All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is the most attacked book in the world. Why? Because if it is true then that means we must believe and do what it says. That means God is real, Jesus is the Son of God; He has standards and we are obligated to submit to those standards (Psalm 14:1; John 3:16; 12:48). That means that we are all lost sinners who need the gift of salvation (Romans 3:23; 6:23). That means that heaven and hell are real and we will live in eternity in one of those places (John 14:1-6; Mark 9:43-50).
There are many people who refuse to believe that the Bible is the word of God. Some question the reliability of the scriptures. In many cases, people do not have good arguments to back up their claims (they are mainly just repeating what they heard someone else tell them). But one of the main arguments used to attack the Bible is that many people say, “How can we trust the Bible if we don’t have any of the original documents? How can we trust that people have not tampered with and changed the message of the Bible as it was translated through the years?”
It is true that we do not have any of the original writings of the Bible. What we do have is far more valuable. We have thousands and thousands of copies of what is referred to as “manuscripts”. Consider a few important facts that we need to know as it pertains to the manuscripts of the New Testament:
- First, manuscripts are copies of an original. The original is called the “autograph.” All literature from the ancient world is constructed to its original form by comparing the number of copies that survived. Having a large number of copies of the original will ensure that we have a more trustworthy document of what the author intended us to have.
- Second, there are about 5,700 Greek handwritten manuscripts. In fact, we have more New Testament manuscripts than the ten best pieces of classical literature combined. That is staggering!
- Third, there are about 25,000 manuscripts in a variety of languages like Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic. Some are complete Bibles, others are books or pages, and some are fragments. This is important to know because it shows that these documents were circulated and written in other languages as the centuries progressed. Therefore, we can go back and compare the Greek manuscripts to ensure we have what God intended.
- Fourth, the New Testament manuscripts were written early after the originals. Consider the example of the John Ryland’s fragment. It is called this because it is housed in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, England. On this fragment is John 18:31-33 and John 18:37-38. Some have dated this fragment to be written between 117-138 AD (some even date it as early as 100 A.D!). It was found in Egypt while the original was probably written in Asia Minor. This is extraordinary because it shows us that the gospel of John was being copied and circulated soon after the original was made (many scholars consider the gospel of John to have been written sometime towards the end of the first century).
- But someone says, “What about all the errors found when comparing the copies?” A better word to use is “variations.” That is the word the experts use. It is true that there are several “variations” within all the manuscripts (some suggest there may be about 200,000), but that shouldn’t cause us to worry. Scholars have determined that the majority of variations in the manuscripts have to do with spelling and punctuation. None of them affect any doctrine pertaining to the Christian faith.
What is the point? What we have today is exactly what God intended us to have. We can be confident that what we have in the Bible is indeed the very word of God! We have assurance that if we believe and follow the Bible, we can be saved and go to heaven.
But it is not enough just to believe that the Bible is indeed the inspired word of God. We also have to read and do what it says (James 1:22-25). And so the challenge for the week is this: set aside at least 30 minutes each day to read your Bible (that is no longer that the average TV sitcom). In that time you could read three or four chapters from Proverbs and get wisdom, a few Psalms and receive encouragement, a couple of chapters from the gospels and learn more about your Savior, or the entire book of Philippians and learn about the joy that comes with being a Christian.
While you read, keep a highlighter or pencil in your hand and underline all of the things that stand out to you and really help you in your faith. Pray about those things. Meditate and really let them soak in your heart. Doing these things will only help you draw closer to God and allow His word to become the true blessing He intended it to be in your life. Do you love God’s word enough to take on this challenge?
– Shawn Jeffries