Bible Basics
a Bible Study Course published by the Churches of God

Lesson 2: Can You Trust The Bible?

There are literally billions of copies of "The Bible" scattered around the world. It's said to be the world's most read book. You'll find it in almost every top drawer in any hotel. It ranks year by year as the top-selling title. Millions pick it up every day - for guidance in life, for intense study, for comfort.

But what is it? Certainly the Christian religion is based on the Bible. Indeed without the Bible Christianity would not exist. But what if it could be shown to be riddled with error? That it depicts non-events? That it is simply imagination run riot? That it is inconsistent? That's what scholars - many of them professing to be Christians - have long sought to do.

The Bible has been undermined in the public mind to such an extent that it is now largely scorned - and sidelined to the point of irrelevance as a source of religious truth.

Yet many of the world's great have extolled its virtues and testified to its value for them. In this lesson of Bible Basics we explore the question Can you trust the Bible? Using the sciences, using the study of the very text of the Bible, using the records of history we will investigate the "book that nobody knows" to find out whether or not you can literally "stake your life" on it.

If the Bible is "just another book" then any future lessons of Bible Basics will be pointless. But if it is indeed "the Word of God" - and can be shown to be so - then all of us need to sit up and take notice.

What is the Bible?

Pick up any full Bible in the Protestant tradition and you will find it has sixty-six "books". Some are long narratives, some are short letters. There are histories, songs, practical manuals, biographies, prophecies. You will see it has two divisions - named the Old Testament and the New Testament. (The word testament means a covenant.)

Which Testament did Jesus use?

Jesus and his apostles used only the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament

  • these were in three divisions: the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms...Luke 24:44

        - the Law was the torah, the first five books of our Bible
        - the Prophets began with Isaiah and included the other prophetic
          writings except Daniel
        - the Psalms (or The Writings) comprised the remaining books

  • it was upon these - collectively termed The Scriptures - that they based their teachings...Luke 24:27,32

        - Paul commended the enquirers in Thessalonia for their diligent
          checking of his teaching compared to the Scriptures...Acts 17:11
        - see, too, his comment to Timothy...II Timothy 3:14-15

What Scriptures did the early church use?

  • it's clear that the church of the first century based their teachings on the Old Testament [OT]. Indeed, there are over 270 direct quotations from the OT in the New

        - the documents we know as the New Testament (NT) were written
          many years after the first NT Pentecost in 31AD. The earliest was
          probably Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (c. 51AD). A fragment of
          Matthew's Gospel, however, has recently been dated to c. 40AD

        - all changes from the teachings of the OT are fully documented in
         the NT: e.g.
             - circumcision see Acts 15
             - the sacrificial regime see Hebrews

        - note that there are many teachings in the church today which do
         not have the authority of the Scriptures

  • any changes or additional teaching required clear divine approval if it were to be acceptable to the Jews

        - God demonstrated this approval in a most obvious manner through
          the apostles and prophets - by "signs and wonders and various
          miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit"...Hebrews 2:4, Acts 2:43,
          5:12, 14:3

        - when the apostles died the NT canon was complete; after this God's
          guidance through the Spirit was always in accord with the OT and
          the NT

        - Paul required Timothy to pass on to others "what you have heard
          from me before many witnesses"...II Timothy 2:2

        - all doctrinal innovations contrary to the spirit and teachings of the
          canon of Scripture are therefore heretical and mere human
. Jesus warned of the dangers of such traditions...Mark

But Can You Trust The Bible?

Christians take a variety of positions regarding the authenticity of the Bible. Since the middle of the 19th century, it has been attacked and its authority undermined by "scholars". In consequence its moral influence has sharply declined. Many more now read the Scriptures than a century ago - but it has little impact on life. Even professing Christians pay mere lip-service to its teachings.

The Bible presents itself as the very Word of God. It claims divine inspiration. Yet if it is shown to be in error then how can we believe its claim to be God's revelation to mankind - of his nature, of his purpose for us, of the one and only way of salvation through Jesus Christ?

So - can you trust the Bible?

Attacks on the Bible focus on the text, on its historical references, on whether or not it is mere myth - i.e. man's attempt to make sense of life through imagery.

Is the text of Scripture reliable?

