The Reliability of the Scripture or Is Our Bible the Real Thing?

Is Our Bible the Real Thing?

Are the documents we possess the same as the original documents? How do we know?

Were the original documents truly written at or around the time they cover rather than written many centuries after the facts?


The Bible consists of the original Hebrew Scriptures, which are called The Old Testament in the Bible, plus the New Testament.

Old Testament

The Hebrew Scriptures are called the Tanakh, or the Mikra, meaning “what is read”.  It was originally written in Hebrew, with sections of Daniel & Ezra written in Aramaic. Tanakh consists of three sections:

Torah – the first 5 books of the Bible, which we call Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

Prophets (Nevi’im) – 2 sub-sections:

Former Prophets:               Joshua       Judges       Samuel      Kings (one book)

Latter Prophets: (major)     Isaiah        Jeremiah    Ezekiel

Latter Prophets: (minor)     Hosea        Joel      Amos     Obadiah     Jonah      Micah       Nahum      Habakkuk    Zephaniah     Haggai      Zechariah      Malachi

“Writings” (Ketuvim) – three sections:

Poetic books:         Psalms     Proverbs        Job

Megillot (Scrolls):   Song of Solomon      Ruth      Lamentations       Ecclesiastes        Esther

Other books:          Daniel       Ezra-Nehemiah        Chronicles (one book)

The traditional Hebrew Tanakh is the Masoretic Text.

There is no scholarly consensus concerning the date of final canon of the Old Testament. The Talmud attests to the compilation of most of the original Tanakh by the Great Assembly (Anshei K’nesset HaGedolah), completed in 450 BC. Some say the Hasmonean dynasty, ~ 100 BC, some believe as late as 2 C AD. Some believed the canon was closed in the Rabbinic period after the destruction of th first temple in 587 BC. The 24-book canon is mentioned in the Midrash Kohelet, which may have been developed between 400 BC and 500 AD, but was complete in written form by ~ 8 C AD.

Copying Requirements for the Torah were so particular and meticulously followed, as to ensure that every copy permitted to remain in existence should follow precisely from the source document, even to the lay-out of each page:

Old Testament Scribes: Example: The Talmudists, circa 100 A.D. Their process:

  1. The skin of the animal must be from a clean animal.
  2. It must be prepared for synagogue use by a Jew.
  3. It must be fastened together with strings made from clean animals.
  4. Each skin must contain certain number of columns, equal throughout the whole codex.
  5. The length of each column must not extend less than 48 or more than 60 lines.
  6. The width must have 30 letters.
  7. The whole copy must be first-lined; if 3 words are written without a line, it’s worthless.
  8. The ink must be black; prepared according to a specific recipe.
  9. Authentic copies must be exemplars.
  10. No word, letter, punctuation – anything, is to be written from memory. Scribe must look and copy.
  11. Between every consonant, the space of a hair must intervene.
  12. Between every new section, the space of nine consonants must be kept.
  13. Between every book, leave 3 lines.
  14. The 5th book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; others need not be.
  15. The copyist must sit in full Jewish dress.
  16. The copyist must wash his whole body prior to starting.
  17. The copyist must not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink.
  18. While writing God’s name, he must ignore all who address him, even a King


See :

The reverence and devotion of those who sought to preserve the words of the God from Which they acquired their national identity, were assurances of the care they would take to perform their task reliably. Their acknowledgement and fear of the judgment of God would additionally guard against the possibility that any one might either casually or arrogantly change what was written, or be careless in copying what they were given.

The checks and balances created by the required copying protocol would virtually eliminate the possibility of copy errors, omissions or additions, being able to carry forward into the new copies.

Stylistic Considerations:

The Mosaic law is similar to other codified law of the time period, including Hammurabi (1700 BC), Lipit-Ishtar (1860 BC), and Eshunna (1950 BC).

The Nuzi tablets from Iraq speak about a number of customs which we find in the Pentateuch, such as:

  1. a) a barren wife giving a handmaiden to her husband (i.e. Hagar)
  2. b) a bride chosen for the son by the father (i.e. Rebekah)
  3. c) a dowry paid to the father-in-law (i.e. Jacob)
  4. d) work done to pay a dowry (i.e. Jacob)
  5. e) the unchanging oral will of a father (i.e. Isaac)
  6. f) a father giving his daughter a slave-girl (i.e. Leah, Rachel)
  7. g) the sentence of death for stealing a pagan idol (i.e. Jacob).

What does this mean to us? Is it important? Why? – If the writing and contents are consistent with other writings accepted as being from the same time and same geographical or cultural locations as those of the Bible, we have good reason to accept as authentic the content of the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls – found 1947 – 56. Date from 125 BC. Oldest OT manuscripts found to date. Includes non-biblical writings about the OT, as well as writings about many OT characters or concepts. Substantially consistent with Masoretic text.

The Septuagint (300 – 200 BC) substantially supports the contents of the Hebrew OT.

An important point for Christians to remember is that Jesus cited or referred to all but 8 – 10 of the O.T. books as we identify them. If Jesus cited or referred to any writing as Scripture, then we have the authoritative knowledge that that writing was Scripture.


