No Apologizing

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

The Bible… Is it Historically Reliable?


For years and years skeptics have desperately attempted to disprove the Bible. Their attempts, however, have been just that: desperate… And when a person gets desperate they start throwing out a bunch of garbage hoping that something will stick… Some examples of what they claim:  The New Testament was written hundreds of years after the death of Jesus based on corrupted oral traditions and not by any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion/resurrection, there are Discrepancies in the text…from one book to another… On and on they go, but they are far from the truth.  They have so many outlandish claims against the Word of God there is no way anyone could cover them all in just one blog… so we won’t even attempt… However, from time to time we will try to give a high level response to some of the more common “claims” against the Bible.

A while back Robert posted our first piece on this topic. In this post he briefly mentioned verses where the biblical authors affirmed the authority of and usefulness of scripture… Granted, that piece necessarily contained a large amount of what could rightly be called circular logic (using what the Bible says to claim that the Bible is accurate) – we did that on purpose – If the Bible claims to be perfect and then is proven to be false, then you can chuck the whole thing out the window and every Christian should disavow their faith.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that if the Bible is definitively proven false, I will be the first in line to bail on Christianity – I am not willing to live or die for a lie!

Before any of you skeptics get all twitterpated thinking I’m fixing to have to eat my words, rest assured that I am 100% confident that I will never have to recant my faith in Jesus or the Bible that has told me about Him.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of the things that have me so securely certain of the Bible.

One of the miracles Christians point to in the confirmation of the scripture is the consistency/preservation of the message of the original texts… The Bible goes far beyond being just a theological book, it is a historical document (i.e. it is a history book)… And it is absolutely the most reliable historical document in every way that historicity of ancient documents are measured.  In other words, there is better support for the accuracy of the Bible than there is for any other ancient historical document upon which modern history books rely to inform us of antiquity.

The reliability of manuscripts are evaluated by the abundance, dating and accuracy – so let’s look at how the Bible stacks up against other ancient writings and histories!

Number of ancient manuscripts: Compare the NT and the OT manuscripts in terms of their number of surviving ancient manuscripts to other ancient works… Plato has 7, 10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, 643 copies of Homer’s works have survived… Comparatively, over 10,000 manuscripts of various OT books have been preserved… over 5,700 full ancient copies of the NT…  

Date of the manuscripts: The Dead Sea Scrolls (OT) have been dated from the 3rd century BC to the end of the 1st Century AD… the earliest NT manuscripts are dated at about 117 to 138 AD. These dates (especially for the NT) are VERY close to the events they have recorded – and the original texts from which these manuscripts were copied were first written between 50 A.D. and 90 A.D. at the latest. Specifically, the Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which recount the historical story of Jesus) were written within 15 to 40 years of the crucifixion.  It would be no different than a veteran of WWII writing a letter or book about his experience in the war, or of a personal friend or assistant  of Ronald Reagan writing a biography about him today…  Simply put, there is reliability because the manuscripts and the actual letters themselves were written and widely circulated within one generation of Christ – had the claims been false they would have been disproven and rejected by eyewitnesses who were still living then.

How do other ancient writings compare? Other notable documents accepted as historically reliable, in comparison to the NT, have a much wider gap between their origin and the earliest surviving manuscript (i.e. there is a 734 year gap for Tacitus; 900-1100 year gap for various copies of Josephus’ histories; 1000+ year gap for Caesar’s Gallic wars; Aristotle’s works have a 1,434 year difference between their originals and the earliest manuscripts). Again, the evidence for the accuracy of the biblical texts far exceeds that of other ancient documents which are widely accepted as accurate and reliable by scholars world-wide.

Reliability of the manuscripts: For the OT manuscripts (whose extremity of ages span over nearly 1000 years) the texts compare exactly (word for word) in 95% of the verbiage… the only changes can be accounted for as spelling errors and/or pen slips. Of all the variants between the manuscripts there were only a few changes in actual words, but absolutely no changes in meaning. For the NT there is 99.9% agreement between the various manuscripts (again, this is between the thousands of various manuscripts). By way of comparison, the Iliad and the Mahbarata each have 90-95% of agreement between their small number surviving ancient transcripts (The question of textual criticism – i.e. the so-called redactions and/or changes over time to the text will be more fully explored in a later post).

In light of the overwhelming evidence in support of the accuracy and unadulterated transmissions of the original Biblical texts, I don’t plan on abandoning or doubting the biblical record any more than I plan on rejecting the majority of information I learned in my High School and Collegiate history courses (and I had A LOT of them since my second degree was a BA in secondary ed. with an emphasis in Social Studies).

