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The Bible, God’s Will for Me


Having established the existence of a supreme being , how do we know that the Bible is His will for us?  How do I know that the Bible I have today is the same word written over 2000 years ago?  Before we can use the Bible, we must first have faith in the validity and accuracy of its words.

We will begin by examining the historical and external evidences for the preservation of the Bible.  The primary point of this article is to establish confidence in the Bible's words.  Later we will investigate the uniqueness and value of these words by examining the claims that the Bible make for itself.  But, first let's examine the evidence to see if we have the same Bible that was penned by the prophets.

Transmission of the Text

Probably the most effective way of answering our questions is to directly examine how the Bible was passed down to us.  Many people believe that there was one original text which was copied.  A second copy was then copied, a third copy was made from the second, a fourth from the third, and so on.  Most people also have the impression that this process was repeated hundreds of times until our present day.  The following assumption which is often made is that the Bible was slowly corrupted due to errors in copying, and now we have today a tainted product from a single, long chain of transmission.  However, this is not the case.  Later we will use an illustration to better explain this point, but first let us examine the evidence to see if this is true.

We will begin by separately examining the transmission of the Old and New Testaments in their original languages, and we will conclude by investigating the history of the translations into our modern language.  Since few of us are experts in this field of textual criticism, we will be forced to rely on the testimony of scholars and experts who have spent their lives studying, translating, and researching the many texts upon which our Bible is based.  Many of the quotes here are taken from Introduction to Christian Evidences by Ferrell Jenkins.  These references will be noted, and anyone in doubt to their validity is encouraged to verify the quotes and their content.

Transmission of the Old Testament

The Old Testament was originally written in the time period between about 1450 B.C. and 425 B.C.  The majority of it was written in Hebrew, the native language of the Jews, or Israelites.  A few chapters and verses were written in Aramaic, the common language adopted by the Jews after the Babylonian captivity.  Although none of the original copies of the Old Testament exists today, we can be confident that the Old Testament has been faithfully transmitted.  Our modern translations are based upon two classifications of documents:  Hebrew copies of the original manuscripts, and ancient translations.  Some of the ancient texts which are used, are described below (summarized from Jenkins 74-77):

  1. Ancient Hebrew Texts
    1. The Masoretic Text (MT) - The Masoretes were a group of Jewish scholars who flourished from ca. A.D. 500-1000, who arranged, organized, and copied the Jewish Scriptures. They counted verses, words, and letters. Their main work was to add a vowel system to the Hebrew consonants. The resultant text is known as the Masoretic Text.
    2. Cairo Geneza documents (A.D. 500 - 800), discovered at Cairo in 1890, contain some 10,000 Biblical manuscripts and fragments.
    3. The Dead Sea Scrolls.
      1. A Jewish sect (possibly the Essenes) lived at Qumran, on the north west shore of the Dead Sea between the 2nd century B.C. and 68 A.D. They spent much time in copying Biblical manuscripts and writing their own literature. When they learned the Romans were about to take Jerusalem, they hid many of their scrolls in clay jars in the caves around Qumran. They never returned, and the scrolls were hidden until the first of them were found by chance in the spring of 1947.
      2. The significance of the scrolls. These OT manuscripts antedate the Masoretic Text by about 1,000 to 1,200 years. This confirms the accuracy of the manuscripts that had already been found.
  2. Ancient Versions of the Old Testament - Versions (VSS) of the OT are helpful in establishing the OT texts.
    1. The Septuagint (LXX). The Hebrew OT was translated into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt, ca. 280 B.C.
      1. More than one half of the New Testament citations from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint.
    2. The Syriac Peshitta, probably made in the 5th century A.D. Portions may have been made earlier.
    3. The Latin Vulgate. Translated by Jerome about 400 A.D.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are extremely important because they verify the accuracy of the Jews' copying process.  Even though separated by over a 1,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls were almost identical to the later Masoretic texts.

The Jews were so careful in copying the OT that they used an "error detecting code" process, which is similar to that of modern computers.  They would count all of the letters, and document certain letters and words that should be found at specific locations.  Any discrepancy in their counting on a copy would alert them to some error, which would have allowed them to find and fix it.  Although the OT documents are much older than NT texts, they are extremely reliable because of the Jew's religious and careful attention to details and accuracy.  Even, the New Testament speaks of the Jews' being God’s custodians of the Old Testament Scriptures (Romans 3:2).

Transmission of the New Testament

The New Testament was written in Koine Greek during the time period of about 35 to 100 A.D.  Koine Greek was the common man's dialect of the Greek language.  It was the "most widely known language throughout the world of the first century" (Geisler & Nix, p. 129).  Shortly after the original writing of the New Testament, the Koine dialect became a dead language.  This allowed God’s Word to be preserved in an unchanging language, which makes it much easier to translate.

