Tom: Thanks, Gary. You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. The issue we’ll be discussing today you might say is critical as to whether there is any point to this radio program, other than just filling the airwaves with, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “much [holy] ado about nothing.” Our topic for today is: “Is the Bible reliable?” Now, Dave, if we don’t come up with a positive answer to that question, you and I may just as well go fishing.
Dave: That’s right. “Search the Scriptures”—there’s no point in searching them if they’re not reliable.
Dave: If God has not spoken, and we can’t prove it, then whose opinion matters?
Tom: Yeah, along this line, our first question, which comes from your book In Defense of the Faith. . . .
Dave: Tell them where these questions come from again. These are just questions that have been asked me over the years, or I have thick files of . . . I used to, when I was in the University, just for my own information, I just read everything I could find that the atheists, the critics, the skeptics had said, proving that the Bible isn’t true. The more I read, the more it strengthened my faith to see what pitiful arguments they had. But anyway, I pulled some of the best ones out of the file.
Tom: Dave, along that line, I know some people who sort of live in fear that when you present a question you’re sort of inducing doubt, or you’re doubting, or they’re worried that, especially young Christians, they’re going to be drawn off to this or that. But . . .
Dave: Well, doubts are good; questions are good. If the Bible can’t stand careful scrutiny, if it cannot stand up under the attacks of those who try to prove that it’s not true, and therefore they can prove that it’s not true, then it’s not true, and we’re wasting our time! Close shop.
Tom: Yes, and for those who are wrestling with whether they ought to be looking into these things, that’s one way you strengthen your faith. When you find that the evidences are there, the proofs are there, that has to strengthen what you believe and knowing why you believe it.
Dave: When you face every attack that the enemy can bring. I don’t know whether we’ve mentioned it on this program, but here I was, a lowly freshman in University, and they started a “Critic’s Hour.” I was very naïve in those days. In fact, I had stood up to the head of the Psychology Department. Everybody had to take a beginners class—well, they called it Mental Hygiene in those days—and when he would say something like, “Well, Jesus, see, that’s just one man’s opinion.” And I’d raise my hand and say, “Well, whose opinion are you giving us?”
And he actually became afraid of me, believe it or not. I remember everybody had an appointment to be psychoanalyzed by the head of the department, who happened to be my—well, it would be your professor—but my professor happened to be the head of the department. I remember my appointment was at 8:00. He showed up about ten of nine. He had had a nervous—I forget what he called it—all night, and he had been down in the . . . they didn’t have Jacuzzis in those days, they called it the whirlpool. Anyway, I think he was the one that saw that I had received a special invitation, because I didn’t read the student newspaper where it was advertised, and I got a special invitation in the mail while I was there. Actually, I was the only one who stood up to all of these skeptics, atheists, and critics. I could see in the audience some of the intervarsity kids that I knew, some Christians that I knew—they didn’t say a word. And here, the lone freshman taking on the faculty and the student body and so forth . . . I think I mentioned that was the first time I ever heard the word “fundamentalist.” I was a very naïve person. I didn’t know some of the terminology.
Tom: But, Dave, why would you go forth? Why would you set yourself in this situation? What compelled you to do it?
Dave: Well, because we are told to “earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” And if someone is attacking it . . .
Tom: Always be ready to give an answer, a defense, 1 Peter:3:15.
Dave: Exactly, amen! And they got so frustrated [chuckling] . . . I remember one girl came right up and looked me in the face and said, “You’re a fundamentalist!” I had never heard that word before, but I didn’t understand what would be wrong with that. As a mathematician, you would be a fundamentalist; as a physicist, you would go for the fundamentals. And I learned something there, Tom, way back—this has got to be more than 50 years ago . . .
Tom: So the early ’50s you’re talking about?
Dave: No I’m talking about ’47.
Dave: Right. The worst ones were on the religion faculty. The scientists were not bad! In fact, I had a physicist who really almost defended the Bible. I mean, he would point out some of the errors these people were presenting.
