One question that comes up in many Apologetics discussions is the reliability of the Biblical manuscripts. In this post, I am not going to go into detail, as others have already done so. What I am going to do is give an overview of why this is important, and also give resources for everyone to utilize.
First a word about a common misunderstanding. Many times, atheists and other non-believers will accuse Christians of circular logic. They present a straw man which says, “Christians always refer to the Bible as evidence of God, and they use the Bible as evidence for the Bible which is circular.” Now, I personally haven’t read any Christian doing this; what I do see often is fundamental lack of knowledge on the part of the atheist/non-believer as to what the Bible actually is, and why we cite it as evidence, and why it can indeed be cited as evidence.
The Bible is not a single document. It is a collection of ancient documents into one binding; there is a distinct difference. These documents often have different authors and are written at different periods of time; they are not one solid document that someone can accuse of trying to “prove itself.” This would be like entering into a conversation about the formation and continuation of the United States government. In this discussion, one person pulls out a book titled: Political Documents of the United States.
Within this single book is a collection of many US documents; The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Federalist Papers, The Records of the Continental Congress, etc… Then, the person they are dialoging with says, “You can’t use that as a reference, or as evidence when talking about the formation and continuation of the US Government! Political Documents of the United States is just used to prove itself, that’s circular logic!”
So, a basic understanding of the composition of the Bible is needed; it is a collection of manuscripts authored by around 40 human authors (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). It’s contents were written over a large span of time, and in different languages, mainly Hebrew and Greek. Then these manuscripts were collected together into one volume; The Bible. Using various historical manuscripts to support other historical manuscripts is not “proving itself.”
There is also discussion about how these particular manuscripts made it into the collection. Many non-believers try to make this into some huge conspiracy, while the Roman church tries to use it as proof that they are the one true church, and them alone; some fundamentalist Christians act as though God handed the KJV in it’s final form to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The truth is that it was a very organic and logical process, though the inclusion of some of the books were debated. I just read a good description of the process in Ravi Zacharias’ new book; Beyond Opinion. In fact, the very first chapter of Ravi’s book is devoted to “Postmodern challenges to the Bible,” written by Amy Orr-Ewing.
In general, certain criteria were met, and as these criteria were met, the books eventually came to be “canonized” formally, though many of the books were already recognized as canon. (The criteria were things like; authorship by an apostle or an immediate follower of an apostle (which obviously included dating), church usage, etc…)
Are the documents reliable? Are they accurate? Can you trust the Eyewitness accounts in the NT? There are many good resources for these questions here are only a few:
Online resource examples;Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament Reliability on CARM, The Textual Reliability of the New Testament from Tekton, Miscellaneous Questions on the Text of the Old Testament from Tekton, Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf, Archaeology and the New Testament from Apologetics Press, Is scripture a “faithful record” of historical events? from Apologetics Press, etc… etc…
Other resource examples; The New Testament Documents by F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce, Trial of the witnesses by Thomas Sherlock, General Introduction to the Bible by Geisler and Nix, Can I trust the Bible? by D. Bock & R. Zacharias, and also examples of general resources that touch upon Biblical matters: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, The Case for Christ by Strobel, etc… etc…
These resources are for everyone; believers, skeptics, anyone interested in Biblical apologetics. What I offered here is not even a drop in the bucket of information available on this topic. One of the most frustrating things in Apologetics can be talking to people who glean all their knowledge of the Bible from proselytizing atheistic websites that have lists of points to try to bring up in a debate. Why is it frustrating? Because the answers are readily available to all, and are very easy to find, and also it shows, to me, that the person isn’t really wanting an answer, no…they are trying to proselytize their own beliefs.
Take the time to study the Bible. It can be trusted and is highly reliable; historically, prophetically, internally, archaeologically, etc… The resources I gave above have many other resources cited in their notes, so, keep digging and studying. The Bible can stand up to all scrutiny.