THE BIBLICAL MANUSCRIPTS AS HISTORY

Tests of Historical Reliability

Often someone will sarcastically remark concerning the Bible, 'Why, you can't trust the Bible. It was written almost 2,000 years ago. It's full of errors and discrepancies". The fact is, however, that you CAN trust the Scriptures.

The historical reliability of the Scriptures should be tested by the same criteria with which all historical documents are tested.

They are:

A. THE BIBLIOGRAPHICAL TEST

B. THE EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

C. THE INTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

A- THE BIBLIOGRAPHICAL TEST

The Bibliographical Test is an examination of the textual transmission by which documents reach us. In other words, not having the original documents, how reliable are the documents we have? How many manuscripts are available? What is the time interval between the original -and the earliest copy?

We can appreciate the tremendous wealth of manuscript authority attributed to the New Testament by comparing it with textual material from other notable sources. The important factor to note is the time span that separates the original work from the earliest copy.

 
     
  Author When Written Time Span Earliest Copy No. of Copies  
         
Pliny the Younger
Caesar
Plato 427-347 B.C
Aristotle
Sophocles
Euripedes
Catallus
New Testament
61-113 A.D
100-44 B.C
900 A.D.
384-322 B.C.
496-406 B.C.
480-406 B.C.
54 B.C.
48 A.D
750 yrs
1000 yrs
1,200 yrs.
1400 yrs
1400 yrs
1500 yrs
1600 yrs
80 yrs.
850 A.D
900 A.D.
900 AD
1100 A.D.
1000 A.D
1100 A.D
1550 A.D.
130 AD

7
10
7
49
193
9
3
24,633
  EXPERT TESTIMONY - QUOTABLE QUOTE:

Sir Frederick Kenyon

"The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established "

The Bible and Archaeology. (New York: Harper and Row, 1940), pp. 288, 289.

Sir Frederic Kenyon should know, he was a British paleographer, biblical and classical scholar. He was the Director and Head Librarian of the British Museum, President of the British Academy, and appointed President of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. He was knighted for his services. More important, Kenyon was a noted scholar of ancient languages, and made a lifelong study of the Bible, especially the New Testament as an historical text. His book Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts showed how Egyptian papyri and other evidence from archaeology can corroborate the narrative of historical events in the Gospel.

The Bibliographical Test is useful only in determining that the text we have now is what was originally recorded. We must go further to determine to what extent the written record is credible. To do this, we must apply the Internal Evidence Test.

 
  B. INTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

There are two factors that must guide the application of this test:

1. In the event of an apparent inaccuracy or discrepancy, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the document itself. The textual critic must not prejudge.

EXPERT TESTIMONY - QUOTABLE QUOTE:

Dr John Warwick Montgomery:

"One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies. - History and Christianity. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971), p. 29.

Therefore, an author is innocent until proven guilty of a discrepancy.

2. The nearness of the witness both geographically and chronologically to the events recorded greatly affects the writer's credibility.

How does this affect the New Testament?

The New Testament accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus were recorded by men who had been either eyewitnesses themselves or who related the accounts of eyewitnesses. Interestingly enough, the apostles also appealed to the first-hand knowledge possessed by their hearers, even their most severe enemies! These people could certainly confirm or deny the accuracy of the accounts! One had better be careful when he says to his opponent, "You know this also". If he isn't accurate in the details, it will be used to discredit his message.

EXPERT TESTIMONY - QUOTABLE QUOTE:

F.F. Bruce

"And It was not friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, 'We are witnesses of these things', but also, 'As you yourselves know' (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible pressure of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective. - The New Testament Documents; Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), pp. 44-46.

F. F Bruce's work, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, is considered a classic in the discipline of Christian apologetics. He was a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, Cambridge University and the University of Vienna. After teaching Greek for several years first at the University of Edinburgh and then at the University of Leeds he became head of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield. He moved to the University of Manchester where he became professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis. In his career he wrote some thirty-three books. Bruce was a distinguished scholar on the life and ministry of Paul the Apostle, and wrote several studies the best known of which is Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. He also wrote commentaries on several biblical books including Acts of the Apostles, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.


 
 

C. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE TEST

 

 
 

As stated:

"On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going forth to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defence come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defence and hanged him on the eve of Passover" - (Babylonia Sanhedrin 43a)

The Babylonian Talmud writes:

"... and hanged him on the eve of Passover."

