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Do We Have An Accurate Copy of the Bible?

by Pastor Mike Birbeck - August 22, 2022

Several years ago a book was rediscovered that had been written some 300 years earlier. It was the only copy known to be in existence. When they republished, they asked a recent Ph.D. student who wrote his thesis on the same topic to write the forward for the republication. The Ph.D. student was astounded by what he read. In all of his research – and he was a very intelligent man – he had come across no other book that handled the topic so well.

We could say something even greater about the Bible. Here we have a book written by authors as diverse as kings and fishermen, whose lives spanned the course of 1400 years, all telling us the great things of God in prose and poetry and much more in three different languages. Yet, all of this comes to us in a single coherent, unified, and marvelously wonderful message about God’s faithfulness, our unfaithfulness, and God’s lovingkindness toward us. If we only had one copy, nothing would be taken away from the uniqueness of this book, that comes to our senses like no other. It was the quality and content of this book that drew me into it, when I first read it as a teen. I scarcely put it down, and I have yet to even today.

But, some might ask, “how do we know we have an accurate copy of this book?” It’s a fair question. After all we are not just calling this a human book, but God’s message to us.

To figure this out, we can’t look at emails, date stamps, or anything like that. In the first century, they did not even have copy machines. So, they had to copy things the old fashion way. By hand. It was a laborious process, taken with great care.

It is true that we do not have a single copy of an original manuscript of the Bible. But, neither do we have an original copy of Homer’s Iliad, something written by Plato, or any other significant ancient document for that matter. What they used for paper back then deteriorated easily. But, what we do have are copies. And the more copies of a manuscript you have, and the older and more reliable those copies are, the better you can find out what the original may have said. Take the New Testament for example. We have at least 5,800 cataloged ancient copies of the New Testament. That is not counting all the cataloged and unpublished copies in private collections nor the numerous quotations of those documents by other ancient authors, such as later church leaders. That’s twice as many copies as what we have for Homer’s Iliad or Plato’s work, or for that matter any other ancient work proximate to the time period.

Another test that helps us is looking at how much time passed between when the original manuscript likely was written and our oldest copies. There is no other ancient document that has so many copies so close to the time of the original writing.

Are there some discrepancies in the copies? Yes, a few. But most of these can be easily explained as copyist errors, others as obvious attempts to alter the copy, but none of them significantly affect any doctrine taught within the pages of Scripture.

If we are to say that our copy of the Bible is unreliable, we would have to say the same thing about every ancient work of literature we have. No serious scholar is willing to do this. So, we should have a very high degree of confidence that the copy we have is completely trustworthy and represents extremely well what the original author wrote. If you were to throw in there all the places and times in history when people tried to destroy all the copies of the Bible, like what Emperor Diocletian tried to do in the third century or Lenin and Marx tried to do in the 1920’s and 30’s in Russia – it’s amazing how God has preserved this book so that we could come to know Him. He does not leave us in the dark, He gives us His word, “as a light to our path,” as the Psalmist said.

Let’s pray. Dear, Lord, thank you for not leaving us in the dark. Thank you for revealing Yourself though the brilliance of these pages through which You reveal yourself and Your heart to us. Amen.

I’ll hope you’ll share this with someone you think it will bless.

Credits:

Videography: Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Andrew Moore
Writing: Pastor Mike Birbeck

Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: First Presbyterian Church Wellsboro

 
 
 
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