Is the Bible Reliable?

Bob Martin October 28, 2000

I. Welcome:


We’re glad you could join us for our study on Reasons to Believe.  Q:  How many of you were NOT here last week?


II. What is the series?


Our goal has been to show you compelling evidences to demonstrate why Christianity is the true religion and anything that opposes it is false.  Pastor Dutton and I teach a class that covers this material in much greater detail than we will cover here.  We’d like to invite you to participate in that class.


III.  Review


1. For this study on defending the faith or APOLOGETICS, our theme verse for us as a church family has been 1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (stressing the importance of living a godly life).
2. We’ve been saying that there are two forms of belief:  Belief THAT something is true and a belief IN something. Apologetics only deals with a belief that God exists, Jesus is God, and the Bible is the Word of God. Only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to the salvation experience of believing in God, Titus 3:5.
3. Two weeks ago, you met my unbelieving friend, Sherlock, who didn’t’ believe that truth exists – which is an illogical belief because it is a truth claim that truth doesn’t exist. He introduced us to 3 of his friends that had various views on the nature of truth.   We took some time and pointed out how each of his friends were not only unbiblical in their thinking, but they were also illogical in their thinking:
1. Skepticism
2. Relativism
3. Pluralism
4. Don’t get nervous, we want to meet people where they are and lead them kindly and loving to the place they need to be -- to the cross!
1. Last week, 3 of my friends did a fabulous job helping me to present to Sherlock some compelling arguments for God’s existence and answered some very important questions often asked to a Christian.  For example:
1)  If the perfect God of the bible exists, how do you explain the existence of evil?  The answer is simple:  Evil exists because God gave man a free will to chose to obey or disobey.  You can take away evil, but you’d also have to take away man’s free will to chose!
2)  If the perfect God of the bible exists and He knew Lucifer and Adam would sin against Him, then why did He create them in the first place?  Answer:  Even though God knew Adam would sin, He still provided a way to restore the relationship between God and man – the gospel!
3)  If the perfect God of the bible exists, then what is the purpose of suffering?  Answer:  Even though we don’t always know or understand the purpose of suffering, God has a good purpose because He is an ALL-good God (we can know it by looking to His Word)
4)  If the perfect God of the bible exists, why would he send anyone to hell?  The answer:  God doesn’t want to send anyone to hell; He has made provision for man’s salvation!


IV.  Transition to tonight’s topic


1. Tonight, as usual, we face some new issues with my friend, Sherlock.  He doesn’t want to accept the historical reliability of the NT – in other words, he seriously doubts the validity of the bible!
2. For the Christian, we understand the Bible pre-supposes God's existence – Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” AND that God has spoken to us through His Word, 2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
3. While we believe that is true, tonight, we will demonstrate to Sherlock some compelling “REASONS TO BELIEVE” that the Bible is historically reliable, and is the most trustworthy book ever written – that it is THE WORD OF God!
4. Help me welcome my friend, Sherlock Holmes!


V. Sketch

-- Sherlock enters

Sherlock:  Good to see you again, Bob.  This is becoming a weekly event!

Bob:  Three down, three to go! But I’m enjoying this!

Sherlock:  Yeah! Me too!  But I’m still not convinced!

Bob:  I know, I know – but I’m glad you’re listening – and I’m glad you’re asking good questions! .

Sherlock:  Your friends really taught me something last week!  I left and told some of my friends about what Dr. Cosmo, Dr. D., and the Judge had to say.  My friends said, “Yeah, those Christians, they’re always saying things like that!”

Bob:  What did you tell them?

Sherlock: I told them that you didn’t just quote bible verses to me – although I know you do sometimes – but that what we talked about facts about the universe and human life that even my scientific friends had no answers for it!

Bob: That’s interesting!

Sherlock:  I told what you said about how all those facts add up better to your worldview as a Christian than to any other worldview.

Bob: What did your friends say then?

Sherlock:  Nothing!  They got pretty quiet – they never heard me talk like that before!

