Can We Trust The Bible?

You often hear that the Bible we have today is the translation of translations of copies of copies, so that any modern version of the Bible is completely unrecognizable. Is this true? Michael Brown, who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, tackles this objection.
Is it true that the Bibles we have today are translations of translations of copies of copies? If so, can they be trusted?

Actually, when you discover the real story of the Bible - from the oldest manuscripts to the newest translations - you'll realize that God truly preserved His Word. No ancient book (or collections of books) has been preserved like the Bible.

Let's start with the claim that our English Bibles today are "translations of translations." That is totally false. Bible scholars go back to the Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek - the languages in which the Scriptures were written - and translate directly from those languages.

It's not like a game of telephone, where one person whispers in the next person's ear, who then passes it on to the next. If you've ever played that game, you know that by the time you reach the end, the message is totally garbled.

It's the exact opposite with the Scriptures. Bible translators go directly to the original language texts and translate directly into a language today. There are no steps in between, no gaps, and no middle men.

What about the idea that all we have is copies of copies today? That we don't have the original manuscripts?

That's actually true. But the ancient scribes copied the texts very carefully - after all, these were considered sacred writings, even God's Word - to the point that Hebrew Bible manuscripts dated 1,000 years after Jesus were identical to Hebrew manuscripts containing books of the Bible dated 100 years before Jesus. I'm talking about letter for letter! This is quite remarkable.

Today, if you have a copy of the Torah in Hebrew (the Torah is the name for the first five books of the Old Testament), you'll see some fascinating notes at the end of each book. The notes were originally written by the Jewish scribe who meticulously copied the text, letter by letter.

The scribal note at the end of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah, gives us the total number of sections (similar to chapters) in the Torah, the total number of verses, the total number of words, and the total number of letters - and then the middle chapter, middle verse, middle word, and middle letter!

And what happened if the scribe was off by one single letter - I mean one single letter out of hundreds of thousands? The manuscript could not be used. It was considered defective.

No wonder the books of the Hebrew Bible have been preserved so carefully! The variations that exist are minor and do not affect the overall meaning of the text.

When it comes to the manuscripts of the New Testament, we have an embarrassment of riches. Simply stated, no book (or collection of books) in the ancient world has been copied as much as the New Testament. There are more than 5,000 ancient copies of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, some containing one New Testament book, some containing several books, and some containing all 27 books.

How does this line up with other, ancient books? New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce explains:

"For Caesar's Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 BC) there are several extant manuscripts, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar's day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty manuscripts of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century."

And on and on it goes. Yet, to repeat, there are more than 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts, some going back to just decades after the original books were written. Nothing in ancient history compares with this.

What about the many variations between the Greek manuscripts? The vast majority of them are very minor, like the difference in spelling between Mister and Mr., or between favor and favour. The meaning is not affected in the least.

As for the more major variations, with some manuscripts having additional words or missing words, scholars use a scientific method called textual criticism, analyzing the thousands of manuscripts and then looking at early translations of these manuscripts - into Syriac and Latin, for example - in order to determine the most accurate reading. In these cases, it's not that we don't have enough evidence. We have almost too much evidence!

We can also examine the writings of the early Church leaders, since they often quoted from the New Testament writings. This gives us further evidence in determining what the original manuscripts said. And with each new discovery of another, ancient manuscript of the Bible, we have additional confirmation that the Scriptures have been miraculously preserved and meticulously translated.

That means that you can read your Bible with confidence. The same divine author who inspired different authors living at different periods of time to write down His words is the same one who oversaw the transmission of those words throughout history - right until today.