Are The Biblical Texts Reliable?

Someone asked: Alex, you seem like a reasonably intelligent person.  How can you believe that the Bible, written by men, is “the word of God” and that after thousands of years of copying we could still have an accurate translation of it today?

These were some of the same questions I had to wrestle with, as an agnostic 30 years ago, when a colleague told me he was a Christian and asked if I knew that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah of Israel.  This prompted me to study the Bible for the first time — not because I believed a word of it — but specifically to gather enough evidence to prove him wrong.  I wondered how anyone of such intelligence could believe what I regarded as utter foolishness.  But I was to discover that the Bible is unlike any other book that has ever been written.

CREDENTIALS

The Bible covers a period of approximately 1,600 years (from 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D.) and was written by more than 40 different people from all walks of life.  Some were priests,  prophets and kings.  Others were simple farmers and fisherman.  Some, like Moses and the Apostle Paul, were highly educated.  Others had no formal education at all.

More than 3,000 times, these men claimed that what they wrote came directly from God (e.g., Moses: Ex 5:1; 7:17; 24:4.  Isaiah: Isa 28:16; 43:1; 44:24.  Jeremiah: Jer 9:23; 14:15; 31:31.  Paul: 1 Cor 7:10.  Peter: 2 Pet 1:16-21.  John: 1 John 4:6.)   As impossible as these facts seem, the record speaks for itself.  Jesus stated that the Old Testament is God’s Word (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:44; John 10:35).  He confirmed the authorships of Moses, King David, and the prophets Isaiah and Daniel.  In Luke 4:25-27, he confirmed the divine miracles recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures and concerning Old Testament revelation said:

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  (Matthew 5:18) 

In other words, Jesus affirmed the inspiration, inerrancy and accuracy of the Hebrew Scriptures.  He taught the authority, reliability, unity, sufficiency, historicity, revelation, infallibility and indestructibility of the Old Testament.

PROPHECY

One way to prove the Bible’s accuracy and authenticity is to analyze the Hebrew Scriptures’ prophecies.  Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment is one of the most compelling evidences of the Christian faith and as a Jewish man, this evidence was central to my own eventual acceptance of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.  The number of events foretold by the prophets is enormous, and the events themselves are so specific they could only have been known and revealed by God.  Author Mark Hitchcock said the following about the accuracy and reliability of the Bible in his book, The Amazing Claims of Bible Prophecy:

“Unlike the self-proclaimed prophets of yesterday and today, like Nostradamus, Edward Cayce, or Jeanne Dixon, Jesus and the biblical prophets did not peddle vague and general predictions that could be adjusted to any situation.  The prophecies recorded in the Bible are detailed and intricately interwoven…  More than one-fourth of the Bible was prophetic at the time it was written.  The Bible is a book of prophecy. It contains about 1,000 prophecies, about 500 of which have already been fulfilled down to the minutest detail.  With this kind of proven track record — 500 prophecies fulfilled with 100 percent accuracy — we can believe with confidence that the remaining five hundred yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies will also come to pass at the appointed time…  Prophecy is the most credible proof of the uniqueness and divine inspiration of the Bible.  Its importance can hardly be overstated…  Fulfilled prophecy also demonstrates that the Bible’s content is not man-made but rather has its origins outside our own time-space continuum.”

Twenty five Jewish writers proclaimed prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures detailing the life and ministry of the Messiah.  Jesus is the only person in the history of civilization to have explicit details of his ancestry, birth, life, ministry, character, death, burial and resurrection prewritten at least 500 years before he was born.  Of the Hebrew Scriptures’ hundreds of prophetic references concerning the first coming of the Messiah, each was fulfilled uniquely and specifically by Christ and they establish a solid confirmation of his credentials as the Messiah.

