One of the most common objections levelled against Bible-believing Christians is that the Bible is unreliable or has been corrupted in some way. If this was true, it would render the word of God false and have serious implications – the Christian faith hinges on the historicity of the events described within the texts. Therefore, exploring the reliability of the Bible text is extremely important and should be the top priority for anyone genuinely interested in the life of Jesus Christ.
It is also useful to have some apologetic tools to equip us when discussing this question with those who are asking honest questions. As with anything, if someone wants a reason NOT to believe something, they will usually find a reason – here, we are interested in those genuinely are seeking answers to this question.
The Bible makes an impressive claim and describes the text as ‘God-breathed’ – quite a statement:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)
Taken at face value, this means that if the text of Scripture can be proved to be not credible and full of contradictions then that implicates the integrity of God. Here we are obviously referring to the original texts as written or dictated by the authors of Biblical material – errors can creep into translation but we want to know whether we can trust that the Bible provides an accurate record of events and messages?
Our aim for this article to not to give a complete account of every piece of evidence as this would a huge task – however, we will provide a summary with references to articles and videos that provide more information. So, is the Bible reliable? We hope to demonstrate that there is good evidence to trust in the Bible as God’s true word to us. Are you willing to take an open-minded look at the evidence?
One way to have confidence in Scripture is to look at fulfilled prophecies in the Bible. There are hundreds of prophecies that have already been fulfilled which are covered in more detail in our Can you prove the Bible? page. Suffice is it to say that the prophetic nature of the text provides an incredible authentication of God’s message and demonstrates the texts of Scripture have an origin outside our time domain!
Many recent archaeological finds provide amazing support for the historical accuracy of Biblical texts, in many cases to reinforce confidence where there had previously been reason to doubt the accuracy of the transmission of the text. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the historicity of both the Old and New Testaments.
Despite being mocked and ridiculed for being a book of ‘fairy tales’ with no support, new discoveries continue to provide the support that the Bible is based on historical accounts. For example, the existence of a tribe known as the Hittites, mentioned in Genesis 23, were not heard of outside of the Old Testament until 1906 when archaeologists discovered a vast collection of Hittite historical records. Small discoveries like this are not insignificant – where secular science has doubted the historicity of a particular feature of the text, a discovery is often made which reinforces our faith in the text.
Consider the following:
Dead Sea Scrolls
These ancient manuscripts remained hidden for over 2000 years until being discovered in 1947 inside caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea in Israel. This included fragments of every book of the Hebrew Bible (apart from Esther) and demonstrated that the integrity of the text had remained intact throughout many centuries. These findings provide confidence that the Old Testament we have today has not been corrupted in content over an incredibly long period of time. These links provide more information about the Dead Sea scrolls:
- What are the Dead Sea Scrolls and why are they important? (Got Questions)
- What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Reasons They Are Important (What Christians Want To Know)
Sir William Ramsey
Archaeologist, Sir William Ramsey, was very sceptical to many details contained in the Bible, especially the Book of Acts. He went on many investigations fully expecting to prove this book inaccurate but his research proved otherwise and led him to admit – “Luke is a historian of the first rank”. After a lifetime of research and study, he could not find any material inaccuracy in the Bible. The document by W. Ward Gasque explores Sir Ramsey’s life in more detail – A Survey of His Contribution to the Study of the New Testament.
- Does Archaeology Support the Bible? (Answers In Genesis)
- Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible (CRI)
- Is there any confirmation of Biblical events from written sources outside the Bible? (Christian Answers)
- The Bible’s Critics Were Wrong Again: Daniel and His Supposedly Invented King (ABR)
- Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014 (Christianity Today)
The Old Testament
Because of the age of the Old Testament’s texts, many assume corruption has occurred over the years – even with major discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls many still doubt its reliability.
As covered above, the archaeological evidence to hand demonstrates that the accuracy of the Old Testament can be trusted. We may never make discoveries that prove the accuracy of every historical reference, but what we have found provides compelling evidence for anyone who will take an open-minded look.
