Summary: The fact that we do not have the original autographs of the New Testament manuscripts has led many to deny that the New Testament that we have is reliable. This lesson shares 10 reasons why we can know the Bible is trustworthy.
The fact that we do not have the original autographs of the New Testament manuscripts has led many to deny that the New Testament that we have is reliable. The phrase, "The Bible's been translated and recopied so many times..." has been one of the more frequent objections that are given to accepting the Bible. Many religious groups today also make the claim that the Bible has been corrupted over time, which has led to “new revelations,” such as ones received by Muhammad and Joseph Smith.
If the Bible has been corrupted, then all of these people and religious groups make a great point. We would not know what is and is not reliable. But when these people make this point, they are rewriting history and neglecting all of the evidence that the area of textual criticism gives us. I will examine in this lesson at least 10 reasons why we can trust the Bible we hold in our hands is reliable.
1. DO WE POSSESS COPIES THAT ARE REASONABLY CLOSE TO THE ORIGINALS?
Without question, the Bible fares better in this area than most ancient documents. We have copies that are much closer to the originals than any other ancient work by comparison! There is a fragment of the gospel of John that dates to within 50 years of when the gospel was originally written. We have thousands of fragments or full manuscripts that date from 50-1500 years from when the originals were written. Full manuscripts 300 years away from originals. (not a long time to experts)
If these were not "religious" documents, this would lead the document to be credible! No one would reasonably doubt its credibility if it were another historical document. Critics cannot refute this! The Bible is the best attested ancient work ever. Period.
-Livy's history of Rome - number of manuscripts available - 20; Oldest copy made 500 years later
-Julius Caesars Gallic Wars - number of manuscripts available -10; Oldest copy made 900 years later
-Annals of Tacitus - number of manuscripts available -2; Oldest copy made 800 years after original
-The New Testament - number of manuscripts available -5600; we have full manuscripts dated within 300 yrs. of originals, fragments within 50 yrs.(these numbers only include Greek manuscripts and fragments!)
No one doubts the first 3 as being reliable! The closest work of antiquity to matching the New Testament is Homer's Iliad. There are about 2500 manuscripts or fragments, and the earliest dating is about 500 years after the original.
2. DID THE AUTHORS INTEND TO CONVEY RELIABLE HISTORY TO THE READERS?
Luke 1:1-4: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught."
Luke leaves no doubt that he desired to leave a precise, detailed account of the gospel (and Acts). The truth is that if the gospels did not contain miracles, no one would doubt whether they were credible or not.
3. WERE THE AUTHORS IN A POSITION TO KNOW WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT?
The best situation is that the author is either an eyewitness or very close to an eyewitness. The closer to the situation spoken about, the more reliable it will be. Luke had direct contact with eyewitnesses and thoroughly investigated everything. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Mark is believed to receive his information from Peter, an eyewitness.
Paul wrote 25-30 years after Jesus' resurrection 1 Corinthians 15, which mentions Jesus' resurrection. Paul was in a position to know what he was talking about. He was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ!
Once again, if these were not religious, their credibility would not be doubted.
4. DID THE AUTHORS' BIAS DISTORT THEIR HISTORICAL REPORTING?
It is true that these men were followers of Jesus that wanted to convert people to Christianity. But does this mean that they fabricated stories such as the miracles to try to convert people? Did they lie? What would be their motivation for doing this?
Asking this same question about other historical documents would render all of history as unreliable because most people wrote history of something they were personally invested in. There is no such thing as a totally unbiased position. So based on this argument, all history is false!
Also, why would the writers fabricate such lies, and then be willing to get into trouble, suffer, or even die for what they know is a lie?
5. IS THERE "SELF-DAMAGING" MATERIAL IN THE DOCUMENTS?