The Bible: Word of God or Word of Men?


A frequent objection I get to the articles on my site is the claim that the Bible is just a piece of great literature, like the works of Homer. Furthermore, it is claimed, the books of the Bible have been changed so much over the years since they were originally written (several millennia ago in some cases), that even if the Bible was the Word of God, there's no way of discerning today what parts are actually the words of God, and what parts have been added (intentionally or not) by men. Therefore, the Bible must be full of mistakes and no longer relevant to our society today. But if, just for the sake of argument, the Bible were the Word of God, then wouldn't it be logical to conclude that He would preserve it, and that if He bothered to give us a revelation, He would have made it relevant to people of all ages? I think so.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW


The Bible is a collection of books, 66 in all, which are divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament means "covenant" or "agreement." The Old Testament refers to the relationship that God established with His chosen people, the Israelites, through two men, Abraham and Moses. Included in this covenant was a set of laws that the people were to obey.

Because of the nature of man, the Israelites were unable to keep the laws perfectly, and therefore, they broke the covenant repeatedly and continually. Therefore, through some prophets, God told His people that He would establish a new covenant, the laws of which He would write on people's hearts, not stone tablets (as He did with the Ten Commandments).

The new covenant began when God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a man. Through this sinless Man's death on a cross, which paid for humanity's failure to keep the terms of the old covenant, God made His new covenant open to everyone who would believe. Now, all people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died to pay for their sins and rose from the dead to give them new life are involved in the new covenant with God. This story is told in the New Testament of the Bible.

JUST ANOTHER GREAT PIECE OF LITERATURE?


The Bible is not "just another great piece of literature." There is no other book like it. The Bible writers repeatedly claimed that they were transmitting the very Word of God, infallible and authoritative in the highest degree. Shakespeare never claimed anything of the sort. To claim that you are transmitting God's own words is an astonishing thing for any writer to say, and if the forty people who wrote the Bible were not actually doing so, then they must have been lying, or insane, or both.

Millions of people throughout the ages, however, have believed the claims of the authors. What on earth would make so many people believe such an absurd claim? The answer is that the Bible is unique. If the Bible is not the Word of God, it surely shows the signs of a book that is.

Prophecy

The Bible contains hundreds of prophecies. This in itself is not unique, for there are thousands of books that contain prophecies. Only the Bible, however, contains prophecy after prophecy that has been fulfilled. The prophecies of people like Nostradamus, Joseph Smith, and others are vague and interspersed with unfulfilled prophecies and nonsense. Their writings do not even come close to rivaling the Bible, which manifests unparalleled prophetic evidence.

There are extensive prophecies in the Bible dealing with individual nations and cities and with the course of history in general, all of which have been literally fulfilled. For example, Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed 40 years before it actually happened in A.D. 70, and Jesus Himself fulfilled more than 300 prophecies at His first coming.

Historical Accuracy

The Bible is also unique in that it records history accurately, whereas other ancient writings often rewrite history in favor of glorifying their nations. The Bible has been proven historically accurate time and time again, and every time accusations are made, they are laid to rest by archeological discoveries. Professor Millar Burrows wrote about the underlying reason why some scholars reject the authority of the Bible:

The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural...On the whole, however, archeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record.1
Scientific Accuracy

Contrary to the claims of modern day skeptics, the Bible is completely accurate when it comes to science. Some people claim, for example, that the Bible teaches a flat earth, but it actually very clearly teaches that the earth is round (Isaiah 40:22). George Washington was literally bled to death in the 1700's by doctors who believed that sickness was caused by "bad blood." If only they had more carefully studied the Bible, they would have known that "the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11)." Other scientific insights include: the law of conservation of mass and energy (II Peter 3:7), the hydrologic cycle (Ecclesiastes 1:7), the law of increasing entropy (Psalm 102:25-27), atmospheric circulation (Ecclesiastes 1:6), and the gravitational field (Job 26:7).

The Bible's Effect on People

To quote Henry Morris,
The Bible is unique also in terms of its effect on individual men and on the history of nations. It is the all-time best seller, appealing both to hearts and minds, beloved by at least some in every race or nation or tribe to which it has gone, rich or poor, scholar or simple, king or commoner, men of literally every background and walk of life. No other book has ever held such universal appeal nor produced such lasting effects.2
THE TRANSMISSION OF THE BIBLE


So how did we get the Bible? Since it is so old, isn't it safe to assume that it has been altered and corrupted over the ages? Actually, the Bible is also unique in its transmission.

