Last week my column discussed the 2015 State of the Bible study released by the Barna organization and the American Bible Society. When topics such as this are presented, inevitably atheists and denouncers come out challenging the Bible as a collection of myths and fairy tales. Unfortunately, these attempts are meant to cast doubt on the Bible and those who find value in it. Today’s column describes several methods scholars use to build confidence in the Bible.
Worldwide, some 2.2 billion people in the world (32 percent) are classified as Christian according to a recent Pew Forum report. (In the U.S., Christians rise to 77 percent, according to Gallup data.) According to the Pew report, other major religions worldwide rank as follows: 1.6 billion Muslims (23 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), 500 million Buddhists (7 percent), and 400 million people (6 percent) practicing various other religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, American Indian religions and Australian aboriginal religions. Most of these religions depend heavily upon written documents, such as the Bible.
Manuscripts attest New Testament’s authenticity
One method of testing the authenticity of New Testament texts is to compare the number of New Testament manuscripts with ancient ones like the “Iliad” of Homer. In 1986, Norman Geisler, co-author of “A General Introduction to the Bible,” noted there were about 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts. In 2013, Geisler updated this total; it had swelled to about 5,800 manuscripts. Geisler, quoting manuscript expert Dan Wallace, wrote, “If you placed the manuscript copies of the average ancient author it would form a pile four feet high. However the NT manuscripts and translations would reach a mile high!” Other than the Bible, the ‘Iliad’ has the most manuscripts of any ancient world book, currently about 1,800.
Gaps in time from original to first copy
The gap between the original “Iliad” and its first copy is reckoned to be 350-400 years by Geisler, who noted the time gap for most ancient authors is more than a thousand years. He declares that many scholars believe the New Testament was essentially complete by 100 A.D. Earlier this year, the Washington Post published a story of a fascinating discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark which may possibly date to 60 AD, approximately 27 years after the death of Jesus. (Seehttp://tinyurl.com/kn8te62) Early translations of the New Testament in Syriac, Arabic, Latin, Coptic, and others, number about 18,000. When added to the 5,800 Greek manuscripts, they swell the number of manuscripts to 24,000.
Early church fathers quoted manuscripts extensively
Geisler notes that just a handful of early church fathers account for 36,000 citations. Quoting Frederick Kenyon, author of “Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts,” Geisler continues “The number of mss. of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it by the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or the other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other book in the world.”
Variants exist, but do they matter?
Many biblical scholars agree that New Testament manuscripts represent source texts with a high degree of accuracy — between 98.33 to 99.9 percent. Typical of these is Phillip Schaff, who writes that no variant affected “an article of faith.” Kenyon, in another work, “The Bible and Archaeology” wrote, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
Science and the Bible
Hugh Ross, internationally noted astronomer, astrophysicist, and Christian apologist was recently asked, during a large seminar, if the Bible had been corrupted. Ross replied he strongly believed in oral transmission from God up to Moses. Going forward, he noted, scripture was written by men who were inspired by God. He went on to say this can be put to the test. Does the Bible predict future events? Yes, Ross says, with precision, as opposed to some thinking they may have been added later. Ross asserts the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Daniel scroll, predicted the rise of the Roman Empire long before it happened. (See tinyurl.com/krzzdfv)
Why people don’t know more about the origin of the Bible
I’ve been an Alaska resident for over 15 years, and have not heard a sermon dealing with the various origins of the Bible, its transition from oral to written form, how it has been preserved, its interpretation and how it’s being translated. Some pastors say this is taught in small groups or Sunday school classes, but in the public square, this element is sorely lacking. The same is true of sermons about creation, prophecy, biblical hospitality and healthful living. I have, however, heard more than enough hellfire and damnation sermons.
The spade confirms the book
Rarely does a day goes by without new archeological confirmation of the historic events related in scripture. I’m thankful to be living at a time where so much information about the Bible, its background and authenticity is available.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.