To the saints of God and to all who are searching for truth-
In recent years, I have met a number of people who claim that the bible is not the authoritative word of God because the content has been changed since each book was received. This is my response.
The Jewish bible, which forms the Christian old testament, has been very meticulously copied since it was first written. The Hebrews have always been incredibly picky about how carefully they copy the scriptures. This tradition was also observed by clerics long after the destruction of the Hebrew nation by the Roman Empire. First, the copiers did not copy word by word. They copied letter by letter. Each letter was assigned a specific numerical value. At the end of a line, the copier would add up the value of the letters and perform a "checksum" against the original document.
The copier was allowed three mistakes. On the first mistake, he was allowed to erase. On the second, he was required to throw the page out and start again. Upon making a third mistake, he would be required to rip up the entire document and start completely over.
And of course, we mustn't fail to factor in the reverence observed by these clerics. When one wrote a title of God, such as "Lord", he would wash his hands. Writing the actual name of God called for a complete bath. These people had neither the opportunity nor the desire to make any errors.
PLENTY OF EXAMPLES
The New Testament is quite a different story. Because it was expedient to circulate epistles quickly, they used a very different method of copying. One person would read the original, and a roomful of listeners would transcribe the words as fast as they could. While this did make for a number of minute errors (This accounts for all the errors in scripture, and they total much less than 1%. The errors have tended to be homonyms which although different in meaning, do not change the overall meaning of the scripture.) we can compare all of the many copies available to see exactly which ones are the errors.
We have been blessed in that we are privileged to have some very, very old copies of scripture. They may not be the originals, but time-wise, they are very close. By comparing these old documents with modern copies, we have been able to determine that no appreciable change has taken place since the time of Moses. The only real difference which surfaces in the old testament is that around 500 AD, Vowels were added. (Previously, Hebrew only used consonants, allowing vowels to be inferred from context.)
The library of Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) has been extremely helpful in this, since it contained every known book of the Old Testament, with the exception of Esther.
In a discussion of the validity of the scriptures, I heard a self-proclaimed pagan make the assertion that no historical records exist to back up the events described in the bible. This person cites Roman and Egyptian records in particular.
As far as Egypt is concerned, this is hardly surprising. Pharaohs often practiced revisionist history. The exodus was a literally humiliating defeat for the pharaoh, and it is no wonder that all mention of it should be scrubbed from Egyptian history.
But Egypt did not control the records of other nations. The surrounding countries still have in their archives records of Egypt's dealings with the "Apiru" (Meaning people without a country, later adopted and changed to "Hebrew")
As far as Rome is concerned, the statement is just plain false. There were those who tried to revise history, but the Roman Empire was far too bureaucratic for such a thing. Government documents, articles, letters and interviews abound, and jive perfectly with the stories of scripture. Even the story of Esther and the origin of Purim, thought by many to be fiction, is supported by the histories of neighboring countries.
Ever since scripture was first written down, people have been citing it. By looking at exactly what others wrote and comparing them to scripture, we can check to see if it has changed since the scripture was cited. By doing this, we have been able to determine that no scripture has changed since its citation at least as far back as the first century.
Going to other languages is a valuable way to look for errors. If an error or change has occurred in the English bible, we can always check it against a much older translation in another language, such as Egyptian, which would be very unlikely to have the same change.
Because dialects change, it is sometimes necessary to update the bible so that it can still be understood. For example, the King James 1611 is written in such an ancient dialect that few alive today would be able to understand it. A common misconception is that new English translations are made from old ones. This is rarely the case. It is an unwritten law that new translations be made from the original Hebrew and Greek, and that the texts used be as close to original as possible. This is true for the most widely accepted versions of the bible, the modern King James, New International Version, the New American Standard, and the New King James.
Through the years, scripture has endured testing that would have broken any other document. To this day, no one has ever been able to prove any part of it false. The best anyone has done is take passages out of context. I am reminded of Carl Segan quoting a passage in Psalms. "He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth." Segan argues that the Earth is a sphere, not a circle. Thus, the bible contains error, thus, the entire thing is false. Mr. Segan, I'm sorry to say, was an idiot. First, Psalms is a book of poetry and does not have to be literal. Second, show any child a beach ball and ask them what shape it is.
But not everyone is like Segan. There are those who applied hard logic to the task. In fact, there was a long series of men who tried, one after the other, to take the bible down. Every one of them, without exception, received Christ as saviour before he was done. The most notable of these is Josh McDowell, who has become a champion of the scriptures and creator of the bible-based Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts". None of them ever found a single error.