Bob:  So that means you are coming around to a different worldview?

Sherlock:  I didn’t say that – but I am thinking about what you’ve said – and thinking about those Bible verses you keep sneaking in on me!

Bob:  What are you talking about?

Sherlock:  Don’t try to deny the truth!

Bob: (excitingly) SO YOU ADMIT THAT TRUTH EXISTS?

Sherlock:  (jokingly – curled fist) Hey, do you want to go meet that God we’ve been talking about?

By the way, I’ve got some more questions – actually one BIG question!  See, you keep quoting those Bible verses to me like I can trust the Bible.  Everybody knows the bible is full of errors – it’s just another book.  There are other religions that claim to have a reliable source of truth.

Bob:  But Sherlock . . .

Sherlock:  I know, I know – they can’t ALL be true!

Bob: Sherlock, I can’t believe you said that!

Sherlock:  (jokingly) Do you want to go meet that God again?

Bob: No, no, no – but after tonight, I think you’ll be one step closer to accepting the Bible as an accurate, historical document!

Sherlock:  What do you mean by that?

Bob: I’m not asking you to believe the Bible is the Word of God, yet.  I simply want you to realize that as a piece of ancient literature, it is UNSURPASSED for it’s accuracy of transmission, it’s internal reliability (that is, it’s claims to be the truth), and the for the external evidence that points to its truthfulness!

If all this is true, then there are some pretty serious implications to all that!

Sherlock:  Sounds pretty heavy!

Bob:  Not really.  In fact, would you be willing to go to church with me?

Sherlock:  (shock) GO TO CHURCH – WITH YOU?  I like you Bob, but I don’t know about going to church! Do you guys handle snakes and stuff, or what?

Bob:  (sarcastically) Sherlock, do you want to go meet that God I’ve been talking about???

Sherlock:  OK, OK, . . . I’ll go – but, they won’t embarrass me or ask me to pray in public will they?

Bob:  No way – of course not!  These folks are just like us – normal, everyday people.  They are friendly and kind, and I promise you, nobody’s going to embarrass you.  I think you’ll like it!

And besides, he will preach so long that there won’t be time to embarrass you!!!

Seriously, my pastor just so happens to speaking tonight on this subject of the historical reliability of the NT, and I think you will learn some things if you’ll come and listen.  By the way, he’s the second best preacher at our church!

Sherlock:  Really?  Who’s the first?

Bob:  I’ll tell you later.  Come on, so we won’t be late!

[Viars teaches for 40 minutes]


- This evening I’d like to talk to you about the question, Is the Bible a Historically Accurate Document?
- If you’ve come to the place of believing that there is such a thing as truth....and I hope you have because there are reasons to believe that....
- and if you’ve come to the place of believing that God exists....and I hope you have because there are reasons to believe that as well...
- then the question becomes, where can you go to learn about God....
- it becomes a question of epistemology, what is going to be your source of truth?

- now, as unusual as this may sound, it is not my primary purpose tonight to convince you that the Bible is the Word of God....[though those of you who know me know that I believe that...but that discussion will come another time]
- It is our purpose tonight to convince you that the Bible is a historically reliable document, preserved and passed down with incredible care and precision...
- and what that means is....if a person chooses not to agree with the Bible’s message....their disagreement is not with the mode of transmission....their disagreement is with the original writers themselves.

- with the time we have remaining, I’d like to offer 4 brief but compelling reasons to believe that the Bible is a historically reliable document.

I.  The Reliability of the Bible is Demonstrated by the Number of Existing Manuscripts.


- now we all know that we have a challenge whenever we’re studying ancient literature.
- that is, there was no method available to write in such a way that perfect preservation was possible.
- they didn’t copy their words on a computer disk...
- they didn’t run off a thousand copies on a printing press or Xerox machine.
- copies were made by hand on material that could easily be damaged or destroyed.

