Is My Bible Reliable?

Reverend Anthony R. Locke March 20th, 2011 at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker

Are English Bible’s the Word of God?

Psalm 119:89-96     Do I hold in my hand the Word of God? English Standard Version

89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

91 By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.[1]

We believe that there is a God. This God chose to reveal Himself to humanity. God revealed Himself with a creation first, then by words. (even the creation was spoken into existence) We believe that the Bible holds those inspired words of God.

The Bible is inspired. The Bible can’t include error since it came from God. That’s called infallibility. God is incapable of speaking a lie.

This Bible therefore has no untruths or false information. We call that inerrancy.

The Bible is inerrant for it was infallibly given.

It is infallibly given for it was inspired by God.

We covered these things last week.

This week I want to go further. How do we know that we hold in our hands the Words of God uncorrupted? Is our Bible still accurate? Has error entered into our English copies?

Let me illustration the question. When I was in high school I went to a teen conference where we played a game. There were about twenty of us. We sat down in a circle and the objective was to whisper a sentence into the ear of the person sitting next to you and have that sentence get repeated accurately all the way around until it got back to first person.

Our goal was to speak what we heard, just one sentence, and have it accurately shared all the way around the circle and back to the beginning.

Inevitably, the wording in that message got changed. Often the words were changed significantly.

If a group of twenty teenagers can’t spread one sentence correctly around a circle within 2 minutes, then what’s the chance that God’s words were accurately shared down through the centuries, across multiple languages and cultures, without error?

Let’s just stare that improbability right in the face. The idea that we have God’s original words is impossible unless God becomes personally and supernaturally involved to preserve His sacred revelation. If God doesn’t preserve His word, it won’t be kept pure for us.

The best comparison to this challenge is the Iliad by Homer. It too was written thousands of years ago. Homer wrote his book 900 years before the birth of Jesus. That’s during the same era that parts of the Old Testament were written.

No printing presses existed. People made hand copies of his book. Homer’s original copies are all lost just like the original letters and books of the Bible. All the copies of Homer’s Iliad that were made in the first 500 years didn’t survive. The earliest copies we have is from 400 years before the birth of Jesus.

There are 643 different ancient copies of the Iliad which have survived and are useful when attempting to reconstitute the original book and the original words. When the book is written out in full, it has about 16,000 lines of content. How much of that original data is accurate? Surprisingly, only 764 of those lines of content are in dispute by scholars.

Literary societies do not say that the Iliad contains the words of the author. Scholars do not say that Homer’s Iliad is lost because 764 lines are contested. Professors teach from the book with confidence.

The New Testament has about 20,000 lines. So how many of those lines are contested? Scholars argue about the content of only 40 lines. That’s one-half of one percent (or less) of the original words as written by God Himself.

The Church calls this phenomenon the supernatural preservation of the Word of God. God has superseded in Human affairs to ensure that the words of His book were preserved for future generations.

I mentioned that there were 643 copies of the Iliad that were still in existence from antiquity which are used to reconstitute Homer’s work.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and to date about 6,000 Greek sections, fragments, chapters or books of the New Testament have been discovered. So the historical evidence is ten times stronger for the New Testament than Homer’s Iliad. But that’s not all.

There are also over 10,000 Latin sections and fragments of the Bible which are helpful to reconstitute the original Greek. But that’s not all.

Before Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was produced, the Apostle’s and the early church translated the Bible into hundreds of other languages around the world. Over 9,300 of these other Bible translations have survived antiquity and are available to aid our research and help us get our copies of the Bible exactly as God gave it.

So the testimony of ancient texts which can be compared and used to reconstitute the original Greek text totals over 24,000+ in existence today. Compare that with only 643 variant editions of the Iliad.

Question: Do all these 24,000 witnesses to the original words of God agree? Most are the same, and some have differences. What sort of differences?

While there are some obvious scribal errors, the majority of the differences are spelling variations. Why so many spelling variations?  Look at a map of your home town created by a different country. Most of the towns are spelled differently. Same with people’s names. These discrepancies do not affect the meaning of the text. The changes in the copies reflect the cultural change one makes when translating from one language to the next.

If you overlook those sorts of changes, and if you overlook obvious copyist error, then all of the 6,000 Greek fragments would be said to agree 99.9% of the time.

