These are some of the questions I introduced in Is The Bible God’s Word? published on 04/26: How accurate is the translation of the Bible that you read? How do you know that it is an accurate transcription of what was revealed to the author? Did something get twisted in the times before it was written down, when the stories were being carried by oral traditions? Did editors change the stories to make them more exciting or remove details to save heroes from embarrassment? And who decided which books of the Bible were the inspired word of God?
To begin to explore the answers these questions, we must recognize the two major parts of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and examine them separately, because the language, traditions, and times involved vary so significantly from one to the other. There was a 400 year hiatus between the last recorded prophecy of Malachi in the Old Testament to the revelation of God in Jesus during the Roman Empire. When Malachi gave his prophecy the nation of Israel was under Persian domination, the Babylonian empire haven fallen to the Medo-Persians during Daniel’s prophetic times (~539 B.C). For those into dates, Malachi’s prophecy ended at about 435 B.C. The Persian empire last about 200 years, defeated by Alexander the Great, in about 330 B.C. His kingdom was short lived falling into many civil wars following his premature death in his mid-thirties. Eventually the Greek Seleucid empire replaced Alexander’s by about 175 B.C. This empire was overthrown by the Romans sometime around 100 B.C. which inaugurated Julius Ceasar as their first true emperor around 44 B.C. replacing a Triumvirate leadership of Julius Ceasar, Pompey, and Cassius.
This historical note is just to explain there was a tremendous change in culture from the time of Malachi to the appearance of Jesus “in the fullness of time.” (Galatians 4:4) Thus the details of record-keeping were greatly different in the recording and transmission of the New Testament compared to such details of the Old Testament.
So let’s begin by examining the reliability of the Old Testament. How do you know that the books we call the Old Testament is an accurate transcription of what was revealed to the author? How do we know copyists who transcribed the historical and prophetic writings gave us accurate copies? After all, the 39 books of the Old Testament were written over a period of at least a thousand years from 1440BC – 435BC. Isn’t it likely that between that time and now, errors would have crept in?
We’ve already discussed oral traditions of preliterate times (The Reliability of the Bible-Part 1 – 05/17/15). But writing became more common even as early as Abraham’s day (2000 B.C.), long before Moses (1400B.C), as is evidenced by archeologists that have excavated thousands of clay tablets from Ur, many from households, as well as large libraries.
Overwhelming proof exists that the collection of books making up the Old Testament are virtually the same today as when they were first written! Keep these three things in mind when ever you look at any ancient writings: 1) The closer you can get to the time of the original writing, the less opportunity there has been for mistakes to have made their way into the text; 2) The more agreement you have among copies of the text, the more certain you can be of the text’s accurate transcription; 3) Copies that vary greatly in time must not show significant changes.
The Old Testament is the same 39 books accepted by Jews in of the first century and by the early church. There was no meeting or council in the Old Testament times that met to accept these books. Josephus listed these same 39 book in his Antiquities of the Jews. It appears that each book was accepted as its writer presented it. The books were self-authenticating at the time of their writing. That which was absurd or unbelievable would not have been preserved. A prophet was validated by the truth of his words (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
The Old Testament has come down to us in seven forms:
- Samaritan Pentateuch (400 BC)
- The Midrash (400 B.C)
- Septuagint (translated from Hebrew to Greek around 280 BC)
- The Dead Sea Scrolls (225-50 B.C)
- Syriac Version (translated 200 AD)
- Latin Vulgate (Hebrew translated into to Latin by Jerome in 400 AD)
- Masoretic Text (500 A.D.)
The Old Testament has been more accurately transmitted to us than any other ancient writing of comparable age. The textual evidence is greater for the Old Testament than any other historically reliable ancient document of the same periods. The ancient scribes were very meticulous. As late as 500 A.D., there were only minor variants in the readings in all the copies of the Old Testament, when the Masoretic Text was compiled.
“Probably the Deat Sea Scrolls have had the greatest Biblical impact. They have provided Old Testament manuscripts approximately 1,000 years older than our previous oldest manuscript. The Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. In addition, they provide a wealth of information on the times leading up to, and during, the life of Christ.”
—Dr. Bryant Wood, PhD archaeologist
There are a wealth of resources online or at any good library that will show this truth: There is no book in history that has been more reliably preserved and translated than the Bible. But beware of the resources of which you inquire. There are many who prefer not to believe what history and scientific evidence provide for faith in God and His Word. So when you investigate, look for vested interests and weigh the evidence, and love the truth. If you love the truth, He will guide you to it. (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)
See June 7, 2015 for the next in this series on The Reliability of the Bible,