The Christian faith is based on the Bible. The Bible is our ultimate authority, because in it, God has specifically uncovered His plan for mankind. A lot rests on the Bible. If it is untrue in its fundamental claims or otherwise, we who follow it are “of all people, most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19. This leads many people, both Christian and otherwise to ask a crucial question regarding the Bible: is it true?
Let’s look at three important questions that relate to whether the Bible is true:
Hasn’t the Bible changed over time?
The popular illustration of the telephone game serves to discredit the reliability of the Bible. But is that actually how the Bible came to us today?
One of the first rules of translating ancient documents is to use the oldest sources possible. The reason for this is that the older a document is, the closer to the original document it is. Later copies have potential to have copying errors, modifications by editors and such. In this sense, the “telephone” illustration is correct. For this reason, translators are forever evaluating source documents.
Not only do they ask “how old it it?” and “How close to the original?”, they are concerned about two other criteria. How many copies are there? A higher number can demonstrates that the piece was widely accepted and in high demand. Lastly, how much variation is there between copies? This is where the “telephone” principle comes in. Lots of variation gives us room for doubt about the content of the original, little variation gives translators a higher degree of certainty about what the original work contained.
To summarize, older, more numerous and consistent works give us a greater degree of certainty about what the original documents contained.
The graphic below is a handy chart showing what sources translators have used over time:
Notice that more recent translations don’t rely on previous translation work to build newer translations, as the “telephone” analogy would lead us to believe. Rather, modern translations go to the oldest sources possible, in order to preserve the original sense of the Biblical texts.
How reliable are the sources? How do Biblical manuscripts compare with other ancient works? When you use the 3 main criteria (age, number and internal consistency), the New testament is hundreds of percent more accurate than other ancient documents! Check out the graphic below:
As you can see, the New Testament is in a category all alone in terms of its reliability. No other ancient document comes close to this degree of reliability. This should put the “Telephone game” analogy soundly to bed.