Hanged:

A Jewish ref. to crucifixion - and a term likewise used by Paul, the one time opponent and persecutor of Christians, who was thus rabbinical trained (Gal.3:13) "for a curse of God is that which is hanged" (Deut. 21:23)

What is really significant in this hostile statement is the "undisputed" and "accepted fact" that Christ had the powers of "sorcery", sufficient to lead Israel astray.

The ancient Jewish Talmud in a secret book called *Tol'doth Yeshua,* said to have been written around 33AD and passed down by the Babylonian Masoretes, Jesus is referred to as "Ben Pandera" (Son of Pandera). In the Babylonian Talmud it is mentioned about Jesus ... "and hanged him on the eve of Passover;" The Talmud refers to Jesus as Ben Pandera or Ben Pantere (a corruption of the Greek word 'parthenos', meaning "son of the virgin;" In the Baraila it is recorded "On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth);"

In the Amoa it records.

"And do you suppose that for (Yeshu of Nazareth) there was any right of appeal?" Sanhedrin 43a also references the disciples of Jesus. The Toseft mentions, and "Yeshu ben Pantere taught me."

Letter Of Mara Bar-Serapion:

A British Museum manuscript (written by a father to his son, sometime after A.D. 73) states:

'What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given."

Thallus the Samaritan:

This 1st century historian affirmed the reality of Messiah (Christ) and the fact that darkness consumed the land upon His death (cf. Mark 15.33), attributing the incident to naturalistic causes (a solar eclipse).

Phlegon:

This 1st century historian wrote about Messiah's (Christ's) death and was quoted by Africanus as saying, that "during the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon." This account further substantiates similar claims made in both Matthew 27.45 and Luke 23.44. (7/11B, sect. 256116, p.1 165.)

Julius Africanus later exclaimed how unreasonable this theory seemed in light of the natural evidence for "divine" manipulation: the season in which Messiah (Christ) died, the season of the Passover "full moon." In other words, it was "Supernatural" for a full moon and a solar eclipse to occur simultaneously.

Lucian of Samosata: This 2nd century satirist and author wrote repeatedly and scornfully of Messiah (Christ) and the Messiahians (Christians) (see, The Passing Peregrinus, section 25, and Alexander the False Prophet, section 29).

Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150): Appearing before Emperor Antoninus Pius, the apologist Justin Martyr tried to explain Pilate's report to the Emperor. He remarked:

"They pierced my hands and my feet [is] a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the 'Acts' which were recorded under Pontius Pilate."

Tertuillan (A.D. 197): This jurist-theologian of Carthage defended Messiahianity (Christianity) in front of the Roman authorities in Africa. In his recapitalization of an exchange between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate he confirmed Tiberius's (Caesar's) recognition of the "Divinity" of Jesus (see Apology, V.2).

Philopon (De opif. mund. 1121) stated:

"Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Messiah (Christ), and no other (eclipse), it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any (similar) eclipse in previous times. And this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar." (4/IIB,sect.257fl6,c,p.1 165.)

Similarly, another Jewish historian Josephus (sometime after 100 AD), also known as Yosef Ben Matityahu, who became known, in his capacity as a Roman citizen, as Josephus Titus Flavius. Josephus was a 1st-century Jewish historian and apologist of priestly and royal ancestry who survived and recorded the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. His works give an important insight into first-century Judaism. Josephus's two most important works are Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective. These works provide valuable insight into the background of 1st-century Judaism and early Christianity, in particular Jesus.

STATES JOSEPHUS:

"At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

This remarkable text was found in a forgotten Arabic text from 'Syriac Verson'. The text went back to AD324 and represents an R. Marcus Loeb Classics translation of Josephus -Known in expanded form by Eusebius Classical scholarship.

It is significant that noted non-Christian Jewish authorities such as Joseph Klausner and Prof. Schlomo Pines accept the 'core' of the above text as authentic. Joseph Gedaliah Klausner (1874-1958), also known as Yosef Klauzner was a Jewish scholar born in Olkeniki, Lithuania who emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1919, and died in Israel. He was an intellectual and specialist in Jewish religion and history, and a scholar of modern Hebrew literature. He was the chief redacter of The Hebrew Encyclopedia, and taught Hebrew literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Influential in the Zionist movement, he attended most of the Zionist Congresses. He published dozens of works and articles and research accounts.

