What does it mean when one asks about the reliability of the Bible? Are we questioning God’s ability to provide His creation with reliable truths to know Him? Or, are we questioning whether we can believe the records that we have are a reliable source, untainted by human error in a way that would effect God’s intended purpose for His scriptures? There are countless questions that can be asked in reference to scripture.
In this three-part series we are looking at the reliability of the New Testament as credible historical documents. The core question asked in yesterday’s video is, “Are the New Testament manuscripts as reliable as ancient sources of history as the manuscripts from the same era by historical figures such as Tacitus, Alexander the Great, Pliny the Younger, Plato, and Homer?” If we accept the authenticity of these writings, why do we question the documents written about Jesus, the most famous person and greatest social reformer of all time? Because it goes beyond popularity and social reform to directly affect our lives, now and for eternity.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s video, take a look at the chart below. It was compiled by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (see full article here).
In these post-video blogs my goal is to briefly address one of the most common objections to the point made in the video. Today’s objection comes from self-proclaimed agnostic (formerly Christian), Bart Ehrman, who says, “There are more variations in our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” According to Daniel Wallace, the founder and executor of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, of the 130,000 words in the New Testament, there are close to 400,000 textual variants among the manuscripts. While this would seem to be scary at first glance, Sean McDowell, professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, points out that 75-80% of these variants are spelling. None of these variants effect the historical records of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Additionally, they do not change any primary doctrine of the Christian faith. In fact, you can disregard the entire Bible as sola scriptura (inspired Word of God) that doesn’t change or disprove who Jesus is based on the historical accounts. Who He is will never change.
A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix confirms the reliability of the New Testament by verifying its 99% purity. In fact, Geisler and Nix claim that in the entire text of 20,000 lines, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words). And, none of these affect any significant scripture.
[IMAGE: See words in brackets and footnotes]
In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman presents one of his famous arguments against the reliability of the Bible where he refers to two passages; John 7:53-8:11 (the adulterous woman) and Mark 16:9-20 (the ending of Mark). Ehrman argues that these, as well as eight others, were not among our first manuscripts. However, Wallace argues the ending of Mark is in 98% of our early manuscripts. Regardless, passages such as these are typically included in your Bible with a footnote containing this information. Nothing is to be hidden.
Furthermore, in reference to Jesus’ ministry, John says, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The first reference to the passage of the adulterous woman, now recorded in John 7, didn’t appear in manuscripts until the 5th century. While there is no way to know for certain, this passage could be among the many that were orally translated from generation to generation beginning with living memory. Nonetheless, this passage, too, is typically footnoted in your Bible to not be in some of the earliest manuscripts (see pictures above). In the end, all this tells us is that these passages may not have been in some of the early manuscripts. That is it. It doesn't put any other part of the New Testament in question.
For more details on this topic, a great time-friendly resource is an article titled “Misquoting” Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. In this article, Koukl notes the following concerning the transfer of the manuscripts:
What we know from this is that the manuscripts we have may contain some basic scribal errors, but these errors do no harm to the original intent of the authors. And thus, the original manuscripts can be trusted as the inspired Word of God.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris.
 The three sources used in compiling the chart were: 1) the book Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler, 1976, p. 307; 2) the article "Archaeology and History attest to the Reliability of the Bible," by Richard M. Fales, Ph.D., in The Evidence Bible, Compiled by Ray Comfort, Bridge-Logos Publishers, Gainesville, FL, 2001, p. 163; and 3) the book A Ready Defense, by Josh McDowell, 1993, p. 45.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus—The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, first paperback edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 90.
 Read more about this here: https://bible.org/article/number-textual-variants-evangelical-miscalculation
 Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 475.
 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEnKMLpclUc (1:25)
Having spent more than two-thirds of my life in the pageantry and entertainment industry, fifteen of those years serving as a full-time coach for Miss USA and Miss America contestants, it is easy to see the beauty of tolerance. In the pageantry circuit tolerance isn’t just promoted; it is expected. In fact, if you are asked an interview question, and you share your opinion, but it is not inline with the secular worldview, you are considered to be ignorant and intolerant. If you are going to be Miss USA, the next reality television star, or a multimillion dollar real estate guru, having this stigma following you is not an option. Or is it?
The church once held the view that being tolerant was loving someone even when you disagree with their behavior, but it didn’t stop there. This type of tolerance, known as “traditional tolerance,” as Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell call it in their recent book, The Beauty of Intolerance, meant loving people as they were while helping them see truth as objective for all human beings.
The Beauty of Intolerance argues that traditional tolerance has been replaced with “cultural tolerance” which goes beyond loving people for who they are; you must accept their beliefs and decisions as accurate and true for them, even if they aren’t true for you. When this is not done, you are being intolerant. They argue that “it is possible to truly love and accept people with whom we significantly disagree…even if such an approach is increasingly considered intolerant” (p. 18).
The book is built on the biblical narrative of truth (i.e., moral truth is based on the character of God, which is objective and universal) as opposed to the cultural narrative, which claims that moral truth comes from the individual (i.e., you are the creator of your own truth) and is known through making the decision to believe it and to experience it (p. 19).
The first few chapters of the book gives everyday examples of families struggling with generational gaps of tolerance as it relates to homosexuality, premarital sex, and stealing. In these examples each person is doing what he or she feels is right as an individual. Josh and Sean provide a compelling case against cultural tolerance due its lack of showing respect for one another. They argue that cultural tolerance disrespects the other person because we are not looking out for their best interest when we don't speak the truth in love.
The book opens (chapters 1-4) by focusing on understanding true tolerance in a world where anything goes. It then moves to the definition and redefinition of “love” (chapters 5-7). Josh and Sean say, “Every moral command from Jesus and the Bible comes from a heart of loving relationship with a desire to protect those he loves and provide for their best.” That is true love. Four of the last five chapters (8-11) relates cultural tolerance with education, the government, society and the church.
Three of my favorite quotes from The Beauty of Intolerance are:
Reading this book won’t only help clarify tolerance (or, intolerance), it will resurrect your heart; igniting a fire to love people deeply, the way Jesus first loved us. We must remember, “Intolerance of evil is not mean-spirited and condemnatory; it is actually the only way to be loving and caring” (p. 138).
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus - first, a wife - second, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween - third. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris.
Victoria is a wife, mom, ambassador of Jesus, and a lover of all things that involve learning.