Furthermore, Bible prophecy, not only proves the accuracy of Scripture but also shows that there is a supernatural element to its authorship. There are hundreds of separate prophecies, including the coming of the Messiah, written hundreds of years before the events happened in amazing detail. Many prophecies in the Bible defy natural explanation and lead to the conclusion that only God, who exists outside of time, could be responsible for the message contained.
Jesus Christ also affirmed the authority of the Old Testament by referring to it many times during his ministry. Since the Dead-Sea Scrolls demonstrate the manuscripts are extremely similar to Jesus’ time, we can display the same confidence in it that Jesus Christ had. Would Jesus really refer to manuscripts that were unreliable?
- Evidence for the Reliability of the Old Testament Bible insert (Cold Case Christianity)
- Is the Old Testament Reliable? (Answers In Genesis)
- Is the Old Testament Reliable? (Think Christianly)
- Has the Old Testament been corrupted? (CARM)
- The Veracity of the Old Testament: A Scientific Validation (RAE)
The New Testament
The texts of the New Testament are also subjected to frequent accusations of inaccuracy. This takes the form of suggestions that the text has been copied too many times to be accurate or that they were such a long gap between the actual events and the written records that error or exaggeration must have crept in.
It’s important to note that the copying of the manuscripts was not done in a linear fashion – ie. one manuscript after another – instead, many copies were taken from a source manuscript which meant that the accuracy could be cross-checked numerous times. Even if there were an error, this would not necessarily lead to the same error being repeated due to the number of copies being used.
The rise of ‘textual criticism’ often seeks to cast unnecessary doubt of the reliability of the text – however, with the New Testament, we have over 5300 copies of the Greek manuscripts that have been verified to over 99% accuracy! This is an astounding verification that our New Testament is trustworthy. Stand to Reason’s article explains these points well – Is the New Testament Text Reliable?
Below is a video responding to “You Can’t Trust the Christian Authors of the Gospels” by Stand to Reason:
Early dating of Gospel accounts
For the Gospel accounts to be accurate you would expect the writers to be present at the events they recorded to provide an authentic account. It would also help in the written record was made soon after the actual events. There would be no need for an immediate written as the presence of numerous eye-witnesses would make this unnecessary – however, over time it would be important for the eye-witnesses to make written records for those they could not personally relay the accounts to.
Luke’s gospel includes an incredible opening statement:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV, emphasis added)
This certainly does not sound like an introduction to a bunch of fairytales – more like the opening of a carefully researched record of eye-witness accounts.
The Book of Acts was also written by Luke which outlines the birth of the early church and, crucially, the text reveals a number of clues about it’s dating – as Sir William Ramsey discovered, yet there are major events missing:
- destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 AD)
- seizure of Jerusalem (67-70 AD)
- death of Paul, Peter & James (brother of Jesus) (61-65 AD)
These are very important historical events that would have been recorded had the text been written later. The fact that they were not included indicates this book was written before they happened. This puts the dating of the Book of Acts to at least ~60 AD, which then means Luke’s Gospel would have been written earlier.
What is interesting about Luke’s Gospel is that it is quoted in two other NT books (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & 1 Timothy 5:17-18) and we know the early dating of 1 Corinthians so this means Luke’s Gospel would have been generally accepted as scripture at that time. This results in the Gospel of Luke being written early 50’s AD. We also note know that Luke quotes Mark, which makes the dating of Mark even earlier than Luke!
This Cumulative Case for the Reliability of the Gospels diagram from Cold Case Christianity shows how a detective case would approach investigating if the Gospel accounts were reliable.
This all helps to demonstrate that the Gospel accounts can be dated very early indeed and we can be confident that the information contained was provided by eyewitnesses to the actual events.
Trusting the Gospel accounts
The early dating of the Gospel accounts provides firm evidence for trusting in the text but there is more.
As detailed on Cold Case Christianity’s blog there are 4 reasons for trusting the Gospel accounts are reliable:
- they were written early, which means they were vetted by people who witnessed the same thing
- they have been corroborated more than any other ancient text by fulfilled prophecy, archaeology and specific culture details
- they have not changed over time, as the manuscript evidence proves
- the authors lacked bias and were not motivated by things like financial gain or the pursuit of power – they had nothing to gain out of lying and suffered for their accounts.