Prof. Shlomo Pines studied philosophy, Semitic Languages, and linguistics at the universities of Heidelberg, Geneva and Berlin. From 1937 to 1939 he taught the history of science in Islamic countries at the Institute of the History of Science in Paris. In the young State of Israel, Pines was a professor in the Department of Jewish Thought and the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1952 until his death in 1990. His fluency in a wide variety of modern and ancient languages including, but not limited to, Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, Persian, Sanskrit, Turkish, and Coptic, enabled him to undertake scholarship of uniquely broad scope.

 
Confirmed by Roman Historical Records of Antiquity.
Considerable information about the impact of Christ, Christianity, and events surrounding the emergence of Christianity as a widespread phenomena are also evident in Roman manuscripts of antiquity. All verify the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts.

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56 - ca. 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works-the Annals and the Histories-examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those that reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 AD to (presumably) the death of emperor Domitian in 96 AD. Tacitus's writing in his Annals (c. 116) about the Great Fire of Rome (64), included an account of how the emperor Nero blamed the Christians in Rome for the disaster and initiated the first known persecution of early Christians by the Romans. This has become one of the best known and most discussed passages of Tacitus' works. Although partly aimed at showing the inhumanity of the emperor, Tacitus' remarks have been studied more by modern scholars for information about his own religious attitudes and about the early history of Christianity.

Wrote Tacitus:

"Such were the various forms of relief suggested by human planning. Then means were taken to propitiate the gods. The Sibylline books were consulted, and prayers were offered, as the books prescribed, to Vulcan, to Ceres, and to Prosperine. Juno was supplicated by the matrons, first on the Capitol, and afterwards at the nearest point upon the sea coast, from which water was drawn to sprinkle the temple and image of the goddess; banquets to the goddesses and all-night festivals were celebrated by married women.

But neither the aid of men, nor the emperor's bounty, nor propitiatory offerings to the gods, could remove the grim suspicion that the fire had been started by Nero's order. To put an end to this rumour, he shifted the charge on to others, and inflicted the most cruel tortures upon a group of people detested for their abominations and popularly known as 'Christians'. This name came from one Christus. who was put to death in the Principate of Tlberious by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Though checked for a time, the destructive superstition broke out again, not in Judaea only, where its mischief began, but even in Rome, where every abominable and shameful iniquity, from all the world, pours in and finds a welcome.

First those who acknowledged themselves of this sect were arrested; and upon their testimony a large number were condemned, not so much on the charge of arson, as for their hatred of the human race. Their death was turned into an entertainment. They were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, and torn to pieces by dogs; they were crucified or staked up to be burned, to serve the purpose of lamps when daylight failed. Nero gave up his own gardens for this spectacle; he provided also games, during which he mingled with the crowd, or rode around upon a chariot, in the garb of a charioteer. But guilty as these people were and worthy of direst punishment, the fact that they were being cut off for no public good but only to glut the cruelty of one man, aroused a feeling of pity." - Tacitus. Cornelius -Roman Writer, Historian Consul: Pro Consul Asia AD 112-113. Died AD 116

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus: born A.D. 61 Popularly called Pliny the Younger (General, lawyer, diplomat, writer, governor of Brthynea.), likewise wrote about tensions regarding the Christians.

Wrote Pliny:

"It is a rule, Sir, which I invariably observe, to refer myself to you in all my doubts; for who is more capable of guiding my uncertainty or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials of the Christians, I am unacquainted with the method and limits to be observed either in examining or punishing them, whether any difference is to be made on account of age, or no distinction allowed between the youngest and the adult, whether repentance admits to a pardon, or if a man has been once a Christian it avails him, nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without the commission of crimes, or only the charges associated therewith are punishable-on all these points I am in considerable perplexity.

In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their beliefs might be, I could at least feel no doubt that determined contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome. I directed them to be taken to Rome for trial.

These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated, and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons . . . "

Pliny further wrote:

"Those, who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, and who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered formal worship with libation and frankincense, before your statue, which I had ordered to be brought into Court for that purpose, together with those of the gods, and who finally cursed Christ-none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing- these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by the anonymous informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they said, they had been of that persuasion but they had quitted it, some three years, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-flve years previously. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hvmn to Christ as to a god and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to perform any wicked deed, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food-but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I therefore judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition"

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA: Concerning the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, this worldwide publisher proclaims:

"These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries" ( Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Vol 2, pp 81-87, Josh McDowell).