Invariably, wherever biblical account has suggested there should be evidence of an event, there has been. Whenever there has not, it has always turned out that archaeologists were mixing tradition with history and looking in the wrong place. For example, no one had ever found evidence to suggest that Moses had actually led the Hebrews between the two halves of the parted Red Sea. In fact, many liberal bible scholars took this to be a spelling error, insisting that Moses had crossed the "Yam Suph", the "Sea of Reeds", a swamp where the water is only an inch deep. Well, we know that can't be true, since in later centuries, Solomon had his entire fleet anchored in the Yam Suph. While this means "Sea of Reeds", it is in fact a name for the Red Sea.
By ignoring tradition altogether, biblical archaeologists were able to look at the biblical account and discovered that Moses did indeed cross the Red Sea- just in a different location that previously thought. It was in the Gulf of Aquaba, the northeast arm of the Red Sea. There, they found a gently sloping beach where, were the water forced back, a large number of people would be able to walk across. Upon examining this area, they discovered a strip of coral, which occurs nowhere else in the entire Gulf of Aquaba. This coral is growing in formations which look strangely like *gasp!* Egyptian chariot wheels and axles! And made out of gold, which neither rots not harbors coral, and thus has been preserved to this day, a golden wheel, which could only have come from the chariot of a Pharaoh. How do you suppose that got there?
One can also check the validity of scripture by checking prophecy against reality. In the book of Daniel, Daniel (and Nebuchadnezzar, in a way) prophecy that there will be five great world empires in addition to the two already past. The first was Babylon, the second, Meado-Persia. The third, Greece. The fourth, Rome. The fifth would be the revived Roman Empire, an internally weak conglomeration of now dissimilar nations from what was once the \Roman Empire\. In our lifetime, we have seen this empire start to rise. It is called the European Union. The bible also predicted the re-creation of the nation of Israel, an event which many scholars believed impossible and therefore figurative. This happened in 1948. These are only a few of the predictions which we have seen come true. To this date, not a single one has failed. Not all have yet come to pass, but neither have any been wrong.
In no part of the bible is there any new doctrine which contradicts any other part of scripture. Some may argue that the New Testament contains one new doctrine- that of loving one's enemies. I argue that this is hardly new. Take for example the Gibeonites. The Lord was understandably upset with the Caananites. These people were performing horrible atrocities, including such things as burning babies alive and ritualistic rape. After giving them many years to change their ways, he sent the Hebrews in to wipe them out. The Gibeonites knew that they stood now chance against the Hebrews and their God, so they made a peace treaty, using deceit, convincing the Hebrews that Gibeon was far, far off.
God could have declared the treaty null and void. Instead, he punished the Gibeonites by forcing them to work in his temple- a place the Levites were working in as a reward for their loyalty. Isn't that odd?
By the time of Nehemiah, the Gibeonites are no longer considered foreigners. Instead, they are honored and privileged as servants of the temple.
God loves his enemies, and is willing to give them every last chance to receive Him. When they do, he adopts them as sons and takes them into his bosom. This has been true since the fall of Eve and is true today. How can we do any differently? No, this doctrine is not new.
PROMISES WITHIN SCRIPTURE
2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
And from the Lord's very mouth:
Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
(In the first century, scripture was often referred to as "the law".)
God loves us. We can take this as a given. If we believe that the bible has been altered and is no longer definitively the word of God, we must conclude that there are only two possibilities. 1) That God does not love those of us in the 21st century enough to provide us with his word. We know that this cannot be right. 2) God is incompetent. Riiiiiiight!
The argument that scripture has been altered necessarily ignores what the
bible says about itself, saying that these are not part of the original texts.
This is a circuitous argument, and is akin to the famous picture of the cow
eating grass. A child holds up a blank page and says "I drew a picture of
a cow eating grass."
"There's no grass."
"The cow ate it all."
"Where's the cow?"
"It went off to find more grass."
Or a better example- M.C. Escher's famous picture of a hand drawing a second hand, which is drawing the first hand. While the system appears to make sense when taken as a whole, it completely disregards the laws of physics, as the erroneous bible argument must disregard the scads of evidence which we have gone through in this letter.
I submit to you, in light of this evidence, that the Bible is the true, reliable and unaltered word of God, and that we must therefore take all that it says as authoritative.
August 20, 2005
March 25, 2006