- however, we know from secular history that people made their living copying ancient documents.
- it was both a science and an art...where meticulous attention was given to the copying task....after copying a page of the document, they would count the rows....they would count the letters....they would do their best to get it right.....
- sometimes a person would read a document to ten or more copyists at a time...it would be like a human Xerox machine...but again these people did this as an occupation.

- as a copy wore out or began to disintegrate, or when more copies were needed, additional ones were made.
- so now in our modern age, we have the ability to preserve those copies and study them.
- one of the key questions in evaluating any ancient document is, well, how many copies do we have?
- and the answer to that question doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but it is an important starting place.


- let’s answer that first from some other ancient writers....
Herodotus - 496-406 B.C. - 8
[8 copies of portions of his writings --- we’ll talk about how old they are in a minute]
Plato - 427-327 B.C. - 7
Aristotle - 384-322 B.C. - 5
Lucretius - 60 B.C. - 2
Tacitus - 100 A.D. - 20

- you probably remember some of these names from your ancient history classes.
- my guess is that your professor never questioned whether these people really lived, or whether the manuscript copies of what they wrote were reliable.
- but what I’d like you to see is that the conclusion of reliability is made in each case on the basis of a small number of ancient [not original] manuscripts.

- however, when it comes to the Bible, do you know how many ancient manuscripts we have that contain some portion of the Bible?
- over 5000.
- and those are copies of the Bible itself.
- we’re not talking yet about ancient manuscripts where the Bible in its original language was translated into a different ancient language.....
- nor are we talking about places where the Bible was quoted by other ancient writers....
- right now we’re talking about ancient manuscripts that contain portions of the Bible itself....over 5000 ancient manuscripts.

- that is why New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce said - “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”

- J. Harold Geenlee says - “The number of available manuscripts of the New Testament is overwhelmingly greater than those of any work of ancient literature.”

- by the way, that quote raises an important issue.
- much of what I’m talking to you about tonight is referring to the NT, because that’s generally where the doubts come in.
- there is generally not near as much problem with the OT because the Jews agreed completely on what books should be in the OT, they had a natural place to keep copies of God’s Word, and they were known for meticulously copying it in ways that bordered on worship of the book itself.

- now you might say, OK Pastor Viars, I see that the Bible is unique in the number of existing ancient manuscripts....moreso than any other book.
- but what happens when you compare them?
- it doesn’t help to have a lot if when you compare them, they don’t match.
- the existence of a lot of manuscripts may actually hurt the Bible if when you compare them, the words are different.
- that’s a good point...thank you for raising it.


II.  The Reliability of the Bible is Demonstrated by the Similarity of the Existing Manuscripts.


- the fascinating thing about studying these ancient manuscripts is how similar they are to one another.
- even in a system where the possibility for mistakes was so high, as scholars compare these manuscripts, they have concluded that we can determine the original text with 99.9% assurance.
- now remember, our view of inspiration is that the original autographs were inspired of God....
- and no one has the original autograph...the original writing....if we did, people would probably have made a shrine to it and worshipped it.
- but where you would have expected to find documents riddled with errors, you find the exact opposite.

- here’s one of many examples that could be cited.
- up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest copy of the book of Isaiah we possessed was from A.D. 900.
- now that’s still pretty old, but remember, we believe Isaiah would have originally written that book in the 600’s BC, so there was a span of 1500 years from when he wrote to the copy we possessed.

- however, when the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, a copy of the book of Isaiah was found that was dated about 100 B.C.
- now, I don’t want to lose you in the math....
- Isaiah wrote in 600 B.C.....
- our oldest copy was from 900 A.D. [a span of 1500 years]
- then we have another copy written in 100 B.C.

- the obvious task was to compare the 2 copies.....
- because now we have something a lot closer to when Isaiah originally wrote....
- and it is also a full 1000 years earlier than the oldest copy we previously possessed, so we can see all the changes and errors that had crept in over a 1000 year period of hand copies.

