Is the Bible of today reliable, accurate, and trustworthy, or has it been changed and corrupted through the centuries and therefore unreliable and different from what it was when originally written?
Benjamin Warfield was instructor in New Testament Language and Literature at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh; Doctor of Laws both from the College of New Jersey and Davidson College in 1892; Doctor of letters from Lafayette College in 1911; and Sacrae Theologiae Doctor from the University of Utrecht in 1913. In 1886 he was called to succeed A. Hodge as Professor of Systematic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary – a position which he occupied with great distinction until his death in 1921.
Warfield states in his book, Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament, “If we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must … declare it to be marvelously correct. Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied – a care which has doubtless grown out of true reverence for its holy words – such has been the providence of God in preserving for His Church in each and every age a competently exact text of the Scriptures, that not only is the New Testament unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use, but also in the abundance of testimony which has come down to us for castigating its comparatively infrequent blemishes.”
Warfield boldly declares that the facts show that the great majority of the New Testament “has been transmitted to us with no, or next to no, variations and even in the most corrupt form in which it has ever appeared, to use the oft-quoted words of Richard Bently, ‘the real text of the sacred writers is competently exact; …nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost…’ choose as awkwardly as you will, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings.”
The historian Philip Schaff in his book, Comparison to the Greek Testament and the English Version, concluded that only 400 of the 150,000 textual variations caused doubt about the textual meaning and only 50 of these were of great significance. Not one of the variations altered “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.”
Schaff quotes both Tregelles and Scriveners: “We possess so many manuscripts, and we are aided by so many versions, that we are never left to the need of conjecture as the means of removing printing errors.” (Tregelles, Greek New Testament, “Prolegomena”, P.X.)
Sir Frederic Kenyon was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum and one of the great authorities in the field of New Testament textual criticism and manuscripts.
In his book, The Story of the Bible, Kenyon writes, “It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries (of manuscripts) and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.”
That textual errors do not endanger doctrine is emphatically stated by Kenyon when he states in his book, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, “One word of warning, already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion. No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergences of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the substance, as well as the language, of the Bible is not open to question. It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the eldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.”
In his book, The Bible and Archaeology, Kenyon states, “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest existing manuscripts becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
The Chester Beatty Papyri (written 200 AD) is located in the C. Beatty Museum in Dublin and part is owned by the University of Michigan. This collection contains papyrus codices, three of them containing major portions of the New Testament.
In The Bible and Modern Scholarship, Kenyon says that: “The net result of this discovery – by far the most important since the discovery of the Sinaiticus – is, in fact, to reduce the gap between the earlier manuscripts and the traditional dates of the New Testament books so far that it becomes negligible in any discussion of their authenticity. No other ancient book has anything like such early and plentiful testimony to its text, and no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound.”
Millar Burrows of Yale is the American expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeologist. In his book, What Mean These Stones?, Burrows says, “(the New Testament texts) have been transmitted with remarkable fidelity, so that there need be no doubt whatever regarding the teaching conveyed by them.”
Burrows goes on to say, “…archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine.”
“On the whole such evidence as archaeology has afforded thus far, especially by providing additional and older manuscripts of the books of the Bible, strengthens our confidence in the accuracy with which the text has been transmitted through the centuries.”
Norman Geisler is a graduate of Wheaton College and Wheaton Graduate School, majoring in philosophy and theology respectively. He also attended Detroit Bible College (ThB), and was Asst. Professor of Bible and Philosophy at Trinity College in Illinois.
In his book, A General Introduction to the Bible, Geisler states, “Because of its (the John Ryland manuscript – written in 130 AD – and located in the J. Ryland Library of Manchester, England) early date and location (Egypt), some distance from the traditional place of composition (Asia Minor), this portion of the gospel of John tends to confirm the traditional date of the composition of the gospel about the end of the first century.”
Geisler also states that, “the quotations (from the New Testament) are so numerous and widespread that if no manuscripts of the New Testament were extant, the New Testament could be reproduced from the writings of the early (Church) Fathers alone.”
In 1947, in a cave in Jordan, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Among these scrolls was a complete manuscript copy of the Hebrew text of Isaiah, which paleographers have dated to be written around 125 BC. Geisler states that, “the impact of this discovery is in the exactness of the Isaiah scroll (125 BC) with the Masoretic text of Isaiah (916 AD) 1000 years later. This demonstrates the unusual accuracy of the copyists of the Scripture over a thousand year period.”
Bruce Metzger is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. He states that the Codex Vaticanus (written between 325 – 350 AD) is one of the most valuable manuscripts of the Greek Bible. This manuscript is located in the Vatican Library and contains nearly all the Bible – Metzger’s, The Text of the New Testament.
The Codex Sinaiticus (written about 350 AD) is located in the British museum. It contains the New Testament and over half the Old Testament.
From all of the above manuscripts the present day Bible is derived, it is the same today as it was when it was originally written.
F. F. Bruce is Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester. Dr. Bruce states in his book, The Books and the Parchments, that, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”
Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote in his book, Rivers in the Desert, that: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”
Dr. F. F. Bruce states that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) written about 200 BC helps to establish the reliability of the Old Testament’s transmission through 1,300 years when compared with the Masoretic Text (916 AD) we have today.
Has the Bible that we have today been changed or corrupted from what was originally written? This brief analysis should make it obvious to an unbiased reader that it hasn’t.