The Bible’s Reliability

How Reliably Has It Been Preserved?

Note:  In this study of the Bible, we are referring to what may commonly be called the Protestant Canon of Scripture.

The New Testament

  1. Number of Manuscripts
    • 5,686+ Greek manuscripts
    • 10,000+ Latin Vulgate manuscripts
    • 9,300+ other early versions
    • 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of N.T. 
      • (The 2nd most in antiquity is Homer’s Iliad with 643 extant manuscripts.) (Leach, OB)
    • The abundance of manuscript copies makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy. (Geisler, GIB)
  2. Closeness To Original
    • A.D. 114 – Fragments of N.T.
    • A.D. 200 – Books of N.T.
    • A.D. 250 – Copy of most of N.T.
    • A.D. 325 – Copy of complete N.T.
    • We have existing copies that are only 50-250 years after the originals were written. 
    • The 2nd closest gap in antiquity is Homer’s Iliad, with a gap of 400 years.  (McDowell, NETDV)
    • Earliest Manuscript Copy:  Fragment of a copy of John dated around A.D. 117, far from Ephesus in Asia Minor (where John wrote).  (Bruce Metzger, as qtd. by Lee Strobel, CC)
    • Chart (see below).  (Josh McDowell, NETDV)
  3. Confirmation by Early Church Fathers
    • The entire New Testament (except 11 verses) can be constructed using the quotes of the early church fathers alone!  (Dalrymple, as cited in Leach, OB)
    • Therefore, the New Testament must have been an established document before the time of these church fathers., and that document of 2,000 years ago is virtually identical to what we have today!
  4. Confirmation by Non-Christian Writers
    • Josephus (born A.D. 37) – writes about Christ, his crucifixion by Pilate, his disciples, and other details corroborated in the N.T.
    • Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120) – writes of Nero’s tortures of Christians, Jesus’ crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, and superstition surrounding Christ’s death.
    • Pliny the Younger’s letter to Emperor Trajan (c. A.D. 111) – speaks of Christians honoring Christ as God and desiring to live moral lives.
    • Thallus’s history of the eastern Mediterranean (written roughly around A.D. 52), quoted by Julius Africanus (c. A.D. 221) – speaks of the darkness occurring during Christ’s crucifixion, and attributes it to some form of eclipse.
    • Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian and probably Stoic philosopher, writing a letter to his son from prison some time after A.D. 70 – speaks of Jesus’ wise teachings and death brought about by the Jews.
  5. Use of Primary Sources
    • Luke 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:3; Acts 2:22; John 19:35; Luke 3:1; Acts 26:24-26 are all claims to the writers’ being eyewitnesses or using firsthand information.  Since the New Testament was written during the lifetimes of those involved in the accounts themselves, it must be regarded by scholars today as a competent primary source document from the first century. (Montgomery, HC)
  6. Conclusion
    • The number of copies, time between copies, early church quotations, non-Christian confirmation, and the writers’ use of primary sources prove the historicity of the New Testament trustworthy.  In addition to these tests, we also have conclusive internal evidence (e.g. Peter referring to Paul’s writings), recent archaeological finds confirming the facts of the New Testament, and other outstanding corroborations of its reliability.
    • “The works of several ancient authors are preserved to us by the THINNEST possible thread of transmission…In contrast…the textual critic of the New Testament is EMBARRASSED by the wealth of his material.” – Bruce Metzger, Professor Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary
  7. Common Objection:  The 100,000+ Variants Among New Testament Manuscripts Diminish Its Reliability.
    • This number is incredibly misleading, because if the same variant appears in 2,000 manuscripts, it is counted as 2,000 variants.
    • The vast majority of variations are either not worthy of consideration or involve minor issues such as variant spellings or grammar.
    • There are only 400 variants that cause doubt about textual meaning, and only 50 of these are of significance (Philip Schaff, CGTEV)
    • Not 1 of these 50 variants affect any major doctrine of the church.  Any doctrine in question can be proven sufficiently by many of the undoubted passages of Scripture (e.g. 1 John 5:7). (Philip Schaff, CGTEV) (Bruce Metzger, as qtd. by Strobel in CC)
    • “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book – a form that is 99.5% pure.” (Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, as qtd. by Strobel in CC)


  1. Archaeological Evidence
    • Discoveries such as ancient documents of kings, covenant traditions ceasing in the second millennium B.C., Babylonian tablets, Nuzi tablets, and many other finds have affirmed that the history recorded in the Old Testament is accurate, and even more astonishing is the fact that many of these finds have revealed facts that have been unknown for thousands of year, and therefore, a late dating of the Old Testament is impossible.
    • The Old Testament accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Saul, David, Solomon, the Hittites, and many, many others have been verified by extra-Biblical discoveries.
  2. Quantity of Manuscripts
    • First collection of Hebrew manuscripts was made by Benjamin Kennicott (1776-1780): 615 manuscripts of the Old Testament.  Later, Giovanni de Rossi (1784-1788) published a list of 731 manuscripts.  The Cairo synagogue attic, a geniza, or storehouse, for old manuscripts was discovered: 10,000+ biblical manuscripts and fragments were found. (Goshen-Gottstein, BMUS)
  3. History of Old Testament Copiers
    • The Sopherim (5th and 3rd centuries B.C.); Zugoth (2nd and 1st centuries B.C.); Tannaim (active until A.D. 200); Talmudists (A.D. 100-500) were successions of scholars charged with standardizing and preserving the biblical text.
    • Regulations of the Talmudists: No word, letter, or mark could be written from memory; the copyist could not begin to write the name of God without a pen newly dipped in ink; if a king address him while writing God he must take no notice of him; between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene; the whole copy must be first-lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless; etc.
    • Regulations of Masoretes (A.D. 500-950):  Counted number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible; made even more detailed calculations than these.  Wheeler Robinson says of the Masoretes: “Everything countable seems to be counted.”
  4. Dead Sea Scrolls
    • History:  Scrolls of the Old Testament dated about 100 B.C.  Discovered by a Bedouin shepherd boy looking for a lost goat.  Found in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956.
    • Based on a study of a Dead Sea scroll of Isaiah, we find word-for-word identity with our modern copies in more than 95 percent of the cases, and the 5-percent variation consist mostly of slips of the pen and/or spelling differences.
  5. New Testament Verification
    • Within the New Testament can be found many direct quotes from the Old Testament that verify definitely the trustworthiness of our copies of the Old Testament. 

Dating Ancient Records – Chart (Josh McDowell, NETDV)

HomerIliad800 B.C.c. 400 B.C.c. 400643
HerodotusHistory 480-425 B.C.c. A. D. 900c. 1,350 yrs8
ThucydidesHistory460-400 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,300 yrs.8
Plato400 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,300 yrs.7
Demosthenes300 B.C.c. A.D. 1100c. 1,400 yrs.200
CaesarGallic Wars100-44 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,000 yrs.10
LivyHistory of Rome59 B.C. – A.D. 174th cent.  (partial), mostly 10th cent.c. 400 yrsc. 1,000 yrs.1 partial19 copies
TacitusAnnalsA.D. 100c. A.D. 1,100c. 1,000 yrs.20
Pliny SecundusNatural HistoryA.D. 61-113c. A.D. 850c. 750 yrs.7
New TestamentA.D. 50-100c. 114 (fragment)c. 200 (books)c. 250 (most of N.T.)c. 325 (complete N.T.)+50 yrs.100 yrs.150 yrs.225 yrs.5,366
Dating of Ancient Records

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