Oxford scholar, A.N. Sherwin-White, a British historian of Ancient Rome, and an expert on Roman law at the time of Christ makes a further significant statement on the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. He was a fellow of St John's College, Oxford, president of the Society for Promotion of Roman Studies, and a fellow of the British Academy. His most important works include a study of Roman citizenship based on his doctoral thesis, a treatment of the New Testament from the point of view of Roman law and society, and a commentary on the letters of Pliny the Younger. Arising from his studies of Roman law and administration came "his conviction of the essential historicity of the narratives in the New Testament", especially in the critique he mounted in his closing pages against "form-criticism of the extremer sort". Criticism conducted by liberal radical theologians who questioned the historicity of the New Testament manuscripts.

In his Surum Lectures of 1960-61 Titled: "Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament" (Oxford 1963) Sherwin-White stated:

"it is astonishing that while Greco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the 'Gospel' narratives starting from no less promising material has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain - so far as an amateur can understand the matter -that the historical Jesus is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious when one compares the case for the best known contemporary of Christ, who like Christ is a well-documented figure -Tiberius Caesar."

In short, Sherwin-White was bewildered that secular Greco-Roman scholars have a growing confidence in the New Testament manuscripts, while the more extreme form critics were telling other tales.

It was not until the 1700s that there arose an attempt among some Jews and less informed historians to actually deny Jesus ever existed. Yet the Pharisees, now known as the Talmudists, have openly admitted the existence of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Kingdom in their "holy" books and in their synagogue prayers. Why have a prayer in the synagogues between 30-100AD for God to root out the Messiah Kingdom if Christ and the Kingdom did not exist and was not an opposing group claiming to be the real Israel of God?

When it was determined by the Pharisees that there must be a final break between Messianic Judaism and Pharisee Judaism, the Rabbis were instructed to incorporate into their prayers a curse against Jesus and the present Messiahians that their Kingdom be rooted out

Judaism, threatened by the popularity of this new religion, reacted by closing its ranks. The Jews established a canon of the Hebrew Bible and condemned the writings of the Nazarenes. Apparently the final break occurred when the Jewish patriarch, Gamaliel II, included an imprecation against the Christians in the Shemoneh Esreh "Eighteen Benedictions" (Leon Poliakow, The History of Anti-Semitism) as quoted by Sandra S. Williams in her article "The Origins of Christian Anti-Semitism, Judaic Studies Program, University of Central Florida."

The Messianic Jews refused to pray that prayer and so were completely divorced from Pharisee Judaism and all national Judaism from that time forward. Messianic Jews and Gentile converts were thereafter referred to as Christians, or people of the Messiah. Talmudic- Pharisee Jews lobbied to have laws passed in Gentile nations against Messianic Jews (Christians).

True Messianic Judaism was represented in Jesus and his teachings of the Kingdom of God based upon the predictions of the Prophets and Old Testament Messianic hope. The New Covenant was with this "little flock" or "remnant" of Judaism and this became the Israel of God, the others being thrust out as Jesus said. Today, those who are Messianic Jews and converts who by faith fulfill Acts 2:38 are the Israel of God. This is predicated upon several Scriptures, but Psalm 132:11 will suffice to prove that Jesus was God and he was Messiah upon David's throne and whereever that throne is, that is the Israel of God.

Yes, Jesus did exist! There is now no difference between Jews and believing Gentiles in the eyes of God.

 

The issue in this test is whether OTHER historical material confirms or denies the internal testimony of the documents themselves. What sources are there, apart from the literature under analysis, that substantiate its accuracy, reliability and authenticity? Conformity or agreement with other known historical or scientific facts is a decisive factor in the External Evidence Test.

Confirmations

Eusebius

In his Ecclesiastical History 111.39, Eusebius preserves the writings of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, who received them from the Apostle John:

"The Elder used to say this also: 'Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he (Peter) mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required, not as though he were making a compilation of the sayings of the Lord. So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way some things as he (Peter) mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them."

 


THUS WE HAVE: Apostle John, before 100 A.D; Papias - 130 A.D.; Eusebius - 339 A.D.;

Irenaeus:

In Against Heresies Irenaeus quoted the words of his teacher, Polycarp, martyred in 156 A.D. and a disciple of the Apostle John:

"So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these, each one of them endeavours to establish his own particular doctrine. "

THUS WE HAVE: Apostle John, before 100 A.D; Polycarp, 156 A.D; lrenaeus,180 A.D.

We have at least two independent transmission channels of the events surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Christ, with even hostile witnesses using these accounts to lay their charges, or contrive a new heretical doctrine.