- you can imagine the liberals chomping at the bit to get this study going and prove the unreliability of the Bible.
- do you know what they found?
- practically complete agreement....
- a word had been left out here, one added there....nothing affecting a major doctrine....
- the words of the texts were almost in complete agreement....

- by the way, one of the verses in that book, Isaiah 40:8 says....
Isaiah 40:8 - The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

- now someone might say, well PV, that’s fine....but what about the age of the manuscripts?
- you’ve proven that we have a lot of them, much more so than any other ancient piece of literature....and you’ve proven that the texts themselves are in substantial agreement with one another.....but what if they’re all relatively recent copies.
- maybe there’s a lot of them, and maybe they agree with one another....but the reason is that hundreds and hundreds of years elapsed between when they were written and the copies we have.

- that’s an interesting point, because having a lot of manuscripts that agree with one another is not necessarily a strong case unless those documents, or at least a portion of them, were copied soon after the original writers first wrote them.
- friend, I’m happy to announce to you that....


III.  The Reliability of the Bible is Demonstrated by the Age of the Existing Manuscripts


- do you remember those ancient writers we spoke about a few minutes ago.
- there’s something else I’d like you to see about their writings....

Herodotus - 496-406 B.C. - 8 - 1300 A.D.
Plato - 427-327 B.C. - 7 - 1200 A.D.
Aristotle - 384-322 B.C. - 5 - 1400 A.D.
Lucretius - 60 B.C. - 2 - 1600 A.D.
Tacitus - 100 A.D. - 20 - 1000 A.D.

- and again, in any high school or college classroom, when you hear these writers discussed...
- there is no question about whether they really lived...
- there is no question about whether they really wrote what they wrote....
- there is no question about whether we have an accurate version of their writings, though in many cases the manuscripts of their writings are relatively recent....
- there were hundreds and in some cases thousands of years between when they wrote and the age of the copies we possess.

- what about the Bible?
- this is where this discussion gets downright enjoyable.
- because friends, we have manuscripts that date back to within a generation of when the words were first written.
- the John Ryland fragment of a portion of the Gospel of John is dated is dated at 114 A.D.
- in a group of manuscripts called the Bodmore papyri, we have copies of entire books of the Bible within 150 years of their writing.

- that’s why Harold Greenlee went on to say, “The number of available manuscripts of the New Testament is overwhelmingly greater than those of any work of ancient literature...the earliest extant manuscripts of the New Testament were written much closer to the date of the original writing.”

- now, a whole other part of this discussion that I haven’t even mentioned yet is the matter of how often and how early the Bible was quoted by other ancient writers.
- when we say that we have over 5000 existing manuscripts of portions of the Bible, we’re talking about the Bible itself.

- but we also have thousands of ancient examples of the Bible being translated into other languages.
- and there again, the studies yield the same kinds of data....
- there are a lot of manuscripts....
- there is strong textual agreement....
- and the manuscripts in many cases are very close to the originals....
- much more so that other ancient writers and writings.

- now, here’s something else about this date business....the Bible was also quoted extensively by the early church fathers.
- they wrote in the 200’s and 300’s A.D.
- and when we read their writings, we can reconstruct the entire NT except for 11 verses.

- so, a. we have a lot of manuscripts, and b.when you compare the text of the manuscripts, there is great agreement, and c. the manuscripts are very old, in some cases quite close to the time they were written.

- now someone might say --- but PV, what about the amount of time between when the original writer wrote, and when the events actually happened?
- that’s a great question too.
- take a book like I Corinthians....most scholars date that letter to have been written at 55-56 A.D.
- now how long was that from the actual resurrection of Christ?
- not long, 22-23 years.
- people who had seen those things were still alive.

- yet Paul sets forth in great detail in chapter 15 that the resurrection of Christ was a historical event, and that hundreds of people had seen the resurrected Christ....in other words, if  you believe him, go interview them.
- Paul would have been insane to writ that information that close to the actual events if they could be proven false...yet that’s exactly what they did.

