Manuscripts, Bar Fights, and the Moon Landing

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Bible has been changed so many times… Oh, you’ve heard this one? OK, I sort of expected that you had. But do you know of any proof that supports this claim? Right, right, it’s kinda old. So, I guess over along time it is possible for mistakes to get in, but, honestly,  that’s not really proof. It just makes it a little more plausible. Possible isn’t the same thing as actual. I mean, it’s possible that the 1969 moon landing was all made in a tv studio, but that doesn’t mean its a historical fact that no one has been to the moon, right?

You “suppose“? Come on man. Mythbusters TOTALLY proved that the moon landing was real. Seriously.HAN SHOOTS FIRST copy

OK, but the Bible. What evidence is there that the Bible has been corrupted over the past two thousand years? Yes, there are different versions of the Bible. I own a couple myself. But I also own more than one copy of the Cat in the Hat. And we’ve all seen the Youth Theatre versions of Romeo and Juliet. Those actually ARE different than the original. Does that mean we can’t know what the original said? Or even if Shakespeare was a real person?

And the versions of the Bible aren’t really that different for the most part. ESV, NIV, NKJV, and even The Message all will tell you that Jesus is the Son of God whose sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later pays for our sins and makes us right with God. It’s not as if the KJV says you get to heaven by obeying the Queen, NIV says you strive for inner peace by recycling and the Message says to gain enlightenment through the Oprah Book Club.

Beyond that there is an entire field of study which has grown in the past century, where in old manuscripts have been collected and compared. The great thing about the Bible is, it spread across the Roman world in the first century. This means, a hundred years before Constantine said, “Hey, lets get this thing sorted with a meeting and a press conference,” the Bible had already been written and shared in MANY languages all over the world. This means, even if the Greek copies got corrupted in the following centuries, the Spanish and Chinese copies would be unaffected by that. Consider this- on my DVD copies of Star Wars, Greedo shoots first. But my brother, Bob, HAS the original VHS releases, so we can go back to the earlier sources and see that HAN SOLO SHOT FIRST. The copy I have is a later corruption of the early cannon, even if it is in HD.

Not only that, but consider the AMOUNT of material we have. If you wanted to see how the works of Plato we have now compare to the originals, then you would have seven ancient manuscripts to compare to, all of which were written a thousand years after the original. Even if our copy matches those, we have a thousand years between them and the FIRST writings which are lost. Yet, no one is running around screaming “We can’t POSSIBLY know what the works of Plato actually said!” Or the works of Aristotle, who influenced western culture, science, and philosophy for more than a thousand years, so much so that when the church forbid Galileo from teaching the Heliocentric model of the solar system (Meaning the earth goes around the sun) it was because they, like everyone else at the time, still clung to Aristotle’s Geocentric (Earth centered) model. Also, Aristotle’s philosophy on how life, such as flies, frogs, and mice, can come from non-life was not disproved until Louis Pasture came along and finally nailed it shut. But if you want to see the original writings of this vastly influential man, you can go back to  1100AD where you can see FIFTY ancient manuscripts. That would be impressive if he hadn’t actually lived more than a thousand years before.

Imagine, for instance, if you had to determine the accuracy of the story of Macbeth, king of Scotland. He was a real guy who lived and reigned around 1000AD, and his life is told in the play by Shakespeare (Written early 1600’s). Now, suppose you wanted to verify the life of Macbeth from a historical account. You check the library and find A HANDWRITTEN COPY OF THE HISTORY OF KING MACBETH! Score! In fact, there are fifty copies in here, and all fairly similar! Wow! Now, when were they written? Oh, snap. All written on official Iron Man 2 stationary. This brings the distance between the accounts and the facts to a thousand years. Even with fifty copies, that’s a LOT of guess work. MAYBE they were copied faithfully from original source material. But the gap is kinda big.

In fact, when you compare the dozen best manuscript compilations of the ancient world, from Caesar to Socrates, Homer to Plato, you get gaps between the original writing and today’s existing copies from 500 years to 1400 years. And the total number of manuscripts we have today, when you add them all up, is less than a thousand. That sounds like a lot, even if there is a thousand years between them and the history they suppose to tell us.

How about the Bible? The numbers for the Bible are a little easier to work with. The total number of New Testament manuscripts is more than 5,000 in Greek alone. And the oldest pieces date to WITHIN the time of it’s writing. For instance, we have a fragment of Mark which dates to about 55AD, which is probably a few decades before the last book of the New Testament was written. And a huge pile of them date to a century BEFORE the Council at Nicaea where Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown asserts that the Bible was rewritten and corrupted.

Furthermore, the New Testament quotes the Old Testament more than 200 times. Important to these quotes are the many prophecies concerning the messiah which tell us, not only the fact that he would be the incarnate God, whose sacrificial death and following resurrection would pay or our sins, but also some incidental details like where and when he would be born, how he would be treated, how he would be killed, and how he would be not only betrayed by a friend, and not only betrayed by a friend for money, and not only for silver, but for 30 pieces of silver. That’s pretty specific. In fact, it seems like the kind of thing the church would stick into the Old Testament AFTER they stuck it into the New Testament, just to give it some credence.

Then we found the Dead Sea Scrolls. Long story short- these scrolls are the whole old testament, save Esther, and at least one VERY good copy of Isaiah, from BEFORE Jesus was born. They were stashed in a cave and found in the past century. For more than two thousand years, they sat in a cave waiting for some bored shepherd boy to stumble upon them. And stumble he did.

So, how does the Bible of today match up with the Bible of two thousand years ago? Even the skeptics say we can be 99% sure of what each book has to say, and 100% sure of the message it carries. That’s pretty good odds.

So how can we know what the original New Testament said? Because we still have so many copies from the first couple of centuries after the events they describe- some from within the lifetime of the eye witnesses. Has the Bible been changed over and over? Corrupted by political and religious leaders? The facts simply scream NO. What we have today is the American English version of the original Greek or Hebrew text. What it says is what it said. If you throw out the New Testament as too far removed from the events to be reliable, you would have to throw out pretty much everything we know about the past that occurred before 1970. In which case, yeah, that moon landing is a little questionable. But I don’t care what the skeptics may say. Han shot first.

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About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

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