Is the Bible reliable?
- People sometimes say the Bible contradicts itself – the first thing to ask is, where? The gospels (the life stories about Jesus) often have different ways of telling the story; and sometimes even different numbers of people involved. However people like police or judges who are used to hearing witness statements will tell you that this actually shows the reliability of the Bible! When different people witness the same event, they focus on different things; they see different matters as being important, and so the stories differ in their details even though the main events they tell are the same. Those same judges tell us that if different witnesses’ stories tally in every respect, then there has been collusion and the witness statements are viewed as unreliable. The gospels tell the same events of Jesus life, death and resurrection from the viewpoints of different witnesses. The same – but different angles of sight. And right through the Bible, even though its authors are separated by thousands of years, they have a single story to tell – how God rescues us through the shed blood of a sacrifice in our place.
- Luke opens his gospel story emphasising how he has tracked down eye-witnesses of all the events and carefully recorded them – he is an historian. There is a true story of an historian in the late 19th century who set out to disprove the Bible by showing how false Luke’s gospel (and the sequel – Acts) was. In his researches he found again and again what a painstaking, thorough and reliable historian Luke was. His evidence could be trusted. That man became a Christian.
- The first manuscripts we have of the New Testament are from a very short period after they were first written down. Some from the early 2nd century, and more and more in the 3rd century, and many hundreds from the 4th. That is thousands of copies of the original by the 300’s A.D. The first manuscripts we have of Julius Caesar’s wars written by him are about 600 years after the events and no historian questions their reliability.
- The manuscripts themselves were carefully copied, because they were important and holy books. Looking at the Old Testament (before Jesus) manuscripts of many of the Old Testament books discovered in Qmran (usually called the Dead Sea scrolls) date from the 1st century B.C. but there are very few differences between these and the present Bible – and none that affect the meaning of the book.