutely true and trustworthy
•It is the foundation for all Christian beliefs.
Have you ever had to try to answer an unbeliever’s skepticism about the Bible’s trustworthiness? What happened? Have you struggled with doubt about the Scriptures, either before you became a Christian or during a rough stretch in your Christian life?
Fortunately for us, the Bible also has some incredibly powerful defenders: generations of faithful scribes, an army of textual scholars, and God himself.
1. Reverent care was taken with the texts, Deuteronomy 6:1–9.
Bible manuscripts were hand-copied from ancient times through the Middle Ages. Have you ever played the party game “Telephone?” Some people think that is what happened as the Bible was copied over and over again.
But these copyists, called scribes, were professionals, and they took their job extremely seriously.
Jewish scribes, who kept up the Old Testament scrolls for centuries, had a nearly foolproof system for making perfect copies. First, a scribe would count the number of letters on the page to be copied. When he had finished his copy, he would count the number of letters on the new page and make sure it matched the original. Two or three other scribes would then check the copied page.
Christian scribes also took great pains in creating and proofing their pages. The gorgeous lettering and elaborate artwork in many medieval Bibles attest to hours of intense effort.
Most scholars are amazed at how well the scribes’ system worked. With the momentous discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and ‘50s, some people looked forward to exposing discrepancies between the ancient Dead Sea manuscripts and the more familiar later texts. In fact, while the Dead Sea Scrolls have prompted a few shifts in biblical scholarship, they mainly served to affirm that Christians already had excellent texts.
Read Deuteronomy 6:1–9. Why did the scribes take such good care of these texts? Because God told them to. Deuteronomy 6:4, the foundational statement of Jewish belief (called the Shema), is followed by instructions for the treatment of God’s Word (through verse 9).
Religious Jews still wear leather pouches, called phylacteries, with scrolls inside on their arms and foreheads (see verse 8) when they pray. You don’t make mistakes with something that valuable.
2. The Bible was compiled with great discernment, 2 Timothy 3:14–17.
We are going to talk about something that might seem dry to many: Textual Scholarship. But do you realize that textual scholarship is at the heart of many recent movies?
•The Da Vinci Code
At its best, textual scholarship refines written works by comparing different versions to determine the most reliable manuscripts, giving special weight to older versions and versions of which more copies exist.
At its worst, textual scholarship undermines written works by attacking them with radical skepticism and biased agendas.
Sadly, some people have used such bad scholarship to suggest that the Bible is totally unreliable, or they praise obscure texts, particularly those that support unorthodox beliefs, as being better than these 66 books
The average Christian will never know enough about textual scholarship to sort all of this out. That’s okay, though, because specialists have been on the job for centuries—and it hasn’t been easy.
Read 2 Timothy 3:14–17. This is a classic text on the soundness of the Bible. It’s important to note, though, that at the time Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “all Scripture” (verse 16) only included the Old Testament. Paul probably had no idea that his letters would someday be called Scripture. Most of the rest of the New Testament, including the Gospels, hadn’t even been written yet.
Within decades of Paul’s letter, dozens if not hundreds of Christian and counterfeit Christian manuscripts were circulating throughout the Near East. Disagreements over which were the best prompted church leaders to begin ranking them. Three criteria were used: