Applying Textual Criticism to the Bible

Christian Apologists Prove the Reliability and Accuracy of Biblical Text

The reliability and accuracy of the Biblical text in recent history has become a hot topic in the mainstream media. Movies like the "DaVinci Code" and the History Channel's "Lost Books of the Bible" bring the topic of credibility right to the dinner table. This brings the danger right to the heart of the Christian faith. If believers cannot trust in the accuracy of the Bible, faith has no foundation or truth and cannot offer salvation. This becomes a dilemma that requires a level of intellectual honesty and inquiry on the part of believers and non-believers alike.

When critiquing works of antiquity (ancient documents), a science called Textual Criticism is applied. Original documents, due to the nature of degradable mediums used and other external variables, exist only in theory. To establish accuracy, one manuscript is not relied upon solely as the "real McCoy" although a certain set of manuscripts are favored over others. This rule, however, is not necessarily followed to the letter. Generally, the oldest known manuscript is to be favored.

It is known that a more recent copy of the text is subject to more editing and error due to accumulation. This is why the older manuscripts are favored over the others. The shorter, more difficult reading is also probably the closest reading. A copyist will often times add footnotes, also they will insert text to clarify or to edit scribal errors.

As a rule of thumb, the number of manuscripts has little to do with the quality of the manuscripts but the number of known manuscripts helps to determine the quality and increases the number of qualified text readings.

To bring things into perspective, a comparison to the second most agreed upon work of antiquity is in order. Homer's the Iliad, is recognized as accurate and complete in the original content, context and theme. There are 643 manuscripts, the earliest manuscript dated around 1,000 years after the death of Homer. The New Testament has over 25,000 manuscripts, the earliest manuscript is dated from 50-125 years after the original.

Before jumping to conclusions, one must ask themself about the reliability of the mainstream media. Those who would argue that the Bible was written and rewritten by various political powers throughout history are mere conspiracy theorists at best. Wives tales, folklore and myths are hardly evidence of the fallibility of the Scriptures. While it can be determined that what was written was written, the next question is whether what was written was true. Until next time.

Written by: Roberto Perez