But, anyway, no, we are not afraid, because we know that this is God’s Word, and you cannot fault it. Now, we, out of ignorance, may not be able to give a good answer. Well, so you lick your wounds and you get on your knees, as I did many times in those early days, and say, “Oh, God, I know I didn’t have the right answer. Now, please show me.”
But this is God’s Word; there is no question about it.
Tom: Dave, so let’s get to the first question here. It is my understanding that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was a blow to the Bible. The oldest copies of some Old Testament texts ever found were included in this find and turned out to be far different from the later copies already in our possession. If the copyists had made such errors in those few centuries, how far must the Bible of today be from the original Old Testament manuscripts?
Dave: Well, Tom, I’m not an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls and on ancient manuscripts. I used to have a dear friend, even before I was a freshman, who was one of the top Greek experts. I remember he had some original copies that he had had access to of John’s gospel, I remember in particular. And they dated John’s gospel way back, I think, in the early ’90s—he had a copy that was dated back then, of a fragment. And it is helpful to read what some of the experts have said.
On the other hand, we have so-called experts who will give you biased opinion, biased information. In fact, some of these documents—I’m not sure they have all been released yet. They have been held. But you can go, as you know, you’ve been there—you can go to Israel to the . . . they have a whole museum for the Isaiah Scroll, and if you could read Hebrew—interestingly it is the same Hebrew that you have today; you could walk all around that museum and read Isaiah. And this manuscript—I think the oldest one they had up to that point was about 900 AD, and this one is dated about 100 BC, so you have 1,000 years’ earlier manuscript—it’s exactly the same. There may be one or two very slight variations, because of some technical, grammatical thing or spelling thing.
Tom: But nothing that has anything to do with doctrine or a major shift.
Dave: No, absolutely not. Well, you know, Tom, these copyists were so careful—they didn’t just read it, they counted the words on every page, the Masoretes. It was pretty hard for an error to get through.
Tom: Dave, even before the Masoretes, there were the Talmudists, and when they copied, it was almost a sacred ritual they went through, from the clothes they wore, to the washing of themselves. So, they took this to be what it is—God’s Word—and they were absolutely concerned about it.
Dave: They handled it with great care.
Tom: Now, Dave, so we have a thousand years between the oldest copy that we had prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls. In particular we are talking about the scroll or the Book of Isaiah. Now there’s a comparison of 1,000 years. When I learned of this, I thought, Well, this is interesting, because this copy, this Dead Sea Scroll, which was discovered in 1947 but written, as you said, around 100 BC or 150 BC (there are variations on the date that’s given to that), but Jesus must have had this work.
Dave: Of course! He read it in the synagogue, and that is rather interesting because it says they handed it to Him, “and as his custom was, he stood up to read.” So it sounds like Jesus was the reader. Maybe He had been, as a young man, the reader in the synagogue, but now He’s going to shock them. But this is what He read—it’s Isaiah 61. I don’t know that they had those chapter divisions then, I’m not sure. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath appointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (This is what the gospel brings.)“ . . . to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” and He shut the book, and He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” What He would have read had He gone on, the next clause says, “ . . . and the day of vengeance of our God. . . . ” That day has not yet arrived, but it will when He returns as the Lion of the tribe of Judah to bring judgment upon this earth! But at this point, He was standing there reading as the Lamb of God, who came to bear away the sins of the world.
Tom: Right. Dave, back to our point here, the question was, “Is the Bible reliable?” Now I don’t find Jesus in this situation saying, “Well, yeah, I have some problems with some human errors or some errors here . . .” or that. He accepted the scroll of Isaiah as it was handed to Him, and he read from it. He didn’t have any problems with it. I find it exciting that, based on the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Book of Isaiah, which I think there were two copies, and one almost complete—this is—we have the Book that Jesus read from! There’s no doubt about it.