Conclusion:
All the above historical realities more than adequately demonstrate the historical reliability and accuracy of the New Testament. In historical terms these above factors alone put the New Testament manuscripts well ahead of every other classic manuscript of antiquity. Thus, to reject the New Testament on historical grounds is to jettison every manuscript of early history. No serious scholar would ever suggest such an absurd approach to history.
 
BRINGING ALL THINGS TO REMEMBRANCE
 
Not only did Christ regard the Old Testament as fully inspired but declared that the forthcoming New Testament would likewise be fully God inspired, through the personality of his disciples, with the Holy Spirit bringing all things to remembrance.

Said Jesus: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things I said and did." (John 14: 26)

And on the basis of that promise the early Church collected the writings of the apostles. Those writings were done in apostolic circles, which could be checked for their accuracy by the apostles. These writings alone entered the New Testament Canon. The writings and letters of the apostle Paul were also regarded as scripture by Christ's disciples following the dramatic conversion and direct revelations given to Paul, by God.

 
 
WHAT ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT
 
In the case of the Old Testament we do not possess the abundance of manuscripts nor nearly as early a copy as is the case with the New Testament. Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscript was around 900 A.D. This made a time gap of nearly 1,300 years. At first, it would appear that the Old Testament is no more reliable than other ancient literature.

The fact that there are very few surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament at very late dates, attests to its reliability and accuracy. This is the very opposite to other works of antiquity. The reason for this is the extreme carefulness with which the Old Testament Scriptures were copied.

All ancient writings have been preserved by means of handwritten copies. The Old Testament is no exception. In its case, however, there developed a special class of men in the Jewish culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit the Scripture with exactitude and precision. These men were the Talmudic and Masoretic scribes. These scribes followed strict disciplines in regard to the Scriptures. With meticulous care and fidelity these men were pledged to fulfill the following conditions in copying the Scriptures:

• Scroll must be written on skin of clean animal

* Prepared for use in synagogue by only a Jew

• Fastened together with strings from clean animal

• Each skin must contain specified number of columns, equal throughout the entire book

• Length of each column must not extend over less than 48 lines or more than 60 lines

• Column breadth must consist of exactly 30 letters

* Must use a specially prepared recipe of black ink

• Authentic copy must be the example

• Copy nothing from memory

• Between every consonant the space of a thread

• Between every section the breadth of nine consonants

• Between every book, three lines

• The Pentateuch must terminate exactly with a line

• Copyist must sit in full Jewish dress

• Reverence the Scripture and the name of God so, that a fresh quill would be used to pen that sacred name, and to refuse to acknowledge the presence of a king when writing that name

• Must produce a matter copy

The Masoretes edited and standardized the Hebrew text, adding the vowel points to insure proper pronunciation. They went even further in their disciplines:

Copy only letter by letter; t-t; h-h; e-e; etc.

Count the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book

Calculate the middle word

If more than three mistakes exist - destroy the manuscript.

Is it any wonder that the Biblical manuscripts have survived with such continuity and accuracy? What might appear as superfluous trivia, in effect manifests the scribe's deep respect for the Scriptures. The Talmudic and Masoretic scribes were anxious that not one jot, tittle or the smallest part of a letter of the law pass away or be lost.

Why then do we have so few Old Testament manuscripts? Does this not negate the Bibliographical accuracy of the Old Testament?

In the case of the Old Testament the very absence of ancient manuscripts, when the rules of copyists are considered, confirms the reliability of the copies. The scribes were so convinced that when they finished transcribing a manuscript they had an exact duplicate, they would give the new copy equal authority. The old ones were buried or destroyed so that none could misunderstand the text through blurred or indistinct lettering.

QUOTABLE QUOTE:

Sir Frederick Kenyon

"The same extreme care which was devoted to the transcription of manuscripts is also at the bottom of the disappearance of the earlier copies. When a manuscript had been copied with the exactitude prescribed by the Talmud, and had been duly verified, it was accepted as authentic and regarded as being of equal value with any other copy. If a// were equally correct, age gave no advantage to a manuscript; on the contrary, age was a positive disadvantage, since a manuscript was liable to become defaced or damaged in the lapse of time. A damaged or imperfect copy was at once condemned as unfit for use." -Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941), p. 43.

And adds:

"It is with extreme confidence that we can affirm the historical accuracy and reliability of Scripture. With assurance, we can hold our Bible in our hand and say that we possess "the veritable Word of God".

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls affirm the astounding precision in transmission; Indeed, so precise has been the Jewish Biblical manuscript transmission process that when the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered there was only a miniscule number of words that differed when compared with modern editions, and none of these had any relevence.