Also, this Chain of Custody diagram from Cold Case Christianity shows through the first centuries how the Gospel accounts, and other manuscripts, were passed on through different people until they became canonical. By looking at the books that others have written during that period, the many references to Biblical events reveal consistency and that the Gospel accounts remained constant without any corruption.
Again, this is even more reason to trust that the Gospel accounts are reliable.
Names used in the NT
In this video Dr. Peter J. Williams presents convincing original evidence that the Gospel accounts WERE based on eyewitness accounts whilst at the same time demonstrating that the non-canonical gospels do not share the same reliability:
Furthermore, the video above illustrates many of the amazing but subtle details that are included in the text. Details that do not need to be included and details that could only be included by eye-witnesses. Many of these details could easily be used to prove the texts were not written by eye-witnesses if they were inaccurate, but they provide more authenticity. Consider this seemingly insignificant verse:
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. (Mark 6:39 NIV, emphasis added)
The tiny detail of the grass being green would never be included unless it was coming from an eye-witness! The gospels are littered with tiny examples like this which point to the text being written by people who were present – certainly not decades later by people unconnected with the events.
- Evidence for the Reliability of the New Testament Bible Insert (Cold Case Christianity)
- Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability (CARM)
A simple google search will reveal long lists of alleged contradictions in the Bible and it has become a mission of some people to promote these ‘errors’ – many people use these as a convenient excuse for rejecting Christianity.
The Bible claims to be God’s Word to us and it contains a message that has enormous implications for each one of us – surely it is risky to simply trust what others say rather than investigate yourself and come to your own conclusion? Surely, it deserves investing the effort to make up your own mind of the message of Jesus Christ. There is usually a very straight-forward explanation to deal with any alleged contradiction in the Bible – these are usually resolved by understanding more about the cultural context of the text or chronology. Alleged contradictions are certainly no excuse for failing to embark on further investigation, especially given the Bible claims to be the message of God for us.
- The Bible Is Not Full of Contradictions or Errors (Stand to Reason)
- 6 Ways to Explain Bible Contradictions (Redeeming God)
- Isn’t the Bible Full of Contradictions? (Answers in Genesis)
- If the Bible is the Word of God, how can you explain the contradictions of the Bible? (Christian Answers)
What about the original manuscripts?
While it is true the original manuscripts are no longer available this does not impact the reliability of the current text. The earliest autographs would have been written a few thousand years ago so no one would honestly expect these manuscripts to have been preserved over time. Through the meticulous copying techniques adopted by Jewish scribes, we can have confidence in the accuracy of our current text.
A response to “We Don’t Have Those Original “Inerrant” Manuscripts” by Stand to Reason:
Too many Bible translations!
There are undoubtedly too many English translations available now and this is incredibly confusing for most Christians, let alone those not familiar with the Bible! No one translation perfect, and every translation is also an ‘interpretation’ to a degree. However, the core message is the gospel message which remains consistent throughout the vast majority of translations. When choosing a Bible version, it really does come down to a personal choice due to the style of the written, but we would recommend reading from more literal translations rather than paraphrased versions – the best tip is to have least recommend have two or three different translations to compare against.
NOTE: we don’t include the Jehovah’s Witness version (New World Translation) to be a good translation.
- Why are there so many Bible translations, and which is the best? (Got Questions)
- Why So Many Versions? (Bible.org)
- Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation (Daniel B. Wallace)
There is abundant evidence that the Bible is thoroughly reliable and that the message within the texts has been accurately relayed to us – the text has certainly stood the test of time.
The Gospel message of salvation is the central theme of Scripture, it has remained consistent throughout history and it is no different now. God ensured Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had eyewitnesses whose testimonies give us the hope and guarantee that our sins have been paid for and that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.
The Bible is God’s message to us – will you take notice or keep making excuses to avoid it?!
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Luke 21:33 NIV)