- now someone might say, OK....I understand what you’re saying about amount, and date, and agreement in the actual words.....
- but here’s a question for you.....surely all these writers don’t agree on the content.
- in other words, maybe we have an accurate record of their words....but when we compare what one writer wrote with another, surely the content wouldn’t agree.
- after all, there were 39 or 40 of them....they wrote over a time span of 1500 years...
- even if we have an accurate representation of what they said...surely they contradicted one another.

- you know, that would be a good question.
- please think of it from this perspective for a moment....

- how many of you watched the presidential debate this past Tuesday evening? [hands?]
- so you were eyewitnesses, right?
- and you live at the same time....in the same place....you speak the same language....and you probably have similar core values and beliefs.....

- what would happen if we asked 10 people here to write a 2 page essay reporting the events of Tuesday night, and then compared the essays?
- you know the answer to that question already, don’t you?

- we’d be asking questions like....did these people watch the same event?
- are you sure this was the same night?
- were they listening to the same people?
- were they on the same planet?

- [develop --- that same thing happens in counseling when people are reporting their side of an event....]

- but what happens when you open the Bible....


IV.  The Reliability of the Bible is Demonstrated by the Agreement of the Bible Writers.


- What you find as you read God’s Word is that all of the writers are telling different parts of the same story.
- it’s a story about the sinfulness of man.
- it’s a story about the holiness and justice and righteousness of God.
- but it’s also a story about His love, and His mercy, and His forgiveness.
- it’s a story about redemption.
- it’s a story about His glory.
- it’s a story about how He can save, and change, and use people.
- it’s a story about the what will happen in the future.

- and we would expect documents written by 10 different people in this room, at the same time, in the same place, reporting on the same event to be substantially different.

- yet this book, written over a span of 1500 years, using 39 or 40 different authors, tells different parts of the same story.

- and I realize that the skeptic will say....but what about all the contradictions in the Bible.
- the best response to that is, please name one.
- frankly, that usually ends the discussion.
- and the fact is, most of the Bible is very understandable.
- in places that are difficult, there are principles of Bible study that often help us understand and unravel passages that are hard.
- and occasionally there are times we have to honestly say, “we don’t know.”
- but it is amazing [it fact it is miraculous], that a book written over such a long period time by so many different people would have such substantive agreement in its message.

- now, in order to stay within my allotted time frame, I’m leaving a lot of things out.
- we haven’t talked about the literally thousands of places where the Bible claims to be the Word of God.
- we haven’t talked about the nature of inspiration.
- we haven’t talked about how the church came to recognize the books of the Bible, but Pastor Dutton gave an entire message on the topic of canonicity back in October 22, 1995.

- so there’s a lot we’re leaving out for sake of time.
- but let me take one more minute to thread this together with what we’re studying in our ABF’s, and then we’ll turn it back to Dr. Martin.
- remember that Jesus told his disciples that when He returned to heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit, who would guide them in all truth.
- those men were known as apostles....and they were used as part of the foundation of the church.
- as you survey the book of Acts, the issue of apostolic authority is very prevalent.
- what they had to say was carefully followed by the early church during its transitional period.

- after the apostles died, many of them martyred for their faith, they [or their near associates] left us the inspired writings....collected into our Bibles.

- the manuscript evidence for this book is unlike any other.
- the number of manuscripts is amazing....
- the similarity of the manuscripts is astounding....
- the age of the manuscripts is unparalleled....
- and the agreement of the writers is miraculous....

- and what that means is, for any person who chooses not to believe the Bible and act on its message....their disagreement is not with the mode of transmission....their disagreement is with what the original writers themselves said.

- the message has been reliably passage down...the question for all of us is....will you believe it?

Bob Martin

  • M.D. - Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • M.A. - Southern Evangelical Seminary
  • Professor of Apologetics - Faith Bible Seminary

Bob is married to Deb with five adult children and practices medicine in southern Indiana. He has been on faculty at Johns Hopkins, Case Western Reserve, Southern Illinois, Indiana Universities, and Purdue Pharmacy School.