The modern translations are also based upon copies of the original texts and ancient translations, similar to the translations of the Old Testament.  However, unlike the Old Testament, we also have access to numerous quotations from the New Testament by Christians from that era.  The agreement between an incredible number of texts also strengthens our confidence in the existing manuscripts.  The following scholarly references best illustrate this point (Jenkins 77):

"The New Testament is the best preserved book of antiquity (if one may use quality and quantity of manuscript material as criteria).  It is often pointed out that the writings of some ancient authors are represented by only one manuscript from ancient times (e.g., the Annals of Tacitus).  Other writers are represented by a few dozen copies.

  1. Quantity of Material: 'Of the NT, on the other hand, nearly 3,000 handwritten copies in Greek are preserved - ranging from fragments of a few verses to the entire NT - plus some 2,000 additional Greek manuscripts in which the text is arranged in lectionary form for daily readings, as well as 8,000 manuscripts in Latin, and 2,000 or more in ancient versions" (Greenlee, ZPEB, V:697)
  2. Quality of Material: An interval of several hundred years between a writer and the first manuscript of his writing is not uncommon.  For Sophocles, 1,400 years; for Aeschylus, 1500 years; for Horace, 900 years.  Yet for the NT, two of the most important manuscripts were written within 300 years after the NT was completed.  Much of the NT is extant in papyrus manuscripts written between one and two centuries after the close of the NT.

F.F. Bruce said:

'The evidence for our New testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning.  And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt' (The New Testament Documents, p. 15)."

The following summary from Jenkins list some of the more famous and useful books and manuscripts that were discovered as well as the ancient translations (versions) and quotations by ancient Christians (78-80):

  1. Ancient Texts by Century.
    1. Second Century
      1. John Rylands fragment of John (P52 - Papyrus 52). Dated to about 125 to 135 A.D. Earliest known fragment of NT. Contains John 18:31-33 and 18:37-38
      2. Bodmer papyri. Material dated to second century contains: most of gospel of John (P66); sections of John (P75)
    2. Third Century
      1. Chester Beatty Papyri. NT portions include: Gospels (P45), Epistles (P46), and Revelation (P47)
      2. Some portions of Bodmer papyri are dated third century.
    3. Fourth Century
      1. Codex Sinaiticus. Contains entire NT as well as large portion of Greek OT. Dated 350 A.D.
      2. Codex Vaticanus. Originally contained entire Greek Bible. Now lacks Gen. 1-46, 32 of the Psalms, and the NT part terminates with Hebrews 9:14
      3. Some portions of Bodmer papyri are dated fourth century: General Epistles (P72)
      4. Codex Washintonianus. Belongs to 4th or 5th century.
    4. Fifth Century
      1. Codex Alexandrinus. Well-preserved. Usually ranked after Sinaticus and Vaticanus in importance.
      2. Ephraemi Rescriptus Codex. Some think this belongs to 4th century.
      3. Codex Bezae. Oldest known bilingual manuscript of NT (Greek and Latin).

  2. Ancient Versions
    1. Syriac Versions. All extant Syriac Versions were translated from original Greek
      1. The Old Syric. Made in 2nd century
      2. The Peshitta (simple) Syriac. Dates from latter part of 4th century. Does not include 2 Peter, 2, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.
    2. Latin Versions.
      1. Old Latin Version. Made in the last quarter of 2nd century
      2. The Latin Vulgate (common). Translation made by Jerome (begun 382, completed 385) from "ancient Greek manuscripts."
    3. Coptic Versions. Portions of the bible are in 6 Coptic dialects, which is a derivative of the ancient Egyptian language.
    4. Other Ancient Versions: Gothicm, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, Arabic.

  3. Quotations from Ancient Christians
    1. These include writings of Irenaeus, Tertulian, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Jerome.
    2. How extensively did they quote from the NT? "First, they cited as authoritative every book of the New Testament. Secondly, they quoted with authority virtually every verse of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament" (Geisler & Nix, p. 157).
      1. Sir David Dalrymple claimed to have found all but 11 verses of the NT in quotations from the second and third century (Ibid.).
      2. This means that if every manuscript and version were destroyed, we could still virtually reconstruct the NT from this source alone.
      3. One may read the writings of these Christians in English in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 Vols.) and in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (14 Vols.). Biblical quotations are listed in the footnotes.

This wide source of texts provides ample material for accurate comparison and compilation of texts.  Once again, we have more than enough evidence to provide confidence in the validity of the New Testament words.

