How We Got the Bible

Posted on January 17, 2020

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By David Ettinger

Quite the Feat!
The Bible – a wonderfully varied collection of 66 books – was compiled by approximately 30 to 40 contributors writing over hundreds of years all over the Near East. How in the world did these writings “get together” to form one book?

I mean, these books were originally written (by hand by human writers led by inspiration from God) a very long time ago. We’re talking about such authors as Moses and David who lived approximately 3,500 and 3,000 years ago, respectively.

We can safely say that the preserving of these writings was quite the feat!

The Answer is Copies
Let’s be clear about something: We don’t have any of the original writings of the Bible. What we have is copies. And not just copies, but copies of copies of copies.

In the days of antiquity, copying was a full-time – and tedious – occupation for many people. These copyists (often priests, later monks) were painstakingly careful in taking writings that had originally been committed to stone, clay, leather, papyrus, and animal skins and reproducing them. This was exacting work. The copyists developed intricate methods of counting lines, words, and letters to guard against errors.

Of course mistakes creeped in. There would be occasional misspellings and omitted words. However, with so many people making so many copies (more than 5,000 of which we still have), it becomes possible, through the science called textual criticism, to track back, find the probable source of the errors, compare manuscripts, and uncover what the original text likely said.

All this is to say: We can have confidence that our modern-day Bibles are a reliable expression of what God communicated to and through people such as Moses and David.

Trusting the Bible
Those who copied the ancient Scriptures were supremely careful! How careful? It has been determined that after 2,000 years of being copied exclusively by hand, only 40 of the 20,000 lines of the New Testament are in dispute. More importantly, NONE of these variances undermines the basic teaching of the Christian faith.

In other words, our modern-day Bibles are extremely credible – far more so than any other ancient historical document. To illustrate this truth, let’s compare the works of the philosopher Plato to the New Testament:

  • Plato’s works were written around 400 B.C.; the N.T. between A.D. 49 and 96.
  • Only 210 copies of Plato’s works survived; well over 5,000 portions of the N.T. have survived. We still have fragments from a few decades after the texts were written!
  • Plato’s earliest surviving manuscript was copied in A.D. 895, more than 1,200 years after the original documents were written; complete N.T. books survive from the 2nd century, less than 100 years after the books were written.
  • Furthermore, complete N.T. manuscripts survive from the early 4th century, less than 300 years after the originals were written.
  • Similar comparisons can be made to Homer and other ancient writers.

Volumes have been written on this topic, but I just wanted to give you a brief glimpse of not only how we got the Bible, but why you can be assured that our Holy Scriptures are reliable!

(Most of the material here is from Christopher D. Hudson’s excellent new book, Self-Guided Tour of the Bible by Rose Publishing.)