Faith -- Is the Bible Reliable and Accurate in Transmission?
With both an Old and a New Testament, the Bible is a collection of 66 books ranging from Genesis to Revelation. Since the Bible is an ancient book that has been hand-copied by scribes for many generations, some have questioned the accuracy of the copied manuscripts that are available today. The primarily focus here will be on the accuracy of the transmisson of the New Testament text.
While variants, like stylistic changes and variations in spelling, inevitably did come into the text, the variants do not put any Biblical doctrines "in jeopardy," according to Dr. Bruce Metzeger of Princeton Theological Seminary 1 . In fact, according to Biblical scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix, the New Testament has a 99.5% purity rate in terms of accuracy -- a better accuracy rate than any other well-known book 2 .
When compared to other works of antiquity, the Bible has multitudes of manuscripts. The amount of manuscripts is important since individual manuscripts can be checked with the rest of the manuscripts for variants. Here is a breakdown of the amount of New Testament copies in comparison to other amount of copies of other ancient works:
Evincing the superiority of the New Testament text over other ancient works in terms of the number of available manuscripts, the comparison above reveals that the existing texts of the New Testament can be verified with multitudes of other copies and therefore can be trusted to be an accurate representation of the original texts.
The duration between the time that the work was first written and the conception time of the earliest existing copy is also important. If the duration is long, errors can propogate into the text. Here is a comparison of the duration times of the New Testament and other ancient works:
In comparison to other ancient manuscripts, the New Testament boasts a very short time interval between the original composition and the the earliest availiable copy's inception. This brevity in time not only reveals the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts but also gives credence to the assertion that the manuscripts availiable today are virtually identical to the original composition. Moreover, the short gap between the period of time that the actual events of the New Testament took place (from John the Baptist to the apostle John in Revelation) and the period of time of the original composition of the New Testament prevents distortions or fables from being inserted into the storyline of the New Testament.
Even an introductory look into the manuscript background of the New Testament gives a convincing picture of the reliablity of the New Testament's transmission over a span of almost two millenia. Not only does the New Testament stand above the crowd of other ancient manuscripts in terms of manuscript amount, but the New Testament also has copies of manuscripts that are very close in time to the original composition. Virtually unchanged (99.5% accuracy rate) over the centuries, the New Testament can be deemed reliable and accurate. The next logical step would be to study the content: the claims that the New Testament makes.
The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament has this claim to make about the Bible:
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." 12
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