PRESERVATION

The Dead Sea scrolls provide evidence of the Bible’s extraordinary preservation.  During the period from 1947 to 1956, hundreds of manuscripts were discovered in clay jars in caves near the Dead Sea in Israel.  These scrolls have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls and are hailed as the outstanding archeological discovery of the 20th century.   Among the manuscripts found was a complete scroll of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Up to that time, skeptics had said we could not have an accurate translation of the Bible due to the thousands of years of copying.  They believed that changes from the originals must have occurred over these many years.  However, the scroll of Isaiah, to cite just one example, was discovered in its entirety, dates from 125 B.C. to 100 B.C., and contains the same Isaiah text that we possess in our Bibles today.

The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the copyists of biblical manuscripts took great care in going about their work.  These copyists knew they were duplicating God’s Word, so they went to incredible lengths to prevent error from creeping into their work.  Fact is, the God who had the power and sovereign control to inspire the Scriptures in the first place has exercised His power and sovereign control in the preservation of Scriptures.   By examining how Christ viewed the Old Testament, we see that he clearly had full confidence that the Scriptures he used had been faithfully preserved through the centuries.

The same can be said about the inspiration and inerrancy of the New Testament, which was written after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  There are more New Testament manuscripts copied with greater accuracy and earlier dating than for any secular classic from antiquity.  By comparing the manuscript support for the Bible with manuscript support for other ancient documents and books, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that no other ancient piece of literature can stand up to the Bible.  Manuscript support for the Bible is unparalleled.   No other book is even a close second to the Bible on either the number or early dating of the copies.  The average secular work from antiquity survives on only a handful of manuscripts; the New Testament boasts thousands.

SUMMARY

Each of these points could probably have a series of posts devoted to them, but neither space nor time allows for a fuller discussion here.   Suffice it to say, the Bible is unique in its history, message, universality, influence, fulfilled prophecies, preservation and  testimony throughout history.  It stands alone as the most unique book of all time and the only volume that a child and scholar may find equal delight in.

Salmon P. Chase, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln and as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, said the following about the Bible:

“There came a time in my life when I doubted the divinity of the Scriptures, and I resolved as a lawyer and a judge I would try the book as I would try anything in the courtroom, taking evidence for and against.  It was a long, serious and profound study: and using the same principles of evidence in this religious matter as I always do in secular matters, I have come to the decision that the Bible is a supernatural book, that it has come from God, and that the only safety for the human race is to follow its teachings.” 

Studying this same Bible almost two centuries after Salmon P. Chase, I ultimately came to the same decision, though I sought earnestly to disprove its credibility.  In fact, I concluded that if one actually takes the time and trouble to conscientiously and honestly examine the available evidence, it would require more faith to remain a non-believer than to accept that the biblical texts are credible and reliable.

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About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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2 Responses to Are The Biblical Texts Reliable?

  1. WH Uffington says:

    I started to read the article with interest as the Bible and its associated religions have been my work for the last fifteen years. When I got to Moses and Paul being educated, I went back to the first paragraph and reread, “I wondered how anyone of intelligence could believe what I regarded as utter foolishness.” That’s is what I had just thought.

    Paul has provenance of sorts and apart from the forgeries, his letters make perfect sense in their true historical context, but surely the author can’t still think that Moses is real. He would do well to read Israel Finkelstein’s Bible Unearthed if he does and my own book if he wants to understand who he was.

    After that, I wondered if there was any point reading the rest of the article. I did, but found it full of wishful thinking, which is sad. There is so much to learn from the Bible, but it is certainly not the historical truth.

  2. Alex Haiken says:

    WH, it would appear you’re in good company. Many theologians and scholars started out exactly as did you and me wondering, “how could anyone of intelligence believe what [we considered] utter foolishness.” One such author who comes to mind is Frank Morison, author of, “Who Moved the Stone?” In the first chapter of his book which he titled, “The Book That Refused to Be Written,” Morison explains how as a lawyer he initially set out to write a book in which he prove once and for all that there was no historical truth to learn from the Bible. The outcome proved to be much different than he anticipated. In the end, he came to believe “there is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed — ‘the third day he rose again from the dead.'”

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