Chaplain John Oas

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Chaplain John Oas

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FAQ#4: The Christian faith seems very dependent on the Bible, but hasn't Scripture been altered over the years? How do we know what it originally said?

At its heart, the Christian faith is based upon the Person of Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. Still, virtually all of our knowledge about Christ is taken from the New Testament portion of the Bible, so it is absolutely critical to know that the record of Scripture is accurate. For example, what if it could be demonstrated that many of Jesus' teachings and miracles were attributed to him centuries after his death? Christianity's claims about him would then be on very shaky ground. But is that the case? Has the biblical record been corrupted or embellished over the years? A careful survey of the evidence produces a resounding answer: No.

Any ancient document (such as the New Testament), is derived by analyzing the copies of hand-written manuscripts which are still in existence. The reliability of such a document, then, is a function of the number and age of the manuscripts still available to us. And based on these criteria, there is no writing from the ancient world which is as well-attested as the New Testament. In fact, there is not other document which even comes close.

Consider this: there are in existence over 5000 Greek manuscripts of New Testament writings (the NT was originally written in Greek). In addition, there are nearly 19,000 other versions which have survived, many of them written in Latin. This brings the total to approximately 24,000 manuscripts. By comparison, the second best-attested ancient work would be Homer's Iliad, which can boast less than 650 surviving copies. Other documents whose reliability no one would question, such as The History of Herodotus, have fewer than 10 manuscripts.

Also, the dates of the New Testament manuscripts lend a great deal of credibility to the document. The earliest surviving fragment dates to about 130 AD, and other manuscripts date to the 3rd century. The earliest copy of The Iliad, on the other hand, was recorded some 500 years after the book was originally written and the gap for The History of Herodotus is 900 years!

Finally, in addition to demonstrating that the New Testament we now have is an accurate version of the original writings, it should be noted that the NT books were written and distributed during the 1st century, when many people were still alive who were eyewitnesses of the life of Christ. For Jesus' biographers to have falsely attributed miracles and other divine characteristics to him would have been foolish, as they could have easily been refuted (think of a modern author claiming that Harry D. Truman healed the blind!). In the final analysis, one is certainly free to dispute or ignore the teachings of the New Testament, but there is little room to doubt their authenticity.

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