David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

How reliable are the Bible documents?

Web sites
Books
How sure can we be that what we read in the Bible today is what the original authors wrote? It is commonly claimed that the New Testament documents

  1. were based on oral (word of mouth) traditions that cannot be trusted
  2. were hand-copied (not printed), so errors would have crept in. As a result, they are supposed to have been corrupted in transmission, so they are unreliable.

Summary:

  • There are far more copies of the New Testament documents than of any other comparable ancient document
  • The manuscripts go back closer in time to the originals than for any other ancient documents
  • The manuscripts are consistent - there are no major or significant changes

Alan Millard, Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Liverpool, says in 'Discoveries from Bible Times' (page 313):

No other ancient Greek books are known from such a wide range of copies, written so close to the times when their authors composed them.

We can be very confident that what we read in our Bible today is what the original authors wrote. Professor F F Bruce says in 'Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?' that the evidence for the New Testament documents is much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors whose authenticity no-one questions.

For more on the reliability of the New Testament documents, refer to any of the books listed below.

And a final, related question: If the documentary evidence is so good, why are people so skeptical about them?

Web sites

Web sites can appear, disappear, and change their addresses - specially on less well-established sites. If you cannot find the article you want, try looking for the title of the article using a search engine, e.g. Google.com.

Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts
A site about the technical details of understanding how ancient manuscripts have been transmitted.

Twenty five fascinating facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls

 

Books

Is the New Testament Reliable, by Paul Barnett

Is the New Testament Reliable?

A look at the historical evidence
Paul Barnett, InterVarsity Press 1986
Barnett looks at the early evidence for Jesus outside the Bible, the question of how accurately the New Testament documents have been transmitted to us (i.e. whether we can be confident that what we read is what the original authors wrote), the testimony of two of the key figures behind the New Testament (John and Peter), as well as that of Matthew, Luke, and Paul's relation to the historical Jesus. He also tackles the question of the miracles in the New Testament accounts, including the birth narratives. Finally he looks at the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles.
Paul Barnett is bishop of North Sydney, Australia.
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The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Craig Blomberg,  InterVarsity Press 1987
This book is a one-volume, popular level summary of the Gospels Research Project of Tyndale House, Cambridge, published in the six-volume 'Gospel Perspectives' series. Seven main sections deal with traditional approaches to the reliability of the Gospels; New methods in Gospel Study; Miracles;Contradictions among the Synoptic Gospels? (Matthew, Mark, Luke); Problems in the Gospel of John; The Jesus tradition outside the Gospels; Questions on historical method. The sections on the historical study of the Gospels are very helpful indeed. The section on the miracles, although helpful, is not as strong.
Craig Blomberg is assistant professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
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Is the New Testament Reliable, by Paul Barnett

The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable?

F F Bruce, IVP
This is a classic that has not lost any of its punch. Bruce explores:Why the historical reliability of the New Testament documents matters; The dating of the New Testament documents, and testimony to their origins; What makes up the New Testament canon, and why (i.e. why certain books are included in the New Testament and others are not); The reliability of the Gospels; Miracles; The importance of Paul's evidence; The writings of Luke; More Archaeological evidence; The Evidence of Early Jewish Writings; The Evidence of Early non-Jewish writers.
F F Bruce (1910-1990) was Rylands professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester University, England.
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