When analyzing written evidence or texts, there are three kinds of evidence used to determine the accuracy or reliability of the book or document:
- Bibliographic evidence—the quality and number of documents.
- Internal evidence—the agreement and support within the documents of each other.
- External evidence—the evidence outside of the documents themselves that affirms what the documents say.
All three evidence tests demonstrate that the Bible is accurate and reliable—more accurate and reliable than any other ancient book.
Bibliographic evidence asks three questions about the manuscripts:
- How many?
- What kind?
- How old?
This evidence concerns manuscripts (MSS): the number of MSS, the quality of MSS, the age of MSS, and the time interval between the original writing and the copy. Bibliographic evidence seeks to answer the question “Is the present text or copy the same as the original author wrote?” Bibliographic consideration is commonly called textual criticism. The manuscript evidence demonstrates agreement with all the fundamentals of the faith.
Old Testament bibliographic evidence
- We do not have as many Old Testament manuscripts as New Testament manuscripts.
- The MSS we have are very good quality. The copy tradition is excellent. Both the Talmudists (AD 100-500) and Massoretes (AD 500-900) were meticulous in their copying, care, and preservation of the Hebrew text. Changes of any kind were kept out. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) found in the Qumran caves verify the accurate transmission and the preservation of the Hebrew Bible. The DSS include thousands of fragments along with many scrolls of biblical and non-biblical literature which were written or copied between 250 BC and AD 50. The Hebrew Bible of the Massoretic period is the same Hebrew text (with few minor variations) that the Qumran scribes were familiar with. Most variations found in the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament are insignificant; none bring any foundational doctrine into question. Gleason Archer writes on page 19 in A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. Even those Dead Sea fragments of Deuteronomy and Samuel which point to a different manuscript family from that which underlies our received Hebrew text do not indicate any differences in doctrine or teaching. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.
- Age and closeness in time to the original Hebrew text: the best Massoretic Text (MT) is dated around AD 900. The DSS gave us a Hebrew text 1000 years older and therefore 1000 years closer to the original.
New Testament bibliographic evidence
- There are some 24,000 MSS and portions of MSS.
- The quality is excellent; the changes are few and minor. No fundamental doctrine is changed by any MSS variant.
- Age and closeness in time to the original: There are many MSS that were written within 100 to 400 years after the original. There is a papyrus fragment (John 18.31-33,37-38) in the John Rylands Library that has been dated to the period 100-140 AD—within possibly 50 years of the original.
- Besides Greek MSS there are about 15,000 copies in the various versions—that is, the New Testament translated into another language such as Syriac, Coptic, and Latin. In addition, the church fathers quoted the New Testament freely. Almost the entire New Testament can be reproduced from just the writings of the fathers.
- The New Testament is clearly the best documented text when compared to other ancient writings. The Iliad by Homer was written in 900 BC. There are only 643 copies. The earliest copy was made about 400 BC. The textual tradition of the Iliad ranks a distant second to the New Testament tradition when you consider MSS numbers, age of documents, and quality of texts. Tacitus was a Roman who lived from about AD 55-117. His two long works are Histories and Annals. Only four and one-half of the fourteen books of Histories survive, while only ten of the sixteen books and two partial books of Annals survive. The text for both depend on one ninth century MSS and one eleventh century MSS.
- Internal evidence deals with what the text says. The question that internal evidence answers is “Is the author making reliable, consistent, non-contradictory, and truthful statements?” Involved in this determination is the competence and character of the author, the source of the information, the closeness in time and place of the author to the events, and the presence of other evidence or witnesses who confirm or disprove what he wrote.
- Internal evidence supports the nature and attributes of God, the gospel accounts (the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke} and John), the inspiration of Scripture, miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the creation the heavens and earth and all life—in fact all the statements of the Bible.
- There are no contradictions, though some claim that the Bible does contradict itself. Often, supposedly contradictory statements simply complement each other; an author may choose to exclude some information that another author chose to include; at other times an author’s perspective or emphasis may be a little different from another writer. All present the truth. When added together the larger view is clear. A consistent study of the Bible demonstrates its consistency and cohesiveness.
- One false claim is that God is a different God in the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament: in the Old Testament God is a God of wrath and destruction and in the New Testament He is a God of love. The critics say that the destruction of Sodom and the destruction of the Canaanites shows a primitive and weak deity, while the New Testament God speaks of love to one another and turn the other cheek. They are simply showing their presuppositions and faulty hermeneutics (principles of interpretation).
- In answer to this claim we can say that
- Matthew 22:37 summarizes the Old Testament—love God and our neighbor.
- Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7 say that God desired love and mercy more than sacrifice.
- Ezekiel 18:23 says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
- Genesis 6:3 records that God gave 120 years for the people to repent.
- Genesis 15:16 tells us that God gave the Amorites hundreds of years to repent.
- Deuteronomy 7:8 says that God’s love motivated His action toward Israel.
- Psalm 103:13 and Psalm 103:17 note that God has fatherly compassion and everlasting loving kindness to those who fear Him.
- John 3:16-17 teaches God loves the entire world of mankind and offers salvation, while John 3:18-19 and John 3:36 teach that wrath comes only toward the person who rejects God’s love and salvation—the unbeliever.
- Romans 2:5-6, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, and Revelation 6:15-17 all teach about God’s wrath—wrath toward those who reject His mercy.
- Matthew 23 shows God’s judgment of religious leaders who reject Him.
- Matthew 10:34 says that Christ had a mission that will divide and bring a sword.