Dave: Tom, I don’t know how far you want to get, but in this particular chapter, “Is the Bible reliable?” I think I give you some pretty good stuff. And one of the quotes I give, a rather lengthy one, but I would like to read part of it, unless you have reserved that for a later program.
Dave: It’s from Professor Robert D. Wilson, Princeton University professor—this is some years ago. He was, you would have to say, at least one of if not the greatest language experts and scholars of all time! He was fluent in more than 40 Semitic languages. If you could imagine being fluent in any languages—40 of them! Can I just read a little bit?
Dave: He said: “For forty-five years continuously, I have devoted myself to the one great study of the Old Testament, in all its languages, in all its archaeology, in all its translations.
[T]he critics of the Bible who go to it in order to find fault claim to themselves all knowledge and all virtue and all love of truth. One of their favorite phrases is, ‘All scholars agree.’ When a man says that, I wish to know who the scholars are, why they agree, where do they get their evidence? I defy any man to make an attack upon the Old Testament on the ground of evidence that I cannot investigate.
“After I learned the necessary languages, I set about the investigation of every consonant in the Hebrew Old Testament. There are about a million and a quarter of these [that is not that many different consonants but every time they appear], and it took me many years to achieve my task. I had to observe the variations in the text, in the manuscripts, or in the notes of the Masoretes, or in the various versions, or in the parallel passages, or in the conjectural emendations of critics; and then I had to classify the results, to reduce the Old Testament criticism to an absolutely objective science; something which is based on evidence, and not on opinion.
“The result of those 45 years’ study, which I have given to the text, has been this: I can affirm that there is not a page of the Old Testament concerning which we need have any doubt.
[Now he gives you an example.] “There are 29 ancient kings, whose names are mentioned not only in the Bible but also on monuments. [I mean, there are more kings than that, but these, in his day, they had found 29 of them whose names were mentioned on monuments of their own time.] There are 195 consonants in these 29 proper names. Yet we find that in the documents of the Hebrew Old Testament there are only two or three out of the entire 195 about which there can be any question of their being written in exactly the same way as they were inscribed on their own monuments [which archaeologists have to date discovered]. Some of these go back 4,000 years and are so written that every letter is clear and correct.”
Compare this accuracy with the greatest scholar of his age, the librarian at Alexandria in 200 BC. He compiled a catalogue of the kings of Egypt, 38 in all. Of the entire number, only three or four are recognizable. That is even the names of the kings.] He also made a list of the kings of Assyria; in only one case can we tell who is meant; and that one is not spelled correctly. Or take Ptolemy, who drew up a register of 18 kings of Babylon. Not one of them is properly spelled; you could not make them out at all if you did not know from other sources to what he is referring.
“If anyone talks about the Bible, ask him about the kings mentioned in it. There are 29 kings referred to, and ten different countries among these 29, all of which are included in the Bible and on monuments. Every one of these is given his right name in the Bible, his right country, and placed in correct chronological order, spelled correctly. Think of what that means!”
That’s pretty impressive and that’s just one example.
Tom: This is God’s Word. And why would we expect anything less? I mean, it’s amazing.
Dave: If it isn’t God’s Word, there’s no point.
Tom: Yeah. Dave, he refers to—and we’ve been talking about—the Old Testament, but what about the New Testament? What about its reliability?
Dave: Well, in the New Testament, God gives us a number of . . . I guess the Lord has a sense of humor, I’m not sure. But, well, we have a sense of humor; we must have gotten it from Him. We are created in His image. So He allows—and I think we go into it in the book a number of—oh, there are contradictions between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Well, there aren’t, but the Lord allows it to look like contradictions so you will have to dig deeper and find out that they aren’t, and in the process you learn a whole lot more.
