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Trusting Bible Manuscripts

When pondering ancient texts, people wonder why we should trust biblical manuscripts. After all, we do not have the originals. We do have copies that have been passed down through time. Lots of them. In fact, there are far fewer copies of works by Plato, Caesar, and other ancient writers, and there is a tremendous gap between when they were written and the oldest manuscripts — and people trust their authenticity for some reason. What makes the Bible more reliable?

People wonder why we should trust the Bible since the manuscripts are so ancient. There are many reasons to be certain that God has preserved his Word.
Section of P-45 Greek papyrus manuscript of the Gospel of Luke, via Wikimedia Commons
It has been suggested that since people tend to worship and idolize things, God has not made the originals available. That may also be the reason the body of Moses was buried by God (Deuteronomy 34:5–6). For that matter, I heard someone say that if a miracle happened on a particular spot, people would adore the spot instead of the one who performed the miracle. I'll allow that this is all speculation, but it makes sense.

Biblical manuscripts have been found that date way back yonder, and older copies have been discovered as well. When compared, there are no significant differences, and nothing has ever contradicted major Christian doctrines. Jewish scribes took their work very seriously, and it wasn't just a matter of corralling several manuscripts and picking those based on personal preference, nor was it like a supervisor tossing a copy on a desk and telling the scribe, "Here, copy this. And try not to spill your soy latte on it this time!" It was a sacred duty. Also note that Christians do not attempt to hide known variations. That is why you will see footnotes in your Bibles.

Those ancient scrolls are mighty fragile. One was recently "read" through imaging technology. The scroll is essentially the same as what is available today.

There is an area of scholarship called textual criticism where manuscripts are evaluated. (This is not to be confused with higher criticism, which utilizes circular reasoning based on secularist presuppositions.) It has been shown that God has indeed preserved his Word.
Why does my reference Bible have notes at the bottom of the page that say things like “Some manuscripts add . . .” or “some early manuscripts omit . . .”?
This is not a minor issue. Headed by Bart Ehrman, a growing movement claims that we cannot be sure what the original Bible said.
First off, there is no other ancient literature so well attested by so many manuscripts (handwritten copies of the original text) over such a length of time, as the Christian’s Bible. But since we don’t have the originals, written by Isaiah or Paul for example, would the many copies made over the years introduce thousands of mistakes, as Erhman and others believe?
Let’s check it out so you know what to say next time someone makes this claim.
To read the rest or download the audio, click on "Trusting the Text". The author is Brian H. Edwards, and you may be interested in some of his related material, here.