- We can conclude that God is very patient and gracious in the Old Testament; He judged only when people repeatedly rejected Him. He is the same in the New Testament. Both sections of the Bible present God as holy and gracious and loving; God is consistent with his character in the way He treats people.
- In answer to this claim we can say that
- Another criticism is that the gospel accounts contradict each other. They do not. Each gospel has a distinct audience and purpose, therefore each emphasizes certain people, actions, and words. The arrangement of material was deliberately made according to the purpose of the gospel. “All three of them [the Synoptics — Matthew, Mark, and Luke] accurately related the events of Christ’s career and the words of His mouth, even though they included only what was pertinent to their particular approach.” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer 314). For example, look at photographs of a room taken from different angles. Each picture gives a different perspective and each picture is a little different, but each is accurate and records the same room. Students who take class notes record different things in different ways and each will include details that another may not have or at least has not been recorded in the exact same way. Neither the different photos nor the notes will be wrong. The gospels present a stereophonic view when they harmonize the facts. Even law courts harmonize the testimony and other evidence in order to arrive at the correct verdict.
- Yet another criticism of the Bible is the claim that since men are imperfect, they cannot write an inerrant Bible. The resulting Bible is one that has errors and if it has errors it is not trustworthy. Again, we can go to the Bible for the answer. The Bible tells us that men wrote only as God directed or inspired them. The lack of error was due to God, not man (2 Peter 1.20-21; 2 Timothy 3.16).
- Miracles are rejected by many people; some say that God does not exist while others say that God does not act in human events. Some claim that miracles are simply different acts of nature. If God exists, then miracles are genuinely possible, since God is the cause of miracles.
- Some erroneously claim that the truthfulness of the Bible depends on how you interpret the Bible. In response, remember that there are not that many parts of the Bible that present differing interpretations. Orthodox doctrine has been consistent. There are some difficult areas to interpret, but these are few. The problem is often with the interpreter who does not want to hear what the Bible says or who will not study to find the meaning. The few very difficult areas do not affect orthodox doctrine.
- External evidence is support from sources other than the writings under consideration. This evidence comes from such fields of knowledge as history, archaeology, science, and literature. The question here is “What does other provable data say about the statements made by the writing under discussion?”
- For example, external evidence supports the Bible prophecies about the fall of great cities of the past—for example, Tyre (Ezekiel 26), Nineveh (Nahum), and Babylon (Isaiah 13.19-22; Jeremiah 51.24-26) were destroyed exactly like the prophets predicted. Josh McDowell, in Volume 1 of Evidence Demands a Verdict, quotes many different historians and archaeologists as they comment about the fall of these cities (Tyre, 274-280; Nahum, 296-302; Babylon, 302-309). The quotes are fascinating.
- Ancient history and archaeology confirm the way of life described in the Old Testament—the Bible account of Moses’ adoption and training was consistent with Egyptian practice at that time. Just compare Acts 7.22 with the story of Moses in the book of Exodus.
- External evidence better supports the Bible account of origins than the naturalistic evolutionary theory of origins. Fossils and the lack of any intermediary forms, the laws of thermodynamics, the formation and function of enzymes, mutations, genetics, the absence of “cross-kind” reproduction, and the basic question of “How did life begin?” all lead to the conclusion of a creator and designer. The Bible is the one accurate record of the work of the creator and designer.
- Other ancient writings tell about events and people that the Bible includes within its pages. Several non-biblical writers refer to Jesus Christ:
- Josephus lived c. AD 36-100. He was a Pharisee, a military commander, and was attached to Roman military headquarters in Jerusalem. He interpreted for General Titus. He later settled in Rome and wrote the History of the Jewish War, Against Apion, Jewish Antiquities, and Autobiography (Antiq 18.3.3; 20.9.1).
- Pliny the Younger lived c. AD 61-112. He wrote ten volumes of correspondence; he was also governor of Bithynia (Epistles 10.96-97).
- Cornelius Tacitus lived c. AD 56-115. He was a Roman senator, governor of Asia, and a historian. He wrote Annals (Annals, Loeb ed., 15.44).
- Suetonius lived c. AD 69-130. He was a Roman historian and annalist (Life of Claudius, 25.4).
Suggested Reading Resources
- There are many resources where you may get help for questions related to the text of the Bible, internal evidence, and external evidence for the Bible.
- To begin, you might consider the following books:
- A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell, Here’s Life Publishers, 1990;
- Evidence Demands A Verdict, Volume 1 and 2, by Josh McDowell, Here’s Life Publishers, 1979 and 1981;
- The Expositor’s Bible Commentary articles by F.F. Bruce, “Transmission and Translation of the Bible,” in Volume 1, pages 39-57, Zondervan, 1979;
- The New Testament Documents—are they reliable?
- By F.F. Bruce, Eerdman, 1960 revised edition;
- A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason Archer, Moody, 1964;
- Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer, Zondervan, 1982; and Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler, Baker Books, 1999.
- As for references and organizations about divine creation, there are many. One good organization, the Institute for Creation Research, holds to direct creation by God and a young earth. You can find much good information in their books and on their website (http://www.icr.org).
- Intelligent design is the theory that “a designing intelligence is required to account for the complex, information-rich structures in living systems.” (Signs of Intelligence, Edited by William A. Dembski and James M. Kushiner, Introduction by William Dembski, Brazos Press, Baker, 2001, page 8). This theory is not a religious theory, but does demonstrate that an intelligent designer is evident.
- Another eye opening book on the detail of God’s creative work is More Than Meets the Eye, Fascinating Glimpses of God’s Power and Design,” by Richard A. Swenson, M.D., NavPress, 2000.