The Preservation of the Bible

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Skeptics

The problem with the Bible is our copies are almost 2,000 years old. Even if the original accounts are accurate, over the many thousands of years errors have crept in. We can never know if the copyist made errors or not, since we don’t have the original copies. And how do we know the original accounts are accurate? Who is to say they didn’t make things up? We can never know.

THE DEFENSE

Let’s look at the men who wrote the accounts of the life of Jesus. Matthew was a Jew and was with Jesus for several years. He was an eyewitness. So to with John. The Gospel of Mark is basically Peter’s Gospel, since Mark drew upon Peter for much of his account.

Luke is different. Luke was not necessarily a witness to these events, but gets his information directly from people who were. This is important for several reasons. First, eyewitness testimony is credible. As the jury knows, hearsay is excluded from testimony; only eyewitness testimony is allowable. Luke is recording the credible eyewitness testimony of people who experienced these events, just as our court reporter is recording the testimony in this courtroom. Thus, his gospel account is authoritative.

But, what good is testimony if the recording of it is inaccurate? The prosecution would have you believe the Bible is not credible, for since we don’t have any of the original copies of the Bible, through the copying and copying over thousands of years, errors have crept into the text. Thus the recording of eyewitness testimony as Luke does is invalid. But, a quick glance of the following chart (Eastman and Missler “The Bible: An Extraterrestrial Message” page 10) illustrates the accuracy of the New Testament as it has been passed down to us:

Document Date Copies % Purity
Homer’s Iliad 800 BC 643 95
Herodotus 480 BC 8 ?
Plato’s Tetralogies 427 BC 7 ?
Caesar’s Gallic Wars 44 BC 10 ?
New Testament 50-95 AD 25,366 >99.5

If we don’t accept the validity and accuracy of the Bible, we will have to throw out much more than the Bible. Do we doubt the writings with considerably less sources? The existence of George Washington? The Bible is unique in the considerable manuscript evidence for it.

Norman Geisler, a world renown Bible scholar echoed this when he states: “Only 400 words of the NT are in doubt, whereas 764 lines of the Iliad are questioned. This five percent textual corruption (in the Iliad) compares with one-half of one percent of similar emendations in the New Testament”(Eastman and Missler “The Bible: An Extraterrestrial Message” page 11)

So the Bible has been preserved through the centuries for us as it was originally written, but was it written accurately in the first place? Could the Gospel writers add to their accounts or fabricate stories to make the story look better? Consider the following.

Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (Matthew 16:22-23 KJV)

Jesus is rebuking satan from Peter! If you were making something up, would you fabricate something to make you look bad?

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. (John 20:1-9 KJV)

John admits the disciples didn’t understand Jesus would rise from the dead. This is an important concept in Christianity, and he admits they didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching! Why would you include such damaging evidence if you were making the story up? The fact these stories are included gives credibility to the claim the Gospels are a true and accurate representation of the life of Jesus.

But more importantly, three Gospel accounts were written within 20-35 years after Jesus’ death (John’s Gospel within 50 years). The Jews certainly wanted to see Christianity fade out, so if the Gospel writers made exaggerated claims, wouldn’t the Jews have pointed these things out? We’ve already established the Bible has been passed down to us virtually unaltered over the generations. So if there are errors, why didn’t the Jews speak out and correct them? Many of the people involved were still alive, so if an error occurred, it would be easy to verify with the person mentioned.

Conclusion: The four Gospels are accurate and reliable. Not only have they been transmitted to us accurately, but they are an accurate eyewitness account of these events.

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