Some people have the idea that the New Testament has been translated “so many times” that it has become corrupted through stages of translating. If the translations were being made from other translations, they would have a case. But translations are actually made directly from original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic source texts based on thousands of ancient manuscripts.
For instance, we know the New Testament we have today is true to its original form because:
1. We have such a huge number of manuscript copies–over 24,000.
2. Those copies agree with each other, word for word, 99.5% of the time.
3. The dates of these manuscripts are very close to the dates of their originals
When one compares the text of one manuscript with another, the match is amazing. Sometimes the spelling may vary, or words may be transposed, but that is of little consequence. Concerning word order, Bruce M. Metzger, professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, explains: “It makes a whale of a difference in English if you say, ‘Dog bites man’ or ‘Man bites dog’–sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn’t. One word functions as the subject of the sentence regardless of where it stands in the sequence.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a visiting professor at Oxford University, also comments: “In real terms, the New Testament is easily the best attested ancient writing in terms of the sheer number of documents, the time span between the events and the documents, and the variety of documents available to sustain or contradict it. There is nothing in ancient manuscript evidence to match such textual availability and integrity.” The New Testament is humanity’s most reliable ancient document. Its textual integrity is more certain than that of Plato’s writings or Homer’s Iliad.
The Old Testament has also been remarkably well preserved. Our modern translations are confirmed by a huge number of ancient manuscripts in both Hebrew and Greek, including the mid-20th century discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls hold the oldest existing fragments of almost all of the Old Testament books, dating from 150 B.C. The similarity of the Dead Sea manuscripts to hand copies made even 1,000 years later is proof of the care the ancient Hebrew scribes took in copying their scriptures.
Does archaeology support the Bible?
Archaeology cannot prove that the Bible is God’s written word to us. However, archaeology can (and does) substantiate the Bible’s historical accuracy. Archaeologists have consistently discovered the names of government officials, kings, cities, and festivals mentioned in the Bible–sometimes when historians didn’t think such people or places existed. For example, the Gospel of John tells of Jesus healing a cripple next to the Pool of Bethesda. The text even describes the five porticoes (walkways) leading to the pool. Scholars didn’t think the pool existed, until archaeologists found it forty feet below ground, complete with the five porticoes.
The Bible has a tremendous amount of historical detail, so not everything mentioned in it has yet been found through archaeology. However, not one archaeological find has conflicted with what the Bible records.
In contrast, news reporter Lee Strobel comments about the Book of Mormon: “Archaeology has repeatedly failed to substantiate its claims about events that supposedly occurred long ago in the Americas. I remember writing to the Smithsonian Institute to inquire about whether there was any evidence supporting the claims of Mormonism, only to be told in unequivocal terms that its archaeologists see ‘no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.'” Archaeologists have never located cities, persons, names, or places mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
Many of the ancient locations mentioned by Luke, in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, have been identified through archaeology. “In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities and nine islands without an error.
Archaeology has also refuted many ill-founded theories about the Bible. For example, a theory still taught in some colleges today asserts that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), because writing had not been invented in his day. Then archaeologists discovered the Black Stele. “It had wedge-shaped characters on it and contained the detailed laws of Hammurabi. Was it post-Moses? No! It was pre-Mosaic; not only that, but it was pre-Abraham (2,000 B.C.). It preceded Moses’ writings by at least three centuries.
Another major archaeological find confirmed an early alphabet in the discovery of the Ebla Tablets in northern Syria in 1974. These 14,000 clay tablets are thought to be from about 2300 B.C., hundreds of years before Abraham.12 The tablets describe the local culture in ways similar to what is recorded in Genesis chapters 12-50. Archaeology consistently confirms the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Are there contradictions in the Bible?
While some claim that the Bible is full of contradictions, this simply isn’t true. The number of apparent contradictions is actually remarkably small for a book of the Bible’s size and scope. What apparent discrepancies do exist are more curiosity than calamity. They do not touch on any major event or article of faith.
Here is an example of a so-called contradiction. Pilate ordered that a sign be posted on the cross where Jesus hung. Three of the Gospels record what was written on that sign:
In Matthew: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”
In Mark: “The king of the Jews.”
In John: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”
The wording is different, hence the apparent contradiction. The remarkable thing, though, is that all thee writers describe the same event in such detail– Jesus was crucified. On this they all agree. They even record that a sign was posted on the cross, and the meaning of the sign is the same in all three accounts!
What about the exact wording? In the original Greek of the Gospels, they didn’t use a quotation symbol as we do today to indicate a direct quote. The Gospel authors were making an indirect quote, which would account for the subtle differences in the passages.
Here is another example of an apparent contradiction. Was Jesus two nights in the tomb or three nights in the tomb before His resurrection? Jesus said, prior to his crucifixion, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Mark records another statement that Jesus made, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33,34)
Jesus was killed on Friday and the resurrection was discovered on Sunday. How can that be three days and nights in the tomb? It was a Jewish figure of speech in Jesus’ time to count any part of a day or night as a full day and night. So Friday, Saturday, and Sunday would be called three days and three nights in Jesus’ culture. We speak in similar ways today– if a person were to say, “I spent all day shopping,” we understand that the person didn’t mean 24 hours.
This is typical of apparent contradictions in the New Testament. Most are resolved by a closer examination of the text itself or through studying the historical background.