Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. - Irenaeus

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reliability of the Bible

Is it Reliable?by Dale Brown
A common criticism of the 66 books we call the Bible (the Book) is that is has been rewritten and translated so many times that it no longer contains a reliable record of the original events. If this is true, Jews, Christians and every off-shoot of these two monotheistic religions are to be most pitied. Even the fool who dates his check is acknowledging to some degree that something happened two-thousand years ago that affects how we look at time.
By taking this stand one has to ignore piles of manuscript evidence that is still available in museums and library archives throughout the world. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves of Qumran (1948) scholars were amazed to find manuscripts dating back to about 200 years B.C. that showed the text of the Old Testament has been reliably passed on to us. At the time of Christ the O.T. Was commonly written in both Hebrew and Greek. Both text origins can be compared. The Hebrew scrolls were those used in the temple by the religious leaders and there was the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek version that came about around 250 B.C. as a result of the desire to get all the wisdom of the world into the library of Alexandria, Egypt. Then, though of lesser value, there are the paraphrased Targums and Samaritan Pentateuch texts.  Some of the New Testament manuscripts that are available to us today are the Bodmer Papyrus, the Chester Beatty Papyri, the Codex Sinaiticus, etc., all of which date back to the first five centuries. The John Ryland Manuscript of John's gospel dates back to the first century.

THE DIGS  Archaeology is a great supporter of the authenticity of the Bible. In 1868 a stone was found, which has come to be called the Moabite Stone. On it was engraved (830 B.C.) a story in the language of Moab which paralleled the Biblical story in 2 Kings chapter 1&2 and 2 Kings 3:4-5, with reference to the “House of David” and the “vessels of Yahweh.”
Israel and the Levant is full of digs which prove many of the stories of the Bible. Some inscriptions, such as the one engraved into the wall of Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem validate Biblical stories. In fact, through the science of paleography (the study of language style and evolution) even the dates of events can be pinpointed to within a few decades.
FATHERS  There is ample evidence from the letters of the church fathers such as Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, Irenaeus etc, in the first two centuries to give us authoritative understanding of what was considered Scripture and what was not. Some argue that John could not have written both the gospel and the book of Revelation because the style is different. One might compare their term papers with their love letters to see the difference in style. Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) claimed that John wrote both. Outside of the church there are writings of early historians such as Josephus (A.D. 37 – 100) which bear record of the Biblical literature's credibility.
There is internal evidence to it's credibility such as the Biblical writer's reference to people and secular events in history which can be checked out elsewhere. For those who question the authority of Apostle Paul's epistles we can turn to the testimony of Peter who claimed that Paul's letters were Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15&16).

PROPHECY  The Bible is uniquely different than most all other religious books in that it is full of prophetic messages. Hundreds of O.T. prophecies can be seen fulfilled in history. It is not necessary to go to difficult apocalyptic books such as Revelations. Many of the prophecies of Jesus in the N.T. can be seen fulfilled such as the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the Jewish people in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke 21.

BUT JESUS DID NOT WRITE THE GOSPELS  It is far better from a legal standpoint that witnesses other than Jesus wrote the gospels. As He said, “If I alone bear witness of myself my witness is not true” (Jn. 5:31...36, Jn. 8:13).

IS GOD REALLY DEAD?  Many government leaders over the centuries have gone to great lengths to destroy the Bible yet is continues to be published at an alarming rate. God even has a sense of humor about it. Voltaire the French infidel who died in 1778 said that 100 years after his time Christianity would cease to exist. 50 years later the Geneva Bible Society was using Voltaire's house and printing press to print Bibles.

History has proven that countries which have taken a stand against the God of the Bible have suffered greatly. We have seen the Soviet Union and other communist atheistic countries humbled.
Nietzsche, the famous German philosopher who said God was dead, spent the last twelve years of his life an insane invalid.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:34).

WHAT ABOUT THOSE MISSING BOOKS?  There are two sets of books that come to mind when the question of missing books arises. They are the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.

THE CATHOLIC EXTRAS  The during the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in effort to defuse some the criticism of the reformation, the church of Rome canonized 12 additional books of the apocrypha (doubtful or hidden). They are also referred to as “deuterocanonical (second additional). Though they were around during the time of Christ (some were included in the LXX) they are placed in a lower category than the rest of the Bible for a number of reasons. The Jewish standard Massoretic text does not include them. Jesus referred to the books of the Law, Prophets & Psalms (Lk 24:44) yet made no mention of the apocrypha, therefore Protestants have rejected them as authoritative literature for doctrinal use. 1&2 Maccabees of the apocrypha do however shed some light on Jewish history during the Antiochus revolt (175 B.C.) and the celebration of Hanukkah. Hanukkah, or the Feast of the Dedication (Jn. 10:22) as it is called in the New Testament, was clearly practiced during the life of Christ.

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA  Forgeries by heretics & cultists (much like the Book of Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses bible) seeking to validate their ideas gave birth to such books as the Gospel of Thomas, Ebionites, Peter, James, the Egyptians, Nicodemus etc. A collection of these Gnostic books called the Nag Hammadi text was found in Egypt in 1945 in Coptic form. One valid point established by these is that a counterfeit is the sincerest form of flattery. Some have mistakenly gone to these questionable books to critic the Bible. The Bible however should not be judged by what fanatics or heretics do or say.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  After examining some of the evidence for the reliability of the Bible we are confronted not with textual uncertainty (what does the text say?) but with hermeneutic and presuppositional issues (what does it mean). The same problem applies to us reading the constitutional laws of our country. The Constitution outside of its historical context is easily misunderstood. It is therefore important for the Bible student to make an effort to study a bit about the culture and context in which the literature was written. The Bible is not all that difficult to understand if one takes some time to read it with a few simple common-sense rules in mind.
Some of the Bible is written like a historical narrative or journal. Other parts are letters written for instruction, often addressing particular issues. The ones that get us into the most trouble are those that are poetic, prophetic or apocalyptic because of the unusual style. Some of the Bible, like most languages uses euphemisms that are unfamiliar to us. Though some of it is written in symbolic language the best rule for interpretation is to take everything literal unless the context suggests otherwise.

SO HOW DOES IT APPLY TO ME?  God has given us the Bible which is the most clear means by which to understand Him, his nature and how He deals with man. It is the Word of God given in the words of people in history. Within it one can learn spiritual laws that apply to our lives. It is the manufacture's handbook for living. It has been said that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
The laws of God are much like the natural laws of the universe. One can say he does not believe in gravity but it is not likely he will want to jump off a tall building.

ARE ALL VERSIONS CREATED EQUAL?  It is true that some Bible translations are better than others. The traditional 1611 King James Version (KJV) is a good version but the style is difficult for most to read. A more modern English version such as the New King James (NKJ), the New American Standard (NAS) or the New International Version (NIV) would be a better choice.
Paraphrased versions such as the Living Bible, The Message, and the New English Bible are fun to read but are somewhat lacking in terms of literal meaning. 
AVOID: the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation because it has been influenced by the heretical doctrines of the cult. The George Lamsa version based on the Peshitta Aramiaic (Syriac Bible) is one that is questionable because of it's Nestorian and anti-Greek bias. The Recovery Version because of its questionable commentary by Witness Lee. The Clear Word by the Seventh-Day Adventists has its share of problems as well.