14 February 2012

Has the Bible been modified?

If we are to trust the Bible we need to know that it faithfully reproduces what was written by the original authors almost two thousand years ago, or earlier. It turns out that the Bible stands up to scrutiny better than any other ancient book.

Damaged papyrus of Matthew's gospelThe Bible is not really a book in the normal sense, rather it is a library of books written at different times and by different authors. Some versions of the Bible may include or exclude particular books for a variety of reasons.

But what can we say of the accuracy by which the books have been copied over the years and centuries since they were originally written? And how do the books of the Bible compare in terms of reliability with, say, Plato or Aristotle, Caesar or Cicero?

Surprisingly, we have a great deal of evidence for the reliability of both Old and New Testament books. Far more than we do for any of those other ancient books.

This is well-summarised in a web document by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Here's a claim made on that web page. Take a look at the page itself for the supporting argument.
The New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings. Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy... and they are very consistent.
Notice especially the table that shows how other respected ancient documents don't even come close in terms of early copies.

This section from an article on Wikipedia supports the accuracy of the New Testament, while another article, Textual variants in the New Testament, actually lists them for us. The majority are very minor indeed.

Whatever we may say about the comparisons to be made between the Bible and other ancient books, we may be quite certain that the Bible we read today has been faithfully copied. The New Testament we can buy and read today is very, very close to the original works written almost 2000 years ago. For the vast majority of the text (99.5%) the match is perfect across all copies.

Translation - Doesn't translation affect the meaning of the text, changing it from the originally intended sense? The purpose of good translation should always be to render the original meaning in a different language as accurately as possible. Many of the Bible translators have gone to extreme lengths in research, learned debate, discussion, checking, inviting critical comment, reviewing and revising. All this before they even consider printing a new version.

A far greater danger would be lack of translation, with less knowledgeable people trying to understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and probably making mistakes.

Paraphrase versions, like the Living Bible and idiomatic translations like The Message do their best to make the text more readable. These are not intended to replace the formal equivalence of more typical translations, but they can be an excellent way to introduce the Bible, making it more accessible and providing impact and immediacy.

Study aids - For serious study I recommend reading several modern translations along with Hebrew or Greek interlinears, good commentaries and Bible dictionaries (giving the range of meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words). There are excellent tools online, take a look at Bible Gateway and Biblos, but there are others out there. Try some out and bookmark those you find most useful.

And rest assured, the source material you are using (directly or indirectly) is of high quality and pretty much identical with what was originally written.

(Check linked articles on other blogs - please explore!)

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