The Bible: Part 6: Manuscripts of the Bible
Several years ago now I had an email exchange with a Muslim in Saudi Arabia. It ended badly with him phoning me from Saudi and swearing at me for blasphemy and wishing cancer on me and my family. But during the exchange it was very interesting to see the ways in which he tried to disprove Christianity, he attacked the manuscript reliability of the NT, and put a question mark over the Canon of the Bible. It amazed me to see how intimate his knowledge was of the early transmission of the various manuscripts and his familiarity with the various theories about how the Bible was copied. He did this in an attempt to show the superiority of the Quran to the Bible in terms of the reliability of its transmission. This however was a false comparison, it was a case of comparing apples and pears. The Bible is an ancient manuscript and the Quran is a medieval document. There is over 500 years difference between them and to compare transmission techniques would be like us comparing our ways of copying with Shakespeare. That said, the Quran has a terrible history of control that shows a lot of centralised interference with the transmission process unlike the natural process of the Bible. Secondly, the modern Muslim apologist is very reliant upon Liberal theories for their critiques against the Bible. In other words, the Muslims use the scholarship of Liberal Christians against Christianity.
Today I would like to talk about the manuscripts that we have that make up our Bibles and the transmission process and their preservation. Contrary to popular belief the Bible has the best pedigree of all ancient manuscripts and is more reliably known than any other ancient document. I do have to stress the point of these manuscripts being ancient because we are quick to impose an anachronistic critique holding these documents which are thousands of years old to a standard we have perfected in the 21st century. I must stress as we begin that our acceptance of the Bible as the word of God does not rest on an evidentialist basis. We do not start with a neutral viewpoint and then objectively weigh the facts and then when something can be known with scientific certainty we take only those proven facts to be true. That whole approach is filled unproven assumptions to begin with. Nor do any of us live our lives in that way. And neither does this methodology fit with the way in which God gives us certainty about certain spiritual truths. We present this evidence to show that the various charges against the Bible’s reliability are false. We present them in order to demonstrate the reasonableness of trusting the Bible as a historical document that has been well preserved. Our ultimate confidence is in God’s character and the work of His Spirit but these investigations can further bolster our confidence though are not the bedrock of them.
This approach may sound illogical but think more deeply on it. Think of this attitude, ‘I would change my beliefs if you could show me facts that overturn my present understanding.’ No doubt this is a good attitude to have when it comes to dealing with natural things. However, to make it the rule for all truth including spiritual truths brings a contradiction to the discussion. Spiritual things are not known by investigation or reason. There are certain things we know innately like good and evil, the existence of God, love, truth, beauty, etc. also because of sin our ability to know things about God is hindered and we are even biased towards suppressing the truth that is before our faces. Added to that there is the necessity of the Spirit to bring light into the darkness of our sinful minds that overcomes our natural bias. There is an inner witness to the truth that is not gained by a process of verification. There are things that we know because we know them, not because we have overseen the process of moving from neutrality to conviction prejudicing the scientific method as the only acceptable way to establish anything. But we get off track, let us look at the manuscripts.