We hear it all the time, “the Bible has changed because it has been rewritten so many times”. But is that the best test for if something has changed? If someone were to try to change a modern classic, let’s say George Orwell’s “1984”, could they get away with it? Of course not! There are so many existing copies someone would immediately be able to identify the fraud! That is the same case we have with the New Testament. It was so widely spread and copied immediately after the actual events that any changes to the writings would have been identified and corrected by the Church. And they were.
What History DO YOU Believe?
As we see in the above chart the earliest copy Plato’s work is 1200 years after the original was written. Aristotle’s earliest copy comes 1400 years after he originally wrote it. No one questions those documents as historically accurate because they trust that scribes carefully did their job and preserved the text for us today. Yet those documents are nowhere near as verified as the New testament! We can reassemble much of the New Testament just by using letters from early church fathers within the first few hundred years after the Resurrection- and we can verify EVERY MAJOR CHRISTIAN TEACHING from their writings (See here). We have 5,750 fragments of the New Testament written in the original Greek language starting just a few decades after they were originally written. That is not counting all the early Latin Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Gothic and other translations that we use for translating that show up just a few hundred years after the original writings. When we add in the non-Greek early copies we have a chart that looks like this:
What About The Variants In Texts?
Until a few hundred years ago everything had to be copied by hand. Scribes would have to go over everything and write it all down attempting to keep the text exactly the same. Although scribes would take their job very seriously they would occasionally have an error as they attempted to copy giant book after giant book. This is true with ANY ancient writing. It is pretty obvious this would happen. With the transmission of Scripture almost all of differences in early writings are scribal spelling and punctuation errors. A scribe would write the equivalent of an “a” instead of “an” for example. Those errors are found in every widely copied ancient document and are always easily corrected and never effect the message of the Bible. The few times that there are big differences in early texts or omissions, the teaching in question is already made clear in other parts of the New Testament anyway so it NEVER JEOPARDIZES ANY ACTUAL CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. Let me say that again, there is NO honest SCHOLAR ALIVE that thinks that the teachings of the New Testament are not exactly what the early church would have followed. That is just a historical fact. You can reject the New Testament if you want, but it is NOT because the message has changed.
Why Textual Differences HELP PROVE the Bible’s Accuracy
Imagine we had only a few hand written copies of the New Testament and all the copies agree 100% with one another, what would you think happened? A critical mind would have to assume the Vatican or some other similar authority threw away the rest of the copies in order to control the process. But wouldn’t that be dishonest and prevent scholars from actually seeing the truth? We know God uses humans, because all of us are humans. We know that humans who serve God are still not 100% perfect. So if all the ancient early copies agreed 100% I would have to think that someone had tampered with the process in order to manipulate me. That what that would look like. But with the Bible I can see that there is a huge amount of early texts that agree 99% of the time and every major teaching is perfectly provable, but yet we can transparently see the process as God guided the church to protect His Word. The transparency of the process does more to prove the accuracy of the New Testament to hurt it.
The Faithful Wife vs The Office Whore
Imagine your wife is a beautiful woman and she works in a building with 500 people and half of them are men. Now imagine you leave for a year and come back home. You love your wife and think of her as faithful but you want to know what has happened while you were gone- so you ask if any guys at work have flirted or said anything you should know about over the last year. She says, “absolutely not, not one guy even looked at me”. Knowing how men are, would you believe that? I would not. In fact, I would now start to wonder why she told me this obvious lie. There is no possible way that none of those 250 men even so much as flirted with my beautiful wife. I would actually be furious at this point. That is the case with the New Testament. I know for sure men copying a giant document like the New Testament, as hard as they try, will at least make some punctuation and spelling errors. That is just a sure thing. And if there were none I would immediately think there is something not right here and someone is trying to make sure I don’t know the whole truth. And honesty and truth are absolutely essential for my belief in God. If I am going to dedicate my life to God I want to know the TRUTH about what that entails. I do not want that false report or lie. Woman you better tell me exactly what men flirted with you when I ask or we are having serious trust issues at this point. Even the Godliest man you can find will still not make 100/100 3 point shots or make every shot he shoots in a game of pool. The same is true with copying long entire books by hand. If you see only a video of someone making 100/100 3 pointers you can be pretty sure you are not being told the whole story and something dishonest is afoot. God uses the humans He created and while He guided the process of Scripture perfectly to preserve it today- that is easy to prove with all the manuscript evidence- He still desires us to see the TRUTH about the process. Jesus revealed Himself as the way, the TRUTH, and the life after all. Thank God he didn’t let the Vatican cover up the truth of the process of the preservation of His Holy Word!
In conclusion there is absolutely no reason to reject the message of the New Testament based on reliability. It is a FOR SURE fact that all the teachings of the New Testament are exactly what the original apostles and followers of Jesus believed. That is a matter of historical FACT. You can’t argue against it based on the VAST amounts of manuscript evidence that we have access to today. The message is FOR SURE the same message. I would go one step further and say God inspired the process and that any errors end up corrected the right way because He puts His wisdom in the men working to preserve it over the years. But even if you didn’t believe that like I do, you cannot say any part of the message has changed. Does that alone mean you need to believe them? I think you should and hope you will, but no- that alone does not prove it is God’s Word…But it does mean you need to find a different reason to reject the Gospel and Christianity than to pretend the New Testament has been changed from it’s original message. It has not changed.