God has preserved His word for all future generations through this overwhelming historical evidence. The reliability of our Bible is more certain than the reliability of Homer’s Iliad. This is not disputable. It axiomatic. It is proven by the data without prejudice.

The preservation of the Bible is a witness to the value God places on His word.

How hard would it be for us to duplicate what God has done?

I have sitting on the pulpit today a reprint of William Tyndale’s Bible of 1535. Suppose we set out as a church family to make ten hand written copies of Tyndale’s Bible. Then we destroyed the original.

Then we sent one of our copies to a church in Canada and asked them to make ten copies. When they finished they were instructed to do as we had done. Keep one copy for themselves and send nine copies out to other churches in other countries to make hand written copies.

Imagine we do this as a church project until there were in existence about 6,000 handmade copies from this original 1535 Tyndale New Testament. Then as part of our experiment we collected all 6,000 copies. What sort of changes and variations would you expect to find?

Most of the copies would certainly have changed all the archaic word spellings. In Tyndale’s day the sentence structure was different and that might have been changed as it got copied. City names might be changed to modern city names currently in and around the Mediterranean. When a copyist made an error, that error would be recopied into all future copies.

But once we collected all 6,000 copies, by comparing them together, we would feel very confident reconstituting the original as I have it sitting here on the pulpit.

The Bible, compared with other ancient books, has more manuscript evidence than any 10 pieces of classical literature combined.

We have been talking mostly about the reliability of the New Testament Greek. Not as many people criticize the Old Testament Hebrew because it was so carefully maintained by the Jews.

Bernard Ramm said, “Jews preserved the Old Testament Bible as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity … who ever counted the letters, syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?” But when a new synagogue was started, the Old Testament was copied with almost perfect reliability.

Even without the Apostle’s hand written copies of the Bible, and even without the 6,000 Greek manuscripts, the 10,000 Latin copies and the 9,000 various language manuscripts of the Bible, there are over 86,000 quotations of the NT in the early church fathers, and quotations in thousands of early worship books from which we could reconstruct most of the New Testament.

The arguments for the reliability of the Bible are voluminous. Let me summarize with my favorite confidence that the Bible as we have it today is God’s Word. Over and over and over again Jesus Himself held the Septuagint, the Greek translation from the Hebrew Old Testament, and said, “Thus saith the Lord.”

If Jesus, the Eternal Word, the Incarnate Word, and now the Exalted Word, was confident in the preservation of the text, so confident that He quoted the Greek translation without apology or correction and ascribed those words to the breath of God, then we should be confident to do the same with our English copies of God’s Word.

The printing press was invented in 1450. The first book printed was the Bible. Since then, the Bible has been read by more people and printed more times than any other book in history. By 1930, over one billion Bibles had been distributed by Bible societies around the world. By 1977, Bible societies alone were printing over 200 million Bibles each year, and this doesn’t include the rest of the Bible publishing companies. No one who is interested in knowing the truth can ignore such an important book. (some of these paragraphs are direct quotes from

The Bible has been translated into over 1,400 languages in our era and thousands more in previous millenniums. No other book even comes close.

No other book has been so attacked throughout history. In A.D. 300 the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered every Bible burned because he thought that by destroying the Scriptures he could destroy Christianity. Anyone caught with a Bible would be executed. But just 25 years later, the Roman emperor Constantine ordered that 50 perfect copies of the Bible be made at government expense.

The French philosopher Voltaire, a skeptic who destroyed the faith of many people, boasted that within 100 years of his death, the Bible would disappear from the face of the earth. Voltaire died in 1728, but the Bible lives on. The irony of history is that 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his former house and used his printing presses to print thousands of Bibles.

Let me finish this up with some questions.

How much of the Bible could our church reconstitute from memory? How much of the Bible could we at least outline from memory? Could we as a church family piece together the main chapters of the New Testament? Could we even remember enough of the Bible to lead a soul to saving faith? This sort of an exercise would reveal the value we put on God’s words.

How often do you read God’s Holy Book? Are you trying to read through the Bible this year? Are you making any progress? Could you at least target reading through the New Testament? How about the Psalms? What Bible reading commitments do you maintain?

Finally, how confident are you in the Bible? Don’t let unbelieving authorities in the world unsettle your confidence that God has preserved His inspired and authoritative Word.

King David understood that the Bible will never become corrupt or perish. Psalm 119:89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.

May God sustain us all with this confidence that He has preserved His word and it is reliable even today. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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