But let’s—I don’t think we have time for that. Maybe we can come back to that. Luke 3 is one of my favorites. Let’s go back to Acts 13. We should read 6-8, but we don’t have time for that, so let’s take verse 7: “. . . which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man . . . ” and so forth. Now, the word for “deputy” there in the Greek is anthýpatos, and the critics jumped on that (this is the island of Cyprus by the way) because they said there is absolutely no evidence that the deputy, I mean the head, the governor, whatever you want to call him in our language, of the island of Cyprus, had that honor. He was never an anthýpatos.
Well, what do you know? It was a title that belonged only to a man of proconsulor dignity. Well, what do you know? The archaeologists came to our rescue, and they dug up a coin that was minted in the reign of Claudius Caesar and they found out, what do you know? Claudius Caesar had granted that right. He was an anthýpatosafter all!
Now, Tom, how are you going to put this in the Bible? See, I love it the way . . . well, how about chapter 16? I love the way the Holy Spirit did it. Verse 12: “And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony. . . . ” Well, the word in the Greek is colonia and doesn’t mean just an ordinary colony; it means a Roman colony of special status. And, again, the critics said, “Hey, that’s wrong! This had to be written hundreds of years later, and they didn’t even understand,” you know, and so forth. Well, again the archaeologists came to our rescue, and they dug up a medal and it showed that Julius Caesar had indeed conferred that right upon Philippi. It was a colonia after all. Well, we don’t have time for a couple more of my favorites, but . . .
Tom: Okay, well, let’s summarize this. Yeah, we have about 3-4 minutes left here. We know there are over 24,000 partial and complete ancient copies of the New Testament. We have lots of manuscript evidence.
Dave: Do you have a comparison there, quick, Tom, with some of the other writings?
Tom: Well, for example, the Iliad, by Homer, has 643 ancient copies surviving, written in 900 BC, and the earliest copy is dated 400 BC. So, Dave, if we can’t trust the New Testament . . . .
Dave: Well, but some of them only have eight or ten copies.
Tom: Yes, it goes down the list. But the point is that if we can’t trust the New Testament, we can’t trust any book of antiquity, all right?
Dave: But, of course, you’re talking about the number of copies that we have and how close they are to the date which they were written, but the Bible has far more evidence than that.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Absolutely! Dave, let me add this quote. This is from Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, who was one of the great authorities in the field of textual criticism. He writes: “No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, of quotations from it, from the oldest writers of the church is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.” He goes on: “It is reassuring at the end, to find that the general result of all these discoveries of manuscripts and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the scriptures and our conviction that we have in our hands in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.”
Dave: Tom, in your opening remarks you quoted from Shakespeare, or paraphrased it a bit. We’re not even sure exactly of the Shakespeare manuscripts and that was only a few hundred years ago. There are a lot of different variations in there.
Tom: Dave, in the two minutes that’s left, as you know, from time to time we get letters from people who say that God has preserved His Word and they develop a doctrine out of it. How would . . . ? Now, we know, based on archaeological evidence, textual criticism, and so on, that we do have God’s Word. But is there a doctrine of preservation?
Dave: Well, Tom, what these people are referring to is the King James translation. I use the King James—I grew up on the King James. And what they try to say is that God preserved it in the King James.
Tom: The 1611?
Dave: Right. In fact, that came from a number of different sources. In fact, they examined many manuscripts—and we’ve talked about it. You talked about there are about 24,500 manuscripts, and they are not whole manuscripts—many of them are fragments. So, if God preserved His Word, and they say it is preserved in the King James, then the King James didn’t exist until 1611 when it was put together, and it was put together from a number of sources.
Yes, God has preserved His Word, but copyists do make errors. When you put all of them together and make comparisons, we arrive back at the original again. And this is what the man Kenyon that you quoted said. But in any of these manuscripts, there is not a doctrine of importance, even if you read some faulty manuscript. And some of them are faulty, but even there, the central doctrines have been preserved. And when you put all the copies together and make a comparison, you have the Word of God. “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” Definitely there, and it will not pass away, but copyists do make errors, so I can’t say that this particular copy was the one God preserved, but He has preserved it in the overall number of copies.