The Old Testament

Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The autographs (original writings) of the Old Testament have vanished. However, Jewish scribes throughout the ages took meticulous care in producing copies of the Scripture, because they regarded the text as being God-breathed -- inspired down to the very letter.

As scrolls wore out or further copies were needed in other synagogues, Jewish scribes would make additional copies. They made new copies with fastidious care. It is known that scribes would count the number of letters on the new copy and compare it with the original in an attempt to find even one letter difference between the two. If the copy was flawed, it would be corrected or discarded. This practice continued generation after generation.

Masoretic Manuscripts

From the sixth to the tenth century A.D., the Masoretes (European Jewish scribes) continued the tradition of copying and preserving the Old Testament. Several of these manuscripts still exist today.

Dead Sea Scroll Manuscripts

Until the twentieth century, the Masoretic manuscripts were the oldest copies of the Old Testament on record. However, in 1947, a Bedouin Arab shepherd boy made an extraordinary discovery. He found a hidden cave in Qumran near the Dead Sea that ultimately yielded over one thousand manuscript fragments of the Bible dating back before A.D. 68. These manuscripts are a thousand years older than any of the Masoretic manuscripts. Scholars found that the most authoritative Masoretic Hebrew text, Textus Receptus, was virtually identical to these ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. After carefully comparing the biblical manuscripts, they discovered that, aside from a tiny number of spelling variations, there were no significant differences between the ancient scrolls found in the caves and the Masoretic manuscripts. This shows that Jewish scribes copied the text for over a millennium with extreme accuracy, and provides concrete proof that the text we have today is essentially the same as it was in Moses' day.

The New Testament

Christians began to make copies of the New Testament writings before the end of the first century. Like the Old Testament autographs, the autographs of the New Testament have been lost, so we depend on copies for the text. Unlike the Old Testament manuscripts, it has been estimated that there are 200,000 variants in the New Testament manuscripts. In James White summarizes the problem as follows:
If you put ten people in a room and asked them all to copy the first five chapters of the Gospel of John, you would end up with ten "different" copies of John. In other words, no two handwritten copies would be absolutely identical to each other. Someone would skip a word that everyone else has. One person would misspell that one word that they can never get right. Someone would probably skip a line, or even a verse, especially if there were similar words at the beginning or end of the verse before and the verse after. So you would end up with a lot of variants. But would you not have ten copies of the same book? Yes, you would, and by comparing all ten copies you could rather easily reproduce the text of the original, because when one person makes a mistake, the other nine are not likely to do so at the very same spot.3
Since the manuscripts were copied by many different scribes, we realize that readings don't just disappear. We have more, not less, than what was originally written. What that means is that we still have the original readings of the New Testament! It is our duty, therefore, to discover which one it is. When we examine the 200,000 variants, we find that they only occur in about 10,000 places, and do not have a significant effect on the text. In fact, it has been estimated that 98.33 per cent is pure.

At the present, we have more than six thousand manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament or portions of it. No other work of Greek literature comes close to those numbers. Homer's Iliad, the most copied of all Greek classical works, is found in full in only about 650 manuscripts. Furthermore, the amount of time between the original composition of any New Testament manuscript and the next surviving manuscript is far less than for any other work in Greek literature. The lapse for most classical Greek works is about eight hundred to a thousand years, while the lapse for many books in the New Testament is only a hundred years or less. New Testament scholars, therefore, have the resources to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament with extreme accuracy.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?


The Bible is an extraordinary book. We have in our possession the same words that Abraham, Moses, David, and all believers after them had in their possession. If the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God, then it is of supreme importance. You should read it every day, because it is God's message to you. If your teacher hands out a syllabus, you are expected to do the assignments, just as if she had spoken the instructions to you. In the same way, God may not have spoken His commandments to you audibly, but He has given them to you in written form, and you are expected to follow them just the same. Read the Bible: you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

References


Much of the information in this article was found in Quicknotes: The Origin of the Bible, by Philip W. Comfort, Ph.D., published by Tyndale House.

1. Burrows, Millar, What Mean These Stones? (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 258-259.
2. How do we know the Bible is true? by Henry Morris and Martin Clark.
3.White, James, The King James Only Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House), 38-39.