Is the Bible reliable? (Or can I believe my Bible?)
Now there is a question – what if the most popular book of all time (yes – it outstrips Harry Potter!) could be confirmed as fiction? What would that mean for the Church? What would that mean for Christianity? Luckily these scenarios do not need to be addressed as it is very easy to authenticate the Bible.
Those that question the authenticity of the Bible usually have the “Chinese Whispers” opinion of the Bible. They know that the Bible is a few thousand years old and correctly assume that it was passed down from people to people, group to group, nation to nation. However, they then also presume that the resulting documents that they have in their hands today (or not as the case may be) is full of errors, both accidental (misreadings/mistranslations, spelling errors etc) and deliberate (ie as a result of some priest or scribe wanting to spice the boring passages up).
For the Christians out there, you will have probably encountered this argument if you have any non-Christian friends with whom you discuss such topics. It may come as a question, a statement or an all-out attack.
Ok then, lets go about countering/answering it:
It is important to say that as it claims to be largely a historical document, the Bible should be treated as such, at least until it is proven to be otherwise. The historical accuracy of the Bible should not be given treatment different from any other historical text.
1) There are now more than 24000 Greek, Latin and Aramaic manuscripts containing part of or all the new testament, all dated to within 300 years of the events that they describe. This makes the Bible the most attested piece of ancient literature. 300 years may seem like a long time period but it is nothing compared to any other ancient historical documents such as the works of Tacitus, 900 years, 1 copy; Caesar, 1000 yrs, 10 copies; Plato, 1200yrs, 7 copies; and Aristotle, 1400yrs, 49 copies – all of whom are credited with historical accuracy.
2) Scribes, who would copy out the Bible were trained their entire lives for this task and truly believed that they were copying out the word of God. This discounts any theories that separate agendas may have caused them to deliberately alter parts of the text. The checking system was so rigorous that a single letter that looked like another because of a slip of the hand would cause the entire page to be burnt.
3) The New Testament was originally written within a time period of under 100 years after the events happened. Therefore any lies or exaggerations would have been exposed by other first hand witnesses, most prominent the Jewish leaders who wanted to destroy this new religion. The amazing claims about Jesus still exist, why? Because, the Jews could find no historical fault in them.
4) Other historical documents quote sections of the New Testament as fact, for example Origen quotes it a staggering 17922 times.
5) Nothing that archeology has uncovered has ever disproved anything written in the Bible. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, they were hoped by non-religious scholars to disprove the reliability of the Bible. However, apart from the absence of the Book of Esther, which was omitted by the group of Jewish-Christians to whom these scrolls belonged because it did not include the name of God (YHWH), every single passage in the Old and New testament is present and the same as the modern day counterparts (after translation). Other archaeological finds have proven that the walls of Jericho were made to fall outwards, as they are described not inwards as always happens in an earthquake, the existence of races of people and cities that only the Bible mentioned have now been discovered by archaeologists, censuses happened in roman provinces as Luke describes, the discovery of the existence of the Court in which Jesus was tried, the existence of the Pool of Bethsaida and many more.
There are, I am sure many more avenues of proof that one could wander down in the search for truth but I have limited myself to outlining the five main highways. If you have skipped sections make sure you read this as it is the central message: if we dismiss the Bible as fantasy and fables, we must also dismiss all other literature of antiquity because they are less well supported in sheer volume of texts and historical proof.
NB. Acknowledgement to P.Downey and B.Shaws book ” Everything you want to know about the Bible (well… maybe not everything but enough to get you started) as inspiration for this article.