One of the most common objections given against Christianity is to say that the Bible is corrupt or unreliable. If this was true, it would render the word of God false and have drastic implications to the whole of the Christian faith. Therefore, exploring the reliability of the Bible text is extremely important and should be a high priority for anyone genuinely interested in the meaning of life.
While discussing this subject with others it quickly becomes very clear that some people are not the least bit interested in hearing anything that supports the credibility of Scripture. As with anything that goes against our presuppositions we need to be open to learning more about subjects we have avoided considering.
From a Biblical starting point it is stated that Scripture is God breathed:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
Taking this at face value means we should at least test the reliability of the Bible because God Himself has said it is inspired by Him. So if it is not credible and full of contradictions then what does that say about God?
Our aim for this article to not to give a complete account of every piece of evidence as this would take too long, but we will provide a summary with references to articles and videos that provide more information. So, the question – is the Bible reliable? We hope to show that there is good evidence to trust in the Bible as God’s true word to us. Are you willing to openly look at the facts?
One way to have confidence in Scripture is to look at fulfilled prophecies in the Bible. There are hundreds of prophecies that have already been fulfilled, we will not cover details in this article but our Can you prove the Bible? page has more on this. Suffice is it to say that if any prophecy is not fulfilled exactly as detailed it would deem God a liar and render the Bible false.
If you have never looked into the archaeological finds that support the historical accuracy of Scripture you might be surprised. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the historicity of both the Old and New Testaments.
Throughout history the Bible has been mocked and ridiculed for being a book of ‘fairy tales’ with no support, but over time more and more new discoveries continue to provide support that these are not just stories but historical accounts. The Hittites, mentioned in Genesis 23, are one example – they were not heard of outside of the Old Testament until 1906 when archaeologists discovered a vast collection of Hittite historical records. This pattern of discoveries has carried on as we continue to learn how accurate Scripture is from our findings.
We cover a couple of areas below, then provide further links to look at the evidence in more detail.
Dead Sea Scrolls
These are ancient manuscripts that remained hidden for over 2000 years that were first discovered in 1947 inside caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea in Israel. Included are fragments covering every book of the Hebrew Bible (apart from Esther). These findings give us confidence in the Old Testament we have today because there are only minimal differences with the discovered manuscripts.
- What are the Dead Sea Scrolls and why are they important? (Got Questions)
- What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Reasons They Are Important (What Christians Want To Know)
Sir William Ramsey
Archaeologist, Sir William Ramsey, was very skeptical to the Bible’s historical details, especially the Book of Acts. He went on many investigations fully expecting to prove this book inaccurate but his research proved otherwise, even admitting – “Luke is a historian of the first rank”. After a lifetime of research and study he could not find anything inaccurate in the Bible. The document by W. Ward Gasque explores Sir Ramsey’s life in more detail – A Survey of His Contribution to the Study of the New Testament.
- Does Archaeology Support the Bible? (Answers In Genesis)
- Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible (CRI)
- Is there any confirmation of Biblical events from written sources outside the Bible? (Christian Answers)
- The Bible’s Critics Were Wrong Again: Daniel and His Supposedly Invented King (ABR)
- Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014 (Christianity Today)
The Old Testament
Simply because of the OT’s age many assume corruption has occurred over the years – even with major discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls many still doubt its reliability. Of course you will never satisfy everyone’s skepticism no matter what evidence is presented so we have to honestly look that the evidence we have and make up our own minds.
As covered above the archaeological evidence proves to a great extent the accuracy of the Old Testament, we may not make discoveries for every historical reference in the OT but what we have found is compelling evidence for even the most staunchest critic.
Then we have fulfilled Bible prophecy, this not only shows the accuracy of Scripture but also shows that there is a supernatural element to its formation. There are hundreds of separate prophecies, including the coming of the Messiah, written hundreds of years before the events happened in amazing detail. The prophecies in the Bible defy natural explanation, only God, who is outside of time, can foretell this precisely.
Finally, Jesus Christ affirms the authority of the OT. From historical accounts to general trustworthiness, Jesus confirmed it was reliable during His ministry by referring to it many times. Since the manuscripts show the accuracy of the text we have today it should give us the same confidence in it that Jesus Christ had. Would Jesus really refer to manuscripts that were unreliable?
- Evidence for the Reliability of the Old Testament Bible insert (Cold Case Christianity)
- Is the Old Testament Reliable? (Answers In Genesis)
- Is the Old Testament Reliable? (Think Christianly)
- Has the Old Testament been corrupted? (CARM)
- The Veracity of the Old Testament: A Scientific Validation (RAE)
The New Testament
The NT comes under many attacks, whether it’s been copied too many times or it was written too late after the actual events, the usual arguments appear with regularity. These misunderstandings can be cleared up by looking at how these activities happened.
Copying of the manuscripts was not done one after another, many copies were taken from a source manuscript which then were spread. The copies were written too, as opposed to be orally transmitted, which meant they could be verified. The NT comes under textual criticism, the same as other antiquity documents, this process tests the amount of copies available and how similar the copies are. We have over 5300 copies of the Greek manuscripts that have been verified to over 99% accuracy! Stand to Reason’s article explains these points well – Is the New Testament Text Reliable?
Many attempt to present an argument for not trusting the NT authors, especially the Gospel authors. Below is a video responding to “You Can’t Trust the Christian Authors of the Gospels” by Stand to Reason:
Early dating of Gospel accounts
For the Gospel accounts to be accurate you would expect the writers to be present at the events to provide an authentic account. But many easily dismiss the early dating of the Gospel accounts without any investigation.