Brief History of the English Translations

Translations of the Bible began in the 8th century, but the more complete and significant translations began in the 14th century.  The earliest works were the simplest, based mostly upon the Latin translations.  But, as more Greek and Hebrew manuscripts became available, translations were made directly from the original languages.  Some of the more significant translations are listed below:

  1. John Wycliffe (1324-1384). He made first translation of entire bible in English from Latin Vulgate in 1382.
    1. Archbishop Arundel wrote to the Pope of Wycliffe in 1412: "that wretched and pestilent fellow of the damnable memory, ... the very herald and child of the anti-christ, who crowned his wickedness by translating the Scriptures into the mother tongue" (Jenkins 81 - Encyclopedia Britannica)

  2. Erasmus published a Greek New Testament (based on about 6 manuscripts, dating from 12th to 15th century) in 1516.

  3. William Tyndale was able to use the Hebrew and Greek texts, as well as the Latin.
    1. The first printed NT was issued by Tyndale in 1525
    2. Tyndale was condemned as a heretic, strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.

  4. Miles Coverdale. Coverdale was first man to give England a complete printed Bible. His translation appeared in 1535, and was greatly dependent on the work of Tyndale.

  5. The Matthew's Bible. John Rogers issued a Bible in 1537 under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew. Based on the works of Tyndale and Coverdale.

  6. The Great Bible. Named for the large pages (15" x 9" wide). A revision of the Matthew's Bible by Coverdale, in 1539. Cromwell had this Bible placed in all churches for reading by the laymen.

  7. Then Geneva Bible (1560). Based primarily on Tyndale and the Great Bible. This was the work of William Whittingham, successor t John Knox at the English church in Geneva, and brother-in-law to John Calvin. Assisted by Coverdale and a group of scholars. First Bible to feature chapter and verse divisions.

  8. Bishop's Bible (1568). A revision of the Geneva bible. Made by bishop's of Church of England.

  9. Douay Version (1609-1610). The Catholic version of the Bible.

  10. King James or Authorized Version (1611). King James ordered a revision of the Bishop's Bible. The work, completed in 1611, was done by 47 of England's best scholars. It was 40 years before the KJV overtook the Geneva Bible in popularity. Remained the most popular, well until after 1885.

  11. The English Revised Version (1881-1885). A newer translation completed by both American and English scholars including: A.H. Sayce, H. Alford, J.B. Lightfoot, R.C. Trench, B.F. Westcott, William H. Green, J.H. Thayer, Phillip Schaff.
    1. Used several manuscripts that were not available to the KJV translators (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus).
    2. When the English and American committees differed, the English preferences were placed in the text with the American preferences in an appendix.

  12. American Standard Version (1901). Same as English Revised Version, except the American preferences were placed in the text rather than the appendix.

  13. Twentieth Century Translations.
    1. By Individuals: Moffatt (1913), Weymouth (1903), Goodspeed (1923), Phillips (1947 ff), Williams, Beck
    2. By Catholics: Knox, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the Jerusalem Bible
    3. By Groups: The New English Bible (1961), the Revised Standard Version (1946-1952), the New American Standard Bible (1964-1973), The New International Version (1973-1978), the New King James Version (1979).

Although some of the more translations are more of a paraphrase than a faithful, literal translation, we can be confident today that the Bible we pick up today is a faithful transmission of the inspired message delivered to God’s prophets and apostles thousands of years ago.

Illustration of the Transmission

Most people are familiar with the game that involves one person whispering a statement in one person's ear.  That person in turn whispers the statement into another person's ear, and so forth.  By the time the sentence travels through several people, it is completely corrupted.  Many people believe that this is is how the Bible was passed down to us.  This would leave much room for doubt if this was the case, but fortunately, it is not.

Reviewing the large number of sources listed earlier, the true situation can be better illustrated with a variation in the above game.  The original person whispers the message into one person's ear in one room.  All of the people pass the message from one person to the next, just like the above game.  However, the original person spreads this message to a person in several rooms, not just one.  After a while, the people in the room compare messages and discover they are identical!  What's the chances that all of the rooms would produce the same wrong result?  It would be fairly small for a hundred rooms.  But, since there are actually tens of thousands of documents that are in agreement, the illustrations would be better made if the game is played in a building with tens of thousands of rooms, and all produce the same result!  The only way they could produce the same result would be if each person had been careful to transmit the message perfectly.  This is the amount of evidence for the Bible's faithful transmission.


Considering the external evidence for the faithful transmission of the Bible is a difficult and tedious task.  However, it is necessary to establish our faith in the validity of the words of the Bible.  Having established this confidence, we are now ready to consider the values of these words.  Once we finish that study, we will then pursue an investigation into the Bible's directions on how to study it.  That's right - it comes with its own directions.  If you are confident in these premises, then you may want to skip ahead to a discussion of God’s Plan of Salvation.

Next: Internal Claims of the Bible


Much of the material above was quoted or summarized from the following work:

It has useful references that may help students track down more information.  The following references were taken from Jenkins' book (p.84):

The following sources were also recommended:


Next: Internal Claims of the Bible

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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