  • hand-written 1st C AD
  • any copies made by hand between 1st C & 1400 AD
  • copies were in circulation when those who had written and read the originals were still living to affirm or refute both the existence and content of what was contained in the copies
  • early Jews were familiar with the copy protocols for the Hebrew Scriptures. Their commitment to Christ to the point of death and their respect for the men whom Christ commissioned at the start, serve as assurances that they would work to ensure the accuracy of the copies they created, in reverence toward God and for the benefit of the other congregations who would receive the copies.
  • Many later copies were made by professional scribes who followed proper, careful copy practices
  • 5795 full or partial Greek New Testaments are known to exist presently
  • 10,000 Latin translations of N.T.
  • 2587 Armenian translations
  • 4101 Old Slavonic
  • 2000+ Ethiopic
  • plus other translations
  • manuscript attestation” for the New Testament (number and date proximity to original writing) exceeds any other ancient writing. (earliest fragment is dated about 35 years after original composition)(next closest is Iliad, with 1797 copies, earliest is 400 years after original composition. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, only 251 copies, earliest 950 years after original writing)
  • Variant readings created by scribal errors can be compared to the many other copies to determine which rendering was the original, by ascertaining which reading is found in the majority of copies at the point of variation, since any individual error is the error of only one person. The others would not likely make the exact same error in the exact same place. Thus, the “majority reading” is reasonably trustworthy as the correct original wording.
  • Earliest extra-biblical mentions of the contents of the New Testament: Irenaeus, Against Heresies, refers to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as authoritative gospels. They must have been written latter half of 1st C to be included in Irenaus’ writing.
  • Bishop Papias’ work, from Heirapolis (modern Turkey), An Exposition of the Lord’s Sayings, which no longer exists, is quoted in early Christian writings. Eusebius quotes Papias writing that Mark wrote what Peter taught about Jesus, and that “Matthew compiles reports about Jesus “in a Hebrew dialect””, meaning that Mark and Matthew’s gospels must have been written prior to 130 when Papias died, in order to be cited in his work. What he says about them dates them to the latter 1st C.


Manuscript Evidence for the Authenticity of the New Testament Text

More copies and fragments exist of early New Testament manuscripts than any other historical work of any kind, world-wide. Additionally, the New Testament is represented in whole or part in many other writings, including those written by unsympathetic authors. Whereas no one honestly questions the authenticity of any major historical work, nor the historicity of those appearing to be historical records, despite often scanty support for either characteristic, skeptics continue to argue against the Bible’s contents being true to the original writings, and against the accounts contained in the Bible as reflecting actual historical events and conditions, despite overwhelming documentary support and extra-biblical corroboration.

Comparing the New Testament manuscript support to that of Homer’s Iliad, we find the following:


  5,795          Greek manuscripts (incl. partial)
10,000         Latin Vulgate manuscripts
  9,300         other early versions
24,000        total N.T. manuscripts

20,000 lines   only 40 lines (400 word) in question   .02%
of the disputed words, 19/20 are insignificant variation, such as spelling or style
only 1/60 of the disputed words are significant and none affect any important teaching


643 manuscripts total

15,6000 lines      764 lines in question       .05%

Iliad & Odyssey     250,000 lines      26,000 in question     10%

Ancient Secular Manuscripts


Earliest Copy Copies

Time Gap

Homer – Greek Poet/Historian

900 BC

400 BC 643

500 + years

Sophocles -Greek Playwright

496 – 406 BC

1000 AD 193

1400 + years

Euripides – Greek Playwright

480 – 406 BC

1100 AD 9

1500 + years

Herodotus -History

480 – 425 BC

900 AD


1300 + years

Thucydidus -History

460 – 400 BC

900 AD 8

1300 + years

Aristophanes -Greek Playwright

448 – 380 BC

900 AD 10

1280 + years

Plato – Greek Philosophy

427 – 347 BC

900 AD 20

1240 + years

Aristotle – Greek Philosophy

384 – 322 BC

1100 AD 49 of any 1 work

1420 + years

Horace – Roman Philosophy

65 – 8 BC

900 AD Several

900 + years

Caesar – Roman History

100 – 44 BC

900 AD 10

940 + years

Lucretius – Roman Philosophy

99 – 55 BC

1050 AD 2

1100 + years

Catullus – Roman Poet

84 – 54 BC

1550 AD 3

1600 + years

Pliny – Historian

61 – 113 AD

850 AD 7

750 + years

Josephus -Jewish History

1stc AD

500 AD 15 of any 1 work

400 + years

Suetonius -Roman History

70 – 140 AD

950 AD 8

800 + years

Tacitus – Greek History

100 AD

1100 AD 20

1000 + years

New Testament Manuscripts

New Testament

40-90 AD

125 AD

7-25 years


There is a continuous line of more than 20,000 manuscripts with less than a 300-year time between the time the New Testament first was penned till the entire New Testament was contained in one volume.

With the discovery of the Magdalene Papyrus dating to @ 70AD, we now have portions of the New Testament (from the Gospel of Matthew) that actually predate the completion of other portions of the New Testament (completed @ 90 AD).

