Discovering God - Trusting the Bible

Why trust the text of the Bible, when it’s been translated and copied countless times?

Many people today believe the scenario expressed by fiction author, Dan Brown, who says the Bible is unreliable because it has “evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions.”[1] None of that is true.


Let’s start with translation. Today’s Bible scholars translate the text exactly once—from Hebrew (for the Old Testament) or Greek (for the New Testament) to English. Today’s Bible translations are compiled by committees of scholars working together to compare and accurately translate ancient texts. It would be unthinkable for modern translators to use a recent translation as the text from which they translate.

The notion that copying a text renders it unknowable is also false. Consider that every well known text we have from antiquity has been copied, but nobody doubts that the copies reliably reproduce the original. Have you ever read Plato, Homer, or any other ancient author? Were you haunted by the thought that you have no idea whether the text is reliable? Probably not, because copyists are fully capable of transmitting the original content. They don’t have to be perfect because the meaning still comes across.

Manuscript evidence

Many are surprised to learn that our copies of the Bible are vastly superior to any other text from antiquity. For most ancient books, we have no copies closer than five hundred to fifteen hundred years distant from the time of original writing. With the New Testament, we have pieces from within twenty five years of the original and whole manuscripts not much later. Also, ancient biblical copies number in the thousands—by far more than other ancient texts (most have fewer than ten ancient copies). Comparing these copies gives scholars a high level of confidence that we have an accurate text.

For the Old Testament, the gap between the last book and our earliest manuscripts used to be fourteen hundred years. Then, when the Dead Sea Scrolls surfaced, it went down to as little as a couple hundred years. The Scrolls also confirmed that later manuscripts had been transmitted with a good level of accuracy, because even though they are twelve hundred years earlier than our oldest manuscripts at the time, the vast majority of verses read word for word the same.

Skeptical attack

After enlightenment scholars launched two centuries of attack on the integrity of the biblical text, more recent text discoveries have confirmed an excellent level of accuracy from cover to cover. In one case after another, archeology has confirmed the biblical claim over enlightenment fabrications. Archeology is one of the newer sciences, and most of the most important manuscripts and excavations were not available to the enlightenment critics.


[1] Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code, p. 231