Is the Bible a bad copy full of conflicting variances?
On our television program Christ in Prophecy, we asked this question of Dr. Ron Rhodes, the founder and director of a ministry called Reasoning from the Scriptures, located in Frisco, Texas. His ministry specializes in defending Christianity against Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, the cults, world religions, and about any group that teaches false doctrine. He is a seminary professor and an excellent writer who has written more than 70 books! His latest one is titled, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy.
Dr. Rhodes addressed some of the outlandish statements Newsweek magazine had made in a recent article that distort the Bible and treat Christianity with contempt.
The Differing Variances Argument
“In the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries. And what ‘biblical scholars’ now know is that later versions differ significantly from the earlier ones. In fact, even copies from the same time periods differ from one another.”
That is a common claim of liberal critics, and I emphasize that word “liberal.” The fact is that in talking about the New Testament manuscripts, I like to go back just a little bit further and begin with the Dead Sea Scrolls because that way we can understand the accuracy.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered back in 1947. One of the really cool things about that discovery is we now gained two different Isaiah manuscripts that were dated at 125 BC. Now what is cool about that is that the previous earliest manuscript that we had of Isaiah was from 895 AD. That means these manuscripts are separated by a 1,000 years!
When you compare the two sets of manuscripts, one of the things that you discover real quickly is that they are identical in 95% of the case. The 5% variation is mainly misspellings. Not a single doctrine is affected. That means accuracy. That is a 1,000 year span, and yet you’ve got that kind of incredible accuracy.
That brings me to the New Testament. There are differences in individual New Testament manuscripts. They are call variance. But, you see the thing is, even the critical scholars, people like Bart Ehrman who is attacking the New Testament, even they will admit that 99.9% of these variances have no consequence at all. Mainly they are misspellings or occasionally a word might get reversed. It might say “Christ Jesus” instead of “Jesus Christ” as an example, but in no way does it ever effect a single doctrine.
I want to illustrate to you the accuracy of understanding in what the original documents of the Bible actually said. I want to do an exercise with you if I could.
There is going to be an original document that we no longer have. I’ve got five copies of it, and I am going to read the five copies to you, and you tell me what you think the original said. The first manuscript says, “Believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.” The second manuscripts says, “Believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.” It’s identical. The third manuscript says, “Believe in Jesus for salvation.” The fourth manuscript says, “Believe in Jesus Christ to be saved.” The fifth manuscript says, “Believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.”
They all mean the same thing. Could you come up with the original? Of course you could determine the original! That’s 95% of the case in the New Testament manuscripts. It’s just like that. In fact, there are only 40 places in the New Testament where scholars have looked at it and have been more concerned about the exact reading, and not one of those effects any meaning in the New Testament.
I want to tell you something really important here. Did you know when Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Old Testament, they didn’t quote from actual books written by Moses, or Daniel, or Ezekiel, or Jeremiah, or any of those other guys? All that Jesus and the Apostles had were manuscript copies of those books. But, guess what? When they quoted from those books, they quoted from them as Scripture. They considered those manuscripts as so approximate to the original that they had virtually no hesitation in accepting those manuscript copies as the Word of God.
Surely the reason for the accuracy, of course, is God has been superintending this by protecting His Word. It is exactly correct that the scribes through the centuries treated the biblical manuscripts as the Word of God. When they made copies, they had a way of counting the letters across and the letters down to make absolutely certain it was a correct match. They used proof texting beyond proof texting. It was a very tedious process. Of course, that process shows itself in the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially when we compare those copies of the book of Isaiah.
Obviously, a God who can create a universe can keep a book remaining accurate across the centuries.