Millions of Christians all over the world believe the Bible is God’s Word. They come from all walks of life—scientists, lawyers, university professors, doctors, teachers, politicians, writers, artists, even media personalities, and sports people— intelligent men and women of all ages and from all cultures. Millions more through the centuries have believed exactly the same.
To all of them, the Bible was, or is, a special book—the Word of the living and loving God. Yet it is a book printed with ink on paper and produced as all other books.
So, where did it come from? How did this book that for centuries has guided individuals, comforted families, influenced nations, and shaped whole civilizations, come into existence? Is what we read today what the prophets and apostles wrote? And is it really the Word of God, or is it just a collection of ancient human writings that are no longer relevant to twenty-first century life?
Is it God’s Word?
There are two principle reasons why so many people believe the Bible is God’s Word.
First, the Bible plainly states it was “given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16, KJV), which means that it originated with God and not just in the minds of men. Peter affirms this when he writes that the prophets—or “holy men of God,” as he calls them—did not communicate their own ideas when they wrote but “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NKJV). Hebrews 1:1 says that God spoke “through the prophets at many times and in various ways.”
Second, people believe the Bible is God’s Word because of the evidence passed on from generation to generation by countless writers. The cumulative effect of the evidence is so strong that it consistently convinces the open-minded inquirer that the Bible is different from all other books and in the final analysis can only be what it claims to be— the Word of God.
The Bible was written by about 40 different writers over a period of some 1,600 years, between approximately 1500 B.C. and A.D. 100 The writers came from many different backgrounds: kings, statesmen, shepherds, fishermen, and others. Some were highly trained, like Moses and Paul; some came from more humble backgrounds, like Amos and Peter. But all of them had one underlying and compelling characteristic: the thoughts they expressed in their own words were the thoughts that came to them from God through inspiration.
The Bible is an “inspired” book, and inspiration is the process by which God gave His thoughts to those He chose to be His spokesmen, allowing them to express those thoughts in their own words.
The Ancient Manuscript
During the centuries, the Bible was copied by many scribes. Many of their manuscripts are still available for scholars to study. Several of these manuscripts are especially noteworthy.
Codex Sinaiticus. The oldest manuscript of the Bible was named after the place where it was found, at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most valuable Bible manuscripts, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important manuscript discoveries ever made. It is reliably dated to the mid-fourth century A.D., having been written between 330 and 350. It has been described as a “treasure beyond price” and “one of the most valuable manuscripts for textual criticism of the Greek New Testament.”1 It is crucial to our understanding of the history of the Christian Bible
David Marshall says, “Thanks to the Codex Sinaiticus we can say with assurance that in the New Testament of our twentieth-century Bibles we have to all intents and purposes the gospels, books, and letters as set down by their first-century authors.”2
Chester Beatty Papyri. Many of these ancient documents were written on papyrus, a paperlike sheet of reeds that were flattened and pressed together. Along with vellum or parchment (animal skins), papyrus was one of the main writing surfaces in the ancient world. In 1930 Alfred Chester Beatty, an American living in England, discovered a collection of ancient papyri in Egypt. These papyrus fragments, well preserved in earthenware jars, were found in an old Christian graveyard near the river Nile about 45 miles south of Cairo.
Dr. Siegfried Horn described the Chester Beatty Papyri as “the greatest discovery with regard to the New Testament,” adding that they demonstrated once more that “no change of any significance had ever been made in the Biblical text.”3
Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1947 a shepherd boy unwittingly threw a stone into a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea, and the result was the discovery of a cache of ancient artifacts. There were hundreds of pottery fragments and even more fragments of scrolls, as investigations then and over the next few years proved to an astonished world. At least 40 jars from that first cave have been painstakingly put together by experts, and some 200 different scrolls have been identified, plus thousands of fragments of other scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are both biblical and nonbiblical and of the highest value to scholars of all faiths and disciplines. In the words of Professor W. F. Albright, who examined the scrolls soon after their discovery, it was “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times.”4
One of the most recent manuscript fragments to come to light is a small piece of the book of Revelation, discovered in Egypt, and first studied in 1971. It contains parts of the first chapter of Revelation. In the words of Dr. Steven Thompson, “It is the oldest known manuscript fragment of the book of Revelation.”5 Its significance was discovered as the result of a computer program at the University of California that enabled researchers to study combinations of Greek words—in this case, words that appear in the first chapter of Revelation also occur on the papyrus fragment. They matched!
The text of the Bible—the Old Testament mainly in Hebrew with a little Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek—has come down to us through the centuries with no significant loss or variation. It accurately reflects the books as they were first written. Today’s Hebrew and Greek Bibles are virtually the same as they were when they came from the pens of their original authors. That is remarkable.
The Bible has been translated into languages that people today can read and understand. Indeed, the books of the Bible have to be translated if God’s Word is to be heard and understood by those who cannot read Hebrew or Greek, which of course includes most of us. Because it is the thoughts and not the words that are inspired, translations are still accurate versions of the Bible.
The aim of translators has been to communicate as accurately as possible the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek. If people are to hear the Word of God, they must be able to read it in a translation that most faithfully reflects the meaning of the original in their own language. As one writer puts it, the purpose of all translation “is to provide in current speech a rendering of the original languages of the Bible that will convey to the modern reader the same ideas the ancient documents were intended to convey to the readers of their day.”6This is the golden rule of translation.
The earliest translations into English were made by John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, with Wycliffe’s in manuscript form in the late 1300s. Tyndale believed it was impossible for people to understand God’s truth “except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.”7
The Bible itself says, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, / but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The centuries have borne witness to the truth of this prophecy, as could never have been imagined— and it is still being fulfilled today. Moreover, Jesus said something similar: “ ‘Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away’ ” (Matthew 24:35).
Thanks to diligent copyists and honest translators, God’s words never have passed away. Sir Frederic Kenyon once stated, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”8
Sir Frederic Kenyon is a respected man, and his opinion will stand today as a valid evaluation of the manuscript and textual evidence. And it is not only the Christian who can know the Bible has come down to us unchanged and without essential loss, anyone can.