The seventh reason I believe that the Bible is the very Word of God is transmission. The Bible’s purity and preservation throughout the centuries is nothing short of miraculous.
Do you remember the kids’ game telephone? You get nine or ten children together and the first one says, “Go outside and get the dog.” They whisper this to one another down the line until it gets to the tenth kid. By the tenth time the message is passed along, it has completely changed to, “The girl in the yellow dress looks like a hog.” In all the times we played, I don’t think the message ever stayed the same. It always changed in the retelling.
I have often been asked, “Can a Bible that has been copied so many times for so many hundreds of years really be accurate?” Without the ability to copy and paste or make a quick trip to FedEx for copies, how were biblical copies made? Let’s dig into the answer together.
As I learned about the job of a scribe, my understanding about Bible transmission became much clearer. A scribe would take an original copy and very carefully write letter by letter. As a scribe wrote each letter down, they would form into rows. The copied letters and rows would then be checked to assure that the scribe had matched the original copy. A random letter and row would be selected to be matched to the original. They could have counted seven across and eleven down—was it the same letter as the original? What about thirty letters across and twenty-five down? If the answer was yes, the scribe would move on. If the answer was no, the copy would be destroyed and the scribe would start over.
When an Old Testament scribe came to the place in the text where the name of God needed to be written, the scribe would only use four letters (YHWH), because the name of God, Yahweh or Jehovah, was so holy it was never pronounced and never fully written out. After writing the four letters for the name of God, a scribe would go ceremonially wash before coming back to write again. This was done every time a scribe wrote the name of God. The level of focus and meticulous copying ensured an extremely high percentage of accuracy.
The proximity of the manuscripts is another way to check for accuracy. If you want to check a document from antiquity, you ask: When was it written? What’s the earliest copy we have? And how many copies of the manuscript do we have? These copies are then checked with one another for consistency and any possible errors.
Let me give you some documents from antiquity for comparison. Plato lived between 427 to 347 BC. Our earliest copy of his work is AD 900. There are twelve hundred years between his writing and our first copy. There are seven copies of his work.
Aristotle lived between 384 to 322 BC and the earliest copy we have of his work is AD 1100. That’s a fourteen-hundred-year difference, but we have forty-nine copies.
Homer, circa 900 BC, is famous for his works The Iliad and The Odyssey. Our earliest copy is 400 BC, so there are about five hundred years between the time he lived and the earliest copies. We have over six hundred copies of Homer’s work. No one doubts the authenticity of Plato, Aristotle, or Homer.
Now let’s look at the New Testament. The New Testament was written between AD 40 and AD 100, and the earliest copied portion is from AD 125. That is only a twenty-five-year difference. In those twenty-five years, people were still alive to authenticate the text. In total there are 24,643 handwritten portions or complete copies of the New Testament.
The Bible is the most accurately transmitted ancient document on the face of the earth. In fact, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the telephone game theory got completely blown out as conjecture or objection.
The Dead Sea Scrolls provide further evidence that the Bible is an accurate document. Dating from the third century BC to the first century AD, the scrolls contain partial or complete copies of every book of the Old Testament except Esther and multiple copies of Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah. The first scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin goatherd in 1947, and by 1956 all the scrolls were found in a total of eleven caves. The amazing thing is that they are over a thousand years older than previously identified biblical manuscripts, and yet over 95 percent of the wording is the same. The only differences are variations in spelling and punctuation. There are no theological differences between the scrolls and our modern translations. The Bible is an accurate document that can be trusted.2
The Dead Sea Scrolls, almost fifty thousand texts, revealed that the Old Testament was not degraded over time. God spoke it, it was copied, and the text we have today is the same text that people read well over two thousand years ago. God transmitted His Word to you and me in a supernatural way. When you read the Bible, you are reading the Word of God.
Ingram, Chip. 2017. Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
We have just completed a 6-Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Chip Ingram’s book, Why I Believe. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book and discuss it each week.
Why I Believe, Lesson #1
Chapters 1, 2
Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Did Jesus Really Die?
Why I Believe, Lesson #2
Chapters 3, 4
Why I Believe the Bible
Don’t Take My Word for It
Why I Believe, Lesson #3
Why I Believe in Life After Death
Why I Believe, Lesson #4
Chapters 6, 7
Why I Believe in Life Creation
Science or God?
Why I Believe, Lesson #5
Why I Believe in the God of the Bible
Why I Believe, Lesson #6
How is that Working for You?