The Bible is foundational to Christian belief. While many things can be known about God from examining the natural world around us, or using reason, there are some things about God which we need Him to reveal to us directly. The Bible is that direct revelation. God explains things about Himself and about the world we live in. But has the message of the Bible changed over time?
Perhaps it is because the Bible is so foundational to Christianity that skeptics challenge its reliability:
“There are no original manuscripts to any biblical book. The Bible has been translated so many times, and into so many languages, that it stands to reason that the Bible would have changed over time. How can a Christian have confidence that what they believe, what the Bible says today, is what the original Biblical books even said?”
In some ways these objections to Christianity make the history of the Bible sound something like the “telephone game.” I remember playing this game as a boy. All the kids would line up. The first person in line would come up with a particular sentence, usually something a little long and complicated, and whisper it to the next kid. The goal of everyone else would be to perfectly pass the message on to the next person in line. Inevitably, because of the complexity of the sentence, each person would change a word here or there or leave a word out so that by the time the message got to the last person in line it was often unrecognizable from the original sentence. It was always funny to hear what the last person thought the sentence was compared to the first.
However, the translation process of the Bible is not at all like the telephone game. Objections that imply a similarity argue that the Bible must have been translated from the original language into another language, and then another, and then another, until it gets to the final language that can be read today. With each translation some of the meaning would be lost and perhaps the final product would be radically different than the original text.
But the Bible is translated from the original languages and manuscripts (either Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic). When the Bible is translated into English, the translators go back to the earliest and most reliable documents, not prior translations in one language or another. These documents are available to those who are interested in reading the text to see for themselves.
There are, however, no known original manuscripts for any biblical book or letter. Instead, all that modern day Christians have access to are copies made over the years. While we may only have copies, we are still able to discern what the original documents said, in large part because of the enormous number of copies we have. Thousands of copies of the biblical manuscripts exist. Many of these copies were made independently of each other, so we can compare all the copies to see if there are any changes and where the changes would have occurred.
One of the most exciting archeological discoveries for Christians was the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a collection of ancient writings which were hidden in caves near the Dead Sea. Included in these writings were many biblical manuscripts, including a copy of Isaiah which was hundreds of years older than the oldest copy we had access to at the time of its discovery. This was an opportunity to compare this version of Isaiah to the version everyone had been reading to see what changes may have been made over the hundreds of years. Amazingly, the message of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea Scrolls was the same that modern day Christians had already been reading.
This is not to say that differences don’t exist in our manuscripts. They do exist. But the nature of the differences should be kept in mind. For example, the version of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea Scrolls had variations in the spelling of words (similar to how “color” and “colour” are variations of the same word with the same meaning) or in the use of contractions (similar to the difference between “do not” and “don’t”). While differences exist, there is no meaningful change to the message. In fact, throughout all the variations we can find in the thousands of New Testament manuscripts, there is essentially no meaningful contradiction in doctrine, theology, meaning, or message. Simply put, the message of the Bible is the same today as it has always been. Bible-believing Christians today embrace the same Biblical teaching taught to their ancient counterparts. You may occasionally encounter the claim that the translation and copying process of the Bible is untrustworthy. This simply is not a reasonable argument to make Click To Tweet
You may occasionally encounter the claim that the translation and copying process of the Bible is untrustworthy. This simply is not a reasonable argument to make; all available evidence points to the trustworthiness of the biblical text and any belief otherwise would be contrary to the evidence.