Note:  For more details on the reliability of the Biblical texts, check out Josh and Sean McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter (specifically chapter 6). For one honestly trying to find answers to their general skepticism about God another good place to look is Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.

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17 responses to “The Bible… Is it Historically Reliable?

  1. Pingback: The Bible…Good moral stories? « No Apologizing

  2. David E May 21, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    You actually fail to distinguish the difference between the historical reliability of a document and the accuracy with which it has been transmitted. I’ve seen this from Christian apologists many times before but it never fails to amaze me.

    Let me just point out for you the glaringly obvious:

    IF THE FIRST WRITTEN MANUSCRIPT OF A WORK WAS HISTORICALLY INACCURATE IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE IOTA THAT THE MANUSCRIPT WAS COPIED ACCURATELY.

    100,000 perfect copies of a historically inaccurate document do not add up to a historically accurate document. Nor do a million. Nor do a billion.

  3. David E May 21, 2010 at 7:28 am

    The only attempt you make at arguing for the historical reliability of the New Testament is that they were written within a few decades of when the events they claim to record are said to have occurred.

    So, are you going to apply this standard consistently? Is every document written within a few decades of the events it claims to record to be accepted as historically accurate? (hint: you can’t do so consistently—it would involve a few million mutually incompatible claims)?

  4. Moonsray Thea May 21, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Does this reliability business apply, do you think, to the gospel writers’ direct reporting of the exact words spoken by various people?

    I have in mind how often our gospels’ writers “quote” other people. Besides Jesus’ the gospels also record words of the disciples, Herod, angels, demons, Satan, tax collectors, and crowds of people all saying the same words all together. The gospels even record long speeches spoken in dreams, and verbatim accounts of inner thoughts that were never spoken, but that Jesus knew because He could read minds.

    Here’s our Bible reliability question : How’d they do that? How are the gospel writers able to quote the incidental ephemeral speech of all those bit players exactly ?

    How did the gospel writers know exactly,
    word for word what the angel said in Joseph’s dream, [Mt 1, MT 2]
    word for word what Herod said in his secret meeting, [Mt 2]
    word for word what the centurion said [Mt 8]
    word for word what the man with leprosy said [Mt 8]
    word for word what the demons said [Mt 8]
    word for word what the Pharisees thought in their private thoughts but never spoke? [Lk 5]
    Word for word the things said by the woman at the well? [Jn 4]

    What possible method could our gospel writers have used to come up with all the various verbatim quotations they claim to give?

    Or did the gospel writers get all those “quotations” by just making them up? Is it more likely that “Matthew” knew the words Herod spoke in a secret meeting, or did “Matthew” probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story?

    And if the only reasonable non-magical explanation is that the gospel writers got their “quotations” by making them up, then …. our gospel writers made stuff up. Just made it up. And it is not true the gospels are historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about in them actually happened.

    Moonsray

  5. David E May 21, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Moonsray, for someone who believes these documents were transmitted by divine inspiration this presents no problem: God is omniscient and knows everything.

    The problem, of course, is establishing that these books really are of a divine source.

    It is up to the believer to establish this claim as true. Not up to the nonbeliever to establish it as false. Thus the absurdity of his claim that atheists are desperate in their attempt to prove it false. We have no particular need to prove it false—though the inconsistencies and implausibilities in the NT do support the position that it is.

    Let’s look though, and see if the Bible does not contradict itself:

    An obvious and famous example, who is the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary according to the two genealogies in the bible:

    Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli… Luke 3:23

    And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. Mat 1:16

    This is just one example of many and I’m more than familiar with the strained attempts to harmonize the many inconsistent passages in the Bible so I won’t waste my time on the topic—after all, it’s not up to me to prove the Bible false. It’s up to the person who accepts it’s extraordinary claims to give a good reason for doing so.

    • kcbob May 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

      I will respond to a couple of points you make here:

      Thus the absurdity of his claim that atheists are desperate in their attempt to prove it false. We have no particular need to prove it false

      Yet you are here doing exactly that. Don’t get me wrong, we appreciate that you are here challenging us, but you are illustrating Kevin’s point.

      An obvious and famous example, who is the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary according to the two genealogies in the bible:

      Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli… Luke 3:23

      And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. Mat 1:16

      Matthew and Luke are presenting different geneology lines one through Solomon, and the other through Nathan. The problem you are presented with is the historical context of the verse. The differences between the two could be that Luke documented Mary’s geneology, and Matthew Joseph’s. Heli (being the father of two daughters) would be listed as Joseph’s father as well (in-law) for the family name and heir. either of these would resovle your contradiction.

