The Bible: Is It
The Same Today As When
It Was First Written? (Part 2)
by Bryan Gibson
In the last article, we looked at the fact that God has both the ability and the desire to preserve His word, so it is indeed a serious matter to charge Him with failing to do so. We should have faith that God has so preserved His word that it is still “able to save our souls” (James 1:21).
But what if we go back and look at the ancient documents or manuscripts that our translators use? Some have thought that with the variations in these manuscripts, we just can’t be sure that what we have today is God’s word. This scientific or historical look at these ancient documents is often called “textual criticism,” and despite what the word criticism implies, it should actually reinforce the faith of Christians. Let’s focus today on the reliability of the Old Testament, and then in a later article, we will deal with the New Testament.
Until the 1940’s, the earliest available O.T. Hebrew manuscripts were dated about A.D. 900. Called the Masoretic text, it was considered a reliable text because it was copied under such strict guidelines intended to safeguard accuracy. But with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, an opportunity to test their accuracy was given to textual critics. These scrolls are dated from about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 68 and though all of the O.T. was not found there, portions of every book except Esther were found. In addition to the fragments, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found and despite 1000 years between it and the oldest Masoretic text, the Masoretic text was shown to be substantially unchanged. With the Dead Sea scrolls verifying the accuracy of the Hebrew text and the witness of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament done in about 200 B.C.), along with some other ancient versions, you will find that there are few readings of the O.T. in dispute. The readings that are disputed do not affect the teachings of Scripture in anyway.
Then consider how Jesus and His apostles dealt with the O.T. They lived 1500 years after its beginning and 400 years after its completion. Did they see it as reliable? Clearly, they did, because they often read it or quoted from it, sometimes from the Hebrew, sometimes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation referred to earlier). They did so with confidence, even to arguments based on tense and number (for examples, see Mark 12:26-27; Galatians 3:16). Consider the confidence Jesus expressed in the fine details of the O.T.: “…till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
So should textual criticism shake our faith in the reliability of the O.T.? Not in the least. Sure, there are some variations in the different manuscripts, but as we pointed out earlier, there are relatively few, and they do not change the teaching of the text in anyway. In short, when you read the O.T., you have every reason to believe that you are reading God’s word.