THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN ON PAPYRUS SCROLLS
The Old Testament (see Topics 29 and 33-34) was originally written in Hebrew on stone or clay tablets, and later copied to papyrus scrolls.
The New Testament (see Topics 29 and 36) was originally written in Greek on papyrus scrolls.
During the fourth century, scribes began copying the Bible on specially treated animal skins, bound in book form, and this continued until paper came into common use in the fourteenth century.
At the time of Jesus, Palestine (the Holy Land, now Israel) was under Roman political domination. Jews spoke Aramaic, and some Hebrew. Romans spoke Latin. But Greek was the common language of the civilized world and the language of commerce and industry. Greek is a language of great richness and flexibility, an excellent language for preserving God’s written message to us.
THE BIBLE IS COMPILATION OF GOD-INSPIRED WRITINGS
With normal page and type size, the Bible is typically about 1,000 pages in length, of which 770 pages are the Old Testament writings and 230 pages are the New Testament writings.
The Old Testament is important background, but all the essential things God wants us to know now are contained in the 27 writings (usually called books or letters) which comprise the New Testament.
The New Testament was started with personal letters from the Apostle Paul. As God directed, he wrote them to help the people in his new and struggling churches better understand the new life experience to which he had introduced them.
‘Apostle’ – as in Apostle Paul – is a Greek word meaning ‘one who is sent out.’ The word referred to a personal messenger or envoy, commissioned to transmit the message and/or carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. In New Testament usage, the word refers to the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, chosen and commissioned by him to accompany him during his ministry, to receive his teachings and observe his actions, and to carry on his work by starting churches and training church leaders.
It’s unlikely that the Apostle Paul knew he was producing literature, still less holy scripture. He probably regarded his writings merely as personal or group letters to produce an immediate practical result.
After Paul was executed by the Romans in about A.D. 62, the churches began collecting, copying and distributing his letters as a means of Christian instruction. This collection of letters began to reveal the new life more clearly than ever.
Later, the notes, recollections and research of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were compiled by them into the four Gospels (life of Christ), and into Acts (history of the early church), and into Revelation (or Apocalypse, future events).
ALL AGREE ON ACTUAL WORDS IN THE BIBLE
There’s only one Bible. There are not different Bibles, although there are different translations of the Bible and there are some differences of opinion whether or not to include an additional 15 non-conflicting Old Testament books called the apocrypha (see Topics 29 and 30).
People disagree on how to interpret and apply some words of the Bible, but there’s no significant disagreement as to what those actual words are.
The fact that there’s universal agreement on the original text of the Bible is in itself absolutely amazing, and it’s evidence of the Bible’s divine inspiration and preservation.
THE BIBLE IS VALIDATED BY ACADEMIC BIBLIOGRAPHY
Because papyrus and paper decay, there are no longer any original copies (autographs) of the Bible writings, or of any perishable writings from the ancient world. Therefore, without the originals, we must rely on copies of copies (manuscripts).
It’s at this point where critics voice their view that the Bible is not reliable because what we read has been copied and recopied so many times over the centuries. Because of human error and bias, they say, our Bible today has inevitably strayed from the original autographs.
They raise a powerful argument, but upon investigation the argument only helps prove the divine character of the Bible. Their presumption happens with human books, but the amazing fact is that it doesn’t happen with the Bible.
There’s a field of academic study – called bibliography – which applies scientific techniques and procedures to determine the authenticity and reliability of manuscripts. Thousands of manuscripts from the ancient world have been studied and analyzed by bibliographers and paleographers and now constitute our knowledge of the past, carefully guarded in the libraries and museums of the world. These manuscripts are accepted with varying degrees of confidence, depending upon how many manuscripts have been found, how they correspond with each other, how they correspond with history and archaeology, what effect they had on the people of their day, etc.
Among all the world’s time-honored manuscripts, the Bible has the most substantiating evidence and universal recognition of any writings known to man. There’s so much proof for the authenticity and reliability of the Bible text that, except for some minor passages, the text is virtually undisputed in the academic community, Christian and non-Christian alike.
THOUSANDS OF BIBLE MANUSCRIPTS STILL EXIST
The quality and quantity of the Bible manuscripts surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. Just for the New Testament alone, there are now in existence over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, over 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and over 1,000 manuscripts in other languages.
To put those numbers in perspective, the next most authenticated writing from the ancient world is by Homer (Illiad and Odyssey, written in the 9th or 8th century B.C., the two greatest epic poems of ancient Greece), of which there are less than 700 manuscripts. The next highest numbers are for Plato, Aristotle, Caesar and Tacitus, of which there are less than 20 manuscripts each.
Not only is there an astonishing number of Bible manuscripts still in existence – and even some recent finds, like the Dead Sea Scrolls – but there are over 36,000 manuscripts of ancient literature which quote the Bible, and these extra-biblical quotations are so thorough and extensive that the entire Bible could be reconstructed from them alone.
It’s astonishing that so many Bible manuscripts have been preserved, but it’s even more astonishing that there’s practically no text corruption in them. In other words, after all these centuries of copying, there are hardly any reproduction errors. They all say the exact same thing! A major reason, of course, is that the scribes (and monks) regarded these manuscripts as the precise words of God and copied them with fastidious care.
Scholars conclude that the Bible (in its Greek form) is 99.5% accurate, Homer is 95% accurate, and the other writings have varying degrees of lower accuracy. The passages in the Bible with the .5% reproduction error are known to biblographers, but only a small number of the variances have any significant bearing on the meaning of the text and none affect doctrine.
Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13, I Corinthians 15:9
Names of the apostles
God’s words will never pass away
For help, see Topic 29.