When we say that the
Bible is inspired, we are saying it is inspired in the original
documents. "Inspiredness is not a quality attaching to corruptions
which intrude in the course of the transmission of the text, but only to
the text as originally produced by the inspired writers. The
acknowledgment of biblical inspiration thus makes more urgent the task
of meticulous textual criticism, in order to eliminate such corruptions
and ascertain what that original text was."1 Therefore,
when critics of the Bible point out
apparent contradictions, what
they are doing is either failing to understand the context of the
passages they are examining, or they have encountered a scribal copying
error. The fact is that there are indeed copyist errors on the biblical
documents and they account for many alleged contradictions. Remember,
it is the autographs (original writings) that are inspired and inerrant,
not the copies. The copies we have now are copies of inspired
documents. The copies are not themselves "inspired"; that is, they have
no guarantee of being 100% textually pure. Does this then mean that we
can't trust the Bible? Not at all. The copies are so accurate that all
of the biblical documents are 98.5% textually pure. The 1.5% that is in
question is mainly nothing more than spelling errors and occasional word
omissions like the words "the", "but", etc. This reduces any serious
textual issues to a fraction of the 1.5% and none of these copying
errors affects doctrinal truths. Following are some types of copyist
Writing twice what should have been written once.
Improperly dividing one word into to words.
Combining the last letter of one word with the first letter of the
Writing once what should have been written twice.
Writing a word with a different meaning for another word when both
words have the exact same pronunciation.
Metathesis - An
improper exchange in the order of letters.
we need to clarify that the copies have "repeated" copyist errors.
This means that each of these copy errors
is counted as another, when in reality, they are repeated mistakes. Following is an illustration of how
these variants, as they are called, are
In the above
diagram, there are 26 total "documents" - designated by solid lines.
The red documents contain variants. In this illustration there
would be a total of nine variants in 26 copies. But, we can see
that they are really one variant that has been copied. This
illustrates why the Bible is actually extremely well preserved since we
are able reconstruct the document tree and see where variants are
introduced and then document them.
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940's, the oldest extant copy
of any Old Testament writings were the Masoretic Text dated around 916
AD. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, a complete copy of
Isaiah was found. Its date was 125 BC. The difference in dates
between the oldest copy and the newly discovered Isaiah document was 1000 years.
This provided a pristine opportunity to judge the copying
accuracy of the Old Testament documents since it would be easily
discernable which errors crept in over 1000 years. The documents proved to be
95% textually identical. The 5 percent that was different were
mainly misspellings of words and did not constitute any threat to the
content or reliability of the text. This shows how accurately it was
If the critics of the Bible want to through it out
because some of the copies of the documents are not perfectly identical,
then they must also throw out other ancient writings which are no where
near as well preserved as the biblical documents. Please consider
the chart below that compares the New Testament to other ancient
(The Gallic Wars)
||100 - 44
||427 - 347
||384 - 322
||480 - 425
||480 - 406
||50 - 90
This chart was
adapted from charts in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by
Josh McDowell, 1979, pages 42 and 43;
It is obvious
that the New Testament is far better preserved than any other ancient
text, yet, people have no problem believing in Caesar, Plato, and
The New Testament documents fall into three categories:
1) Greek manuscript copies, 2) other language copies, and 3) citations
in early church writings. The NT was written in Greek and we have
more than 5000 different Greek Manuscripts from which to compare.
Additionally, there are another 19,000 manuscripts of ancient origin
that are translations. That is, we have 19,000 manuscripts of the
New Testament in Latin, ..... And finally, all of the NT (except
for 11 verses) can be reconstructed from quotes of early church
writings. It is very well preserved.
Therefore, we can see that the Bible is an
ancient document that has withstood thousands of years of transmission
with remarkable accuracy and clarity. We can trust it to be what it
says it is: the word of God. It is reliable.
For more information on textual manuscripts please see:
Papyri, p1 through p76; 200 AD to 700
AD copies and Letter
Uncials; 4th to 10th century copies.
Martin Luther wrote to the prime
minister in Germany: “I have lately seen a miracle. I looked out of
the window at the stars in God’s whole heavenly dome. I nowhere saw
any pillars where the Master had placed such a dome still stands
fast. There are some who seek such pillars and would like very much
to feel and grasp them; because they cannot do it, they tremble and
write as if the heavens would certainly fall for no other reason
than that they cannot seize pillars. I would sooner expect to see
the heavens fall than to see one jot or tittle of all the Word of
1. The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois:
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.