  6. David E May 21, 2010 at 11:25 am


    Yet you are here doing exactly that.

    Actually, I’m primarily arguing that the claim is unfounded. That’s not the same as claiming to have proved it false.


    Matthew and Luke are presenting different geneology lines one through Solomon, and the other through Nathan. The problem you are presented with is the historical context of the verse. The differences between the two could be that Luke documented Mary’s geneology, and Matthew Joseph’s. Heli (being the father of two daughters) would be listed as Joseph’s father as well (in-law) for the family name and heir. either of these would resovle your contradiction.

    That’s the standard response. There’s always a way to wriggle out of an apparent inconsistency if one is willing to put in the effort. For example, suppose I claimed the the Harry Potter books are all historical fact and accurate in every detail.

    Could you prove me wrong? I challenge you to try.

    And this is not a frivolous challenge. Following through on it can demonstrate just how easy it is to “harmonize” inconsistencies both internal and external. There’s no reason you can give for not believing it that I can’t give a logically possible reason for believing.

    Which is why we skeptics are less than impressed by Christians claims of the “remarkable” consistency of their scriptures. And why I don’t bother wasting much time on this topic.

    • kcbob May 21, 2010 at 11:42 am

      There’s always a way to wriggle out of an apparent inconsistency if one is willing to put in the effort.

      Likewise always a way to wriggle into an apparent inconsistency if one is willing to put in the effort.

    • kcbob May 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      David….Aren’t you splitting hairs here? Unfounded = false. Be completely honest with everyone who is reading. You are saying that the Bible, and all related items either Biblical or documents outside of the Bible that support it are false. You don’t have to believe me…

      un·found·ed   /ʌnˈfaʊndɪd/ Show Spelled[uhn-foun-did] Show IPA
      –adjective
      1.without foundation; not based on fact, realistic considerations, or the like: unfounded suspicions.
      2.not established; not founded: the prophet of a religion as yet unfounded.

      false   /fɔls/ Show Spelled [fawls] Show IPA adjective,fals·er, fals·est, adverb
      –adjective
      1.not true or correct; erroneous: a false statement.
      2.uttering or declaring what is untrue: a false witness.
      3.not faithful or loyal; treacherous: a false friend.
      4.tending to deceive or mislead; deceptive: a false impression.
      5.not genuine; counterfeit

      Main Entry: false
      Part of Speech: adjective
      Definition: wrong, made up
      Synonyms: apocryphal, beguiling, bogus, casuistic, concocted, contrary to fact, cooked-up, counterfactual, deceitful, deceiving, delusive, dishonest, distorted, erroneous, ersatz*, fake, fallacious, fanciful, faulty, fictitious, fishy, fraudulent, illusive, imaginary, improper, inaccurate, incorrect, inexact, invalid, lying, mendacious, misleading, misrepresentative, mistaken, off the mark, phony, sham, sophistical, specious, spurious, trumped up, unfounded, unreal, unsound, untrue, untruthful

  7. David E May 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm


    David….Aren’t you splitting hairs here? Unfounded = false.

    An unfounded belief, as I’m using it, as the term is normally used, and as should have been abundantly clear from the context, is one you don’t have good reason for holding. Not one which is false.

    Example: If I said I believe it’s raining in Dallas, Texas today this would be an unfounded belief because I’d done nothing to find out what the weather is like in Dallas (or Texas in general for that matter) today.

    This is not remotely equivalent to saying the the proposition “it’s raining in Dallas Texas today” is false.

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  14. tomcat May 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    To those who wish to disprove the Bible, go for it. The Bible, no matter how much or how ever you despise or doubt its veracity, authenticity and claimed Divine Inspiration, will remain as it has for several millenia. Skeptics like you will just turn into dust just like what the Old Good Book has stated. And why is that? No falsehood has survived that long if its has been proven beyond doubt that it is so. There were so many places and names in the Bible’s account of ancient Israelite history that were initially thrown off has mythological and incredible. But a modern scientific field called archeology has proven many such data to be actual facts indeed. Many more proofs are still coming out in the open. Of course, it may be next to impossible to prove every single minute fact 100% but who knows? Given enough time, funding and effort, taking in account, how well additional ancient artifacts are preserved, you, skeptics, will be eating your own words and brains out in your graves.

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