 When we compare the number of New Testament manuscripts and the time-span between the original writing and the earliest-known copies, the New Testament is shown to be the most well-attested piece of ancient literature in the world, with exceptional proof of the authenticity of the text to what was originally penned. No reasonable person doubts that the other ancient works are either preserved in their original form, or that they contain factual accounts of real historical events (ie: Caesar; Tacitus), despite the sparse copy and many centuries between the original works and the oldest-known copies extant today. If the same attitudes and approach are taken to the documentary evidence for the New Testament, no reasonable person could consider doubting either that the New Testament manuscripts possessed today are accurate copies of the original writings, or that they are a reliable historical record of the real events recorded in the books. And if the documents are received with the same credibility as other, less well-supported historical works, and are therefore recognized as reliable and correct, the reader is obligated at that point to accept that the message contained in its pages cannot be other than the true account of Jesus Christ, and God’s gracious offer of forgiveness of sin through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then that reader has only one reasonable response: to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!

Other Considerations About the Bible’s Trustworthiness

Unity of the Bible despite the distinctions of the situations for each “book”:

  1. Composed over hundreds (1500) of years.
  2. On three continents.
  3. In times of different situations, emotions, and purposes.
  4. In three languages.
  5. By people from a wide range of occupations and backgrounds (40 different people).
  6. despite the differences in identity and circumstances of the writers, and their differing experiences with God, the content of the 66 ‘books’ of the Bible is internally consistent in detail and message.
  7. the works of NT refer and reflect back to the OT, validating the Old from the point of reference of the writers of the New.


Early Church Lectionaries testify to the Authenticity of the New Testament. As today, church service liturgies were commonly used in the Mediterranean world by the 3rd Century. These contain many quotes of Scripture.

To date, 2143 Lectionaries (dating back to the 3rd Century and containing portions of the New Testament) have been found. When comparing Lectionary quotes of Scripture with the rest of the documents that serve as the basis for Bible translations today, they are virtually identical!


Minuscules testify to the Authenticity of the New Testament. By the 800s, a new writing style had emerged that included lowercase letters, punctuation marks, and spacing. These were referred to as Minuscules.

To date, 2764 Minuscules have been found containing portions of the New Testament. When comparing Minuscule texts with the rest of the documents that serve as the basis for Bible translations today, they are virtually identical!


Papyri Testify to the Authenticity of the New Testament. The earliest copies we have of portions of the New Testament are found on papyrus. In ancient times, scribes would write on strips of plant stokes or reeds that were glued together – this would form papyrus. This is where we get our word ‘paper.’

Many of these date back to the first two centuries after Christ and are written in an “uncial” style (i.e: all capital letters, no punctuation marks, no spaces between words).

The John Rylands Papyrus (125 AD) was discovered in Egypt in 1935 and contains a portion of John 18. Note that John would have penned his Gospel less than 50 years earlier.

The Magdalen Papyrus (recently revised to date back to 70 AD) was discovered in Luxor, Egypt in 1901. It contains a portion of Matthew 26. Note that Matthew penned his Gospel only 5 or so years earlier in 65 AD. With the Magdalen Papyrus, we have a copy of a portion of the New Testament dating back prior to its completion!

To date, 88 Papyri containing portions of the New Testament in Greek have been found that date within a few decades of the writing of the New Testament. Early Century Papyri go back to within a few years of the writing of the New Testament. This greatly reduces the opportunity for error to creep into the text. The New Testament is Authentic.

Patristic Writings

Writings of the “Early Church Fathers” testify to the Authenticity of the New Testament. Writings of the early Church are referred to as “Patristic Writings”. These contain numerous quotes from the New Testament and the Old Testament. These writings make the New Testament the most authenticated collection of books in history.

We have over 86,000 manuscripts containing quotes from Scripture that come out of early Church writings. Of these, there are over 32,000 writings, dating prior to 300AD, from which we could reconstruct the entire New Testament.


Uncials also testify to the Authenticity of the New Testament. By “uncial” we mean the text uses all capital letters, no spacing between words and no punctuation marks. Such conventions (spacing, punctuation, and lower case letters) are a relatively recent phenomenon in writing history. These have been found written on two types of media: parchment (sheep skin) and velom (calf skin).

267 Uncial documents containing portions of the New Testament have been found to date. This class of manuscripts dates to within a few hundred years of Christ.


Hundreds of archaeological discoveries have confirmed many Biblical facts and events, including those for which modern society did not have any other records than the Bible until recently. Some examples include the following:

Discovery between 1884 and 1912 of 10,000 clay tablets of the Hittite empire; previously unknown outside of the Bible records, and believed to be mythical.

Excavation of Jehricho (1930-36). Garsteng confirms that the walls fell outward as Bible says.

Rom. 16:23 mentions Erastus. Excavations at Corinth 1929 found an inscription with ERASTUS PRO:ACD:5:P:STRAUIT (meaning Erastus, curator of Public Building).

Hezekiah’s tunnel has been excavated and proven.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer confirms Jehu, King of Israel.

The Pool of Bethesda has been unearthed and confirmed.


Some references: