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In this three-part series we are looking at the reliability of the New Testament as credible historical documents.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)
Victoria is a wife, mom, ambassador of Jesus, and a lover of all things that involve learning.