“It’s hard to know what the original scriptures said having been copied many times over the ages. Besides, every generation probably made their own changes to their liking.” That’s a common idea some have of how the Bible came to us. The result is the dismissal of the Bible as God’s Word because it’s likely corrupted. Sometimes examples also are given of supposed problems that are at times referred to in Bible publishers’ notes.
The subject of textual transmission is somewhat complex. But it is not beyond us to grasp and be able to see the Bible is reliable today.
When I first went to Israel, our guide took us to where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. The Qumran community lived among the cliffs on the NW side of the Dead Sea. Here 40,000 fragments of documents, commentaries and Old Testament (OT) books were found in sealed clay jars and preserved for 1,900 years. This discovery helped dispel the myth of scribal corruption because the OT fragments found were nearly a thousand years older than the ones we had at the time, but, there was little difference.
Why the texts of Scripture remained largely unchanged is because of the intense care of scribes who hand copied the sacred documents. Here are some of the common rules scribes have observed.
1. They worked in a scriptorium like pictured here at Qumran. This special room for that purpose was clean, vented and with a window and desk positioned for just the right light at certain times of the day.
2. The scribe also had to be rested, ceremonially clean, and washed before working.
3. A special black ink was mixed and used. It was not until modern times that tests revealed the lasting and durable nature of this ink that probably the ancients didn’t realize themselves.
4. As he copied, he verbalized each word and a second scribe watched over his shoulder to check.
5. The letters, words, and paragraphs were counted, and no two letters could touch. If they did the document was destroyed. The middle paragraph, word and letter had to match the original document.
6. Every time he wrote the word “Jehovah” he had to wipe the pen clean and wash his entire body.
7. Each scribe only worked for a limited time so as not to become too tired.
8. Originals were stored in sacred places or if too badly worn or stained they were burned so as not to corrupt other copies.
As time has gone on we have actually found additional ancient documents older and closer to the original than ever before. For example, the manuscripts used to translate the 1611 King James Bible were from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries while more modern translations are based on Greek manuscripts from the third and fourth centuries and some Hebrew texts from the time of Christ. I have had the privilege of actually seeing one of those fragments from John’s Gospel that is believed were from the first century. I have also seen portions of the famous Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls; it is clear and very easy to read even though nearly two millennia old.
It is interesting to note that no key doctrine of Scripture has been invalidated by any textual uncertainty or variant. In other words you can trust your Bible. So, read it and heed it. It is God’s Word.
Having said this be sure to be in the new 9:15 video Sunday School series on the subject entitled The God Who Speaks. This is just out and answers tons more questions on the subject above.