Can I trust the Bible? Part 5: Accurate Copying

Image: Can I trust the Bible? Part 5: Accurate Copying

The Bible hasn't changed in 2000 years

Has the Bible changed over time?

Over 2000 years, you could imagine that the Bible might have changed a bit, or even a lot. Maybe there have been some accidental errors or even deliberate changes.

Yes, the Bible has a long history, and there are many different versions and translations in many different languages. But the text has not been changed. We can check modern translations with very early manuscripts and see that there is no significant difference.

The Old and New Testaments are the most accurately preserved and widely attested documents of the ancient world. There are more copies of the Old and New Testaments than there are of any other ancient document. And the manuscripts of the Bible are older and in better condition, more complete and come from different locations and branches of the church’s history. This means that the chances of changing the content and not being found out are very thin.

An enormous responsibility

The Copyists or Scribes of the Bible throughout the ages have seen their work as a sacred task, and were proud of their accuracy and reliability. Scribes didn’t just copy the Bible in their spare time. This was their profession and it was a highly valued and important profession. They went to great lengths and followed meticulous rules to ensure the accuracy of their work.

Scribes had to wash themselves and be in full Jewish dress before beginning to copy a scroll. The Old Testament was copied with such precision that when an entire scroll had been copied by hand, one letter at a time, if one mistake was made, the scroll was destroyed.

How's this for high standards?

In addition, the Jewish copyists of the Old Testament adhered to detailed requirements in copying;

a) Each copy had to be made on a brand new writing surface and had to be prepared in a specific way;
b) Each copy had to be written in a certain number of columns of thirty letters width, with a certain number of lines to each column;
c) Each copy had to be written in a certain color and quality of ink;
d) Each copy had to be made from an authenticated original;
e) Not even the tiniest letter could be written from memory, as one would glance at the word “to” and write the letter “t” and “o” before glancing back at the original, but every letter was copied singly from the original;
f) No letter could connect with or overlap another letter. The distance between each letter was measured by a single hair or thread;
g) Every letter of every page and book was counted and compared against the original. The number of times each letter of the alphabet occurred in a book was counted and compared against the original. The middle letter of the Pentateuch (the first five letters of the Old Testament) and the middle letter of the Old Testament were computed and indicated in the text. If one of these calculations was incorrect, the copy was discarded.
h) A head Scribe checked their work.

You can trust the Bible

The Bible has been translated more than any other document, and yet there is remarkable uniformity in the translations. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered last century, go a long way to proving this. When you compare the New Testament with other ancient writer’s works, its reliability is immediately obvious.

So rest assured that when you grab that Bible off your shelf and read it, you are reading from the highest quality, totally valid, original historical book, just as accurate now as it was back then.

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Comments (1)

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  • user

    Nathan

    excellent articles mike! :-)
    christian historian John Dickson has also written a lot of good books why we can trust the bible. http://johndickson.org/books

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