The Book of Acts is a good place to start as this was written by Apostle Luke after his Gospel account, so if we can get a reasonable date for this it will help place his Gospel account. The Book of Acts is detailed and accurate in every way, as Sir William Ramsey discovered, yet there are major events missing:
- destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 AD)
- seizure of Jerusalem (67-70 AD)
- death of Paul, Peter & James (brother of Jesus) (61-65 AD)
These are very important historical events that would have been recorded, the fact that they were not included indicates this book was written before they happened. This puts the dating of the Book of Acts to ~60 AD, which then means Luke’s Gospel would have been written earlier.
What is interesting about Luke’s Gospel is that it is quoted in two other NT books (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & 1 Timothy 5:17-18) and we know the early dating of 1 Corinthians so this means Luke’s Gospel would have been generally accepted as scripture at that time. This results in the Gospel of Luke being written early 50’s AD. Then we know that Luke quotes Mark, which makes the dating of Mark even earlier.
This Cumulative Case for the Reliability of the Gospels diagram from Cold Case Christianity shows how a detective case would approach investigating if the Gospel accounts were reliable.
What all this shows is that the Gospel accounts were dated early by eyewitnesses who testify and recorded the actual events they were present at.
Trusting the Gospel accounts
The early dating of the Gospel accounts provides firm evidence for trusting in the text but there is more.
As detailed on Cold Case Christianity’s blog there are 4 reasons for trusting the Gospel accounts are reliable:
- they were written early, which means they were vetted by people who witnessed the same thing
- they have been corroborated more than any other ancient text by fulfilled prophecy, archaeology and specific culture details
- they have not changed over time, as the manuscript evidence proves
- the authors lacked bias (financial greed, sexual lust, pursuit of power), they had nothing to gain out of lying
Also, this Chain of Custody diagram from Cold Case Christianity shows through the first centuries how the Gospel accounts, and other manuscripts, were passed on through different people until they became canonical. From looking at the books others have written during that time it shows that through those hundreds of years the message of Jesus and the Gospel accounts remained constant without any corruption.
Again, this is even more reason to trust that the Gospel accounts are reliable.
Names used in the NT
In this video Dr. Peter J. Williams presents convincing original evidence that the Gospel accounts WERE based on eyewitness accounts whilst at the same time demonstrating that the non-canonical gospels do not share the same reliability:
- Evidence for the Reliability of the New Testament Bible Insert (Cold Case Christianity)
- Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability (CARM)
A simple internet search will give you lists of alleged contradictions in the Bible and it has become a mission of some people to promote these ‘errors’. Many people happily use these as an excuse for rejecting Christianity and many more do not even look but hear people say there are contradictions that satisfies their choice for not believing!
The Bible claims to be God’s Word to us – surely it is risky to simply trust what others say rather than investigate yourself and come to your own conclusion? It surely deserves investing the effort to understand the parts of the Bible that can often lead to confusion but that does not mean it is inaccurate or contradicting. For any alleged contradiction there is usually a straightforward answer, whether that is being aware of different contexts, putting events in chronological order, or something else.
All alleged contradictions have been explained to those who are willing to hear.
- The Bible Is Not Full of Contradictions or Errors (Stand to Reason)
- 6 Ways to Explain Bible Contradictions (Redeeming God)
- Isn’t the Bible Full of Contradictions? (Answers in Genesis)
- If the Bible is the Word of God, how can you explain the contradictions of the Bible? (Christian Answers)
What about the original manuscripts?
While it is true the original manuscripts are no longer available this does not impact the reliability of the current text. The earliest autographs would have been written a few thousand years ago so no one would honestly expect these manuscripts to have been preserved over time. Through the meticulous copying techniques adopted by Jewish scribes we can have confidence in the accuracy of our current text.
An additional reason God may not have wanted the original autographs for us today is because they may have been worshiped. They would be placed in a shrine where people would flock and worship the manuscripts instead of God Himself. Without the autographs more idolatry has been prevented and it is very unlikely the existence of the original manuscripts would connected dots for skeptics – there would simply be another reason not to believe.
A response to “We Don’t Have Those Original “Inerrant” Manuscripts” by Stand to Reason:
Too many Bible translations!
We certainly agree there are too many translations and this is confusing for most Christians let alone non-believers! This is certainly an explosive subject as many people hold strong opinions so we only briefly cover this area but provide links for further reading.
All the translations we have (apart from paraphrases e.g. the Message) are formed from the manuscript evidence. This does not make any one translation perfect, but we do feel some are better than others. The core message for us today is the Gospel message, which remains consistent throughout the majority of translations. It really does come down to a personal choice but we would have least recommend have two or three different translations to compare against.
NOTE: we don’t include the Jehovah’s Witness version (New World Translation) to be a good translation.
- Why are there so many Bible translations, and which is the best? (Got Questions)
- Why So Many Versions? (Bible.org)
- Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation (Daniel B. Wallace)
It can be very difficult to approach this subject with an open mind, especially when we cannot let go of any presuppositions, even temporarily. Ultimately it comes down to you! The evidence is clear that the Bible is reliable in every way and has stood the test of time. People will continue to pick and choose what they want to believe and the Bible predicts that this will only get worse until Jesus Christ returns.
The Gospel message of salvation is the central theme of Scripture, it has remained consistent throughout history and it is no different now. God ensured Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had eyewitnesses whose testimonies give us the hope and guarantee that our sins have been paid for and that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.
The Bible is God’s message to us – will you take notice or keep making excuses!
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:15)
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. (Luke 21:33)