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On the Reliability of the Biblical Manuscripts
Are the Biblical manuscripts reliable?
Skipp Porteous says “no”. In his newly released book, “Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, author Porteous says that much of the Bible is full of “inconsistencies and contradictions.” He says that the Gospel writers mostly recorded only hearsay.
Fifty members of The Jesus Seminar agree. After a six-year study, this controversial panel of liberal scholars recently concluded that “no more than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually said by him.”
In the approximately 1600 years since the canon of the Christian Scripture was officially ratified at Carthage, there has been no small effort to discredit the reliability of the manuscripts upon which our present-day translations are based.
In more modern times nearly every conceivable critical literary technique imaginable has been brought to bear on the question of Biblical reliability. There is Lower Criticism and Higher Criticism. There is Historical Criticism, Textual Criticism, Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism, and Source Criticism.
So where do things stand? Are the ancient manuscripts trustworthy? Or did the original writers introduce their own human prejudice into their work? Have the early records become corrupt by human editing technique over the years? Since we have no originals, can we really depend on the accuracy of the copies of the copies?
Is the Bible reliable? Is it really the Word of God? Do we still have a product that we can consider authentic and dependable? Or has the transmission process been so flawed down through the centuries that all we are now left with is mere speculative projection, with much of even that full of error and inconsistency?
Who should answer these questions? More importantly, how should these questions be answered? What will be the process? Is the current method of study and evaluation itself reliable? Good question. Very good question.
Meet Dale M. Courtney of Charleston, South Carolina. When Dale was in seminary he heard about groups like The Jesus Seminar. He knew that they were deliberately attempting to demonstrate that the Gospels were basically unreliable, denying that the Apostles had ever themselves written any of the Books of the New Testament.
So Dale did something very interesting. Instead of studying the manuscripts themselves, he began to study the analytical methods that some of these so-called scholars were using on the manuscripts. Guess what he found? He discovered that “when the exact same tests [used by these liberal scholars] were applied to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and second inaugural, it was demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lincoln did not pen the latter.” Dale concludes: “[Such] scholars are blowing smoke in order not to deal with the truths that were penned by [the writers of Scripture] under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
And now …another very interesting, late-breaking development! In late September, 1991, the Dead Sea Scrolls –the archaeological discovery of the century– were finally released to a broader and more objective group of scholars. According to an article in the October, 1991, issue of U.S. News & World Report, “one scroll [in particular] dramatically demonstrates just how little at least one book of the Old Testament has changed through centuries of hand copying. In 66 chapters of the Isaiah Scroll…only 13 minor variations from the modern text were discovered.” The newsweekly quotes Don A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.: “On the whole the scrolls tend to confirm the solidity of our Old Testament to a greater degree than most people expected.”
Bible scholar Henry Halley once wrote: “The dear Old Book has worn out many anvils, and long after the critics have been forgotten, will go marching on, loved and honored, by unnumbered millions. Precious Book!”