  • there's overwhelming evidence that the texts we have of both the Old and the New Testaments are reliable

        - the manuscripts (MSS) we have of the OT books date largely from
          the 10th C. AD. Yet there is remarkable conformity with those texts
          of the OT, a thousand years earlier, recovered in the Dead Sea

        - in one chapter of Isaiah only one word differed from Dead Sea MSS

        - in the book of Kings not one consonant differed. Odds against this
          have been computed at one in 750,000,000,000!

        - the text of the Hebrew Bible was accurately copied, with even the
          letters being counted and diligently compared with the original. It is
          known as the Masoretic text.

        - we can rest assured that we have a reliable text both for the OT and
          the NT

The evidence for the reliability of the New Testament texts is equally strong

  • Scholars have researched many thousands of MSS and have for the most part agreed the original text (see side-bars)
  • The main contention is between the textus receptus of Stephens (1550, on which the King James version is based) or Elzevir (1624), and the texts of later researchers like Westcott and Hort on which are based most modern versions from the late 19thC

        - the latter assert that the older MSS are best, and rely heavily on the
          Vatican and Sinai MSS - both (possibly) dating from the 4thC and
          the earliest extensive MSS. However both of these can be
          demonstrated - from the multitude of corrections in their texts - to be
          "derived from a common and very corrupt source"

        - the earliest copies of the NT documents were carefully copied, and
          as they wore out were just as carefully replaced. The "original text"
          can be accurately traced by comparing thousands of copies, by the
          use of quotations of early texts by early Christian writers, and by
          comparison of early translations from Greek - e.g. the Syriac and Old
          Latin versions. The latter are older by far than any of the Greek MSS,
          yet are almost identical to the textus receptus of the KJV - as are the

And God has "signed" His Book!

Biblical research over the last decade has revealed that God has "made his mark" on the very text of Scripture. Through the use of the incredible search power of modem computers, scholars have discovered hidden depths to the text of the Scriptures.

The results of these researches has been published in the learned Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, the Bible Review and Statistical Science Journal. Each has the most rigorous screening process to ensure published items are thoroughly checked by experts, are scientific and won't bring the journals into disrepute.

In essence, stimulated by a 14th C rabbinical comment, a Jewish scholar discovered - in 1988 - hidden "codes" underneath the text of the Hebrew Scriptures. Normal statistical coincidence is no more than 1 in 20. But the chance of such codes occurring are one in tens of thousands, even billions in some instances. In one search the chances of its occurrence coincidentally was calculated at one in fifty quadrillion. The method is known as equidistant letter spacing.

The computer searches uncovered numerous "coincidences" including historical persons and events - in and out of the Scriptures - later than when the books were written.

Recall that Jesus stated the very text of the Scriptures would remain intact through time...Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17, John 10:35

As far as the text of our Bible is concerned, then, we can have firm confidence in its accuracy - especially those versions based on the textus receptus.

Can we also rely on the Biblical narrative?

Is the Bible just a collection of fables on a level with the Brothers Grimm? Or is it real history, an account of real events of long ago, of real people and nations and empires? When the blind prejudices of scientists in many disciplines are set aside, then the Bible stands out for its integrity and its ability to honestly and accurately reflect its times. Written by some forty-four authors over a period that may stretch for nearly four thousand years it yet has a unity of purpose unique in all religious history.

  • the Bible accounts are confirmed by archaeology and historical records

        - inscriptions by Nebuchadnezzar confirm the account of the Tower of
          Babel, including the detail that it was never completed...Genesis

        - an 18C BC poem confirms the seven years of famine and seven "fat"
          years under the premiership of Egypt under Joseph...Genesis 41

        - the historian Manetho records details of the Exodus of the Israelites
          from Egypt. It is also confirmed by the Greek historian Diodorus

        - the same historian, also Strabo, confirm inscriptions and artifacts in
          their day in the Sinai. Others in recent centuries confirm they are in an
          old Hebrew script, some describing the Red Sea crossing by the
          fleeing Israelites...Exodus 12ff

        - freed from the chains of traditional chronologies archaeologists have
          in recent years been able to relate archaeological artifacts with the
          record of the Scriptures. Writes archaeologist David Rohl:
          "Archaeologists have been looking in the right place but in the wrong
          time" for evidence of Biblical sites and events

        - Rohl unfolds in stone the histories, among others, of Joseph, the
          Israelites, David, Solomon and those with whom they interacted on
          the world stage

Truly, the lives and events recorded in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments - and now vindicated by the finds of history, archaeology and paleontology - leave no doubt that the skeptics of years gone by were totally wrong in assigning the Scriptures to the dustbin of ancient mythology.

