Textual Accuracy Part 1


If you were to enter a bookstore and purchase a book, you could be confident that it contained the exact words that the author intended should be included.  Not only that, but you could purchase the very same book from a different bookstore, knowing that the text in both copies would be identical.

In our modern world it is easy for us to take this situation for granted.  Prior to the invention of the mechanical printing press in the 15th century, copies of any written material were made by hand.  This was a long and laborious task, and prone to human error.

The writings which make up what Christians call the “New Testament” were completed in the first century A.D.  This means that for approximately 1,500 years (until the printing press was developed), these documents were reproduced and passed on by hand.  In the case of the Old Testament, the time gap is greater still.

The main objection

These considerations lead us to an objection which critics of the Bible sometimes raise.  This is usually expressed in a manner similar to the following:

“The text of the Bible has been copied and re-copied so often, and over such a long period of time, that we cannot have any reasonable degree of confidence in its accuracy.”

At first glance, this objection might seem difficult to argue against.  Anybody who has played the game “Chinese whispers” will appreciate how even the simplest message can be corrupted by a handful people in just a few minutes!  A message being handed down over thousands of years will surely come off much worse?  With such a large time span between the original authors of the Bible and our present time, how can we be sure that what they wrote then is what we have now?


Why is this important?

Christians affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God, and reveals information about his character and purpose.  Accordingly, they base their beliefs and manner of life on what they find within it.  In other words, the Bible is the foundation for christian life.

However, if in fact the text of the Bible is hopelessly corrupt, then this foundation crumbles.  If what we have now isn’t what they wrote then, the Bible holds no more authority than any other book and cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information about God.

The above objection therefore has serious implications for anybody who is searching for truth.  For some, it may prevent them from treating the message of the Bible with any seriousness at all.  For others who already have faith, it may cause them to doubt.

To be continued…