You can indeed trust the Scriptures as the sure record of God's dealings with mankind since his original direct creation by God "from the dust of the ground". It is the record of God's revelation of his perfect way, of his dealings with rebellious man, of his plan to ultimately raise mankind to become integrated into God's Family.

Future lessons of Bible Basics will address important aspects of Bible teaching. Lesson 3 will consider the pivotal figure of Jesus Christ. Did he really live? Who was he? Was he resurrected from the dead? These are among the questions answered in our next lesson.

"...the [Bible] is the Book that has held together the fabric of western has unified and kept together great masses of is the handbook of life to countless millions of men and women, it has explained the world to the mass of our people and has given them moral standards and a form into which their consciences could work" [HG Wells]

"If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible our country will go prospering"
[Daniel Webster]

Be sure to review
- and apply -
the first lesson with its guide to study!

The word "Bible" (Gk. biblia) means books. it is distinguished by being the first ever printed book.

The original Scriptures were arranged differently from our own versions.

torah means instruction

Be sure to follow up all references in your own Bible! Read not only the verses indicated but also the context.

Note that the apostles, while holding firmly to the meaning of the inspired Hebrew text of the OT, yet quoted freely from the Greek LXX version (the Septuagint) as their primary source. Note, too, that not always did they quote the text exactly.

the canon of Scripture are those books God inspired and which were then formally recognized by the Church. It was not made formal until the Council of Carthage (397 AD), but all books included in the canon had been in use from the earliest times

At this point in your studies, list - and file for reference - all your own doctrinal beliefs and practices. Refer to this list as we proceed through Bible Basics.

The Bible claims: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work"
II Timothy 3:16-17

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of Bible-related and other MSS discovered in 1947, and since, in caves near the Dead Sea in Israel. They have been described as "the most important MSS discovery of modern times". Scholars date them 150BC to 68AD.

The copyists of the Hebrew MSS were the Masoretes (from masorah=tradition). The old text had consonants only, and they placed under these the traditional vowel sounds.

"...the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed" [Sir Frederick Kenyon: Handbook To the Textual Criticism of the New Testament]

"It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain" [Kenyon: Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts]

In the NT "...there are 200,000 variants in 20,000 MSS which are confined to 10,000 places and of which only 400 affect meaning - only 50 of significance. In not one of these [50] is a single article of faith or practice which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching [Philip Schaff: Companion To the Greek New Testament]

In Equidistant Letter Spacing, the Hebrew text, without spaces, is analyzed to identify hidden words the letters of which are separated by equal numbers of letters. For example, the word torah was repeatedly found using every 50th letter of the text of Genesis and Exodus. The odds against this are three million to one!

"Luke [author of his Gospel and Acts] is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense...In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians" [Sir Wm. Ramsay who set out to prove Luke was wrong]

"It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference" [Nelson Glueck: Rivers in the Desert]

CAUTION: be aware of the changed meaning of our language since the last revision of the
King James Version.

"In ancient times there occurred a great plague in Egypt and many ascribed the cause of it to God. [Expelled by the Egyptians] those foreigners...were obliged to leave, and retired into the country now called Judaea" [Diodorus]

"Egyptian chronology may be wrong by some 250 years and a completely new picture of Biblical archaeology can be developed which at least restores harmony between the historical and stratigraphical records" [Peter James: Centuries of Darkness]

"From an Old Testament of myth and legend we have uncovered a living history"
This is how David Rohl summarizes his detailed researches in A Test of Time

"...holy men of God spoke as they were moved of the Holy Spirit"
[II Peter 1:21]

"Faith comes by hearing [the message], and hearing by the Word of God"
[Romans 10:17]

We are always pleased to respond to any questions or comments you may have arising from your studies in Bible Basics

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