Will newer Dead Sea Scroll-type discoveries prove that the Bible is unreliable?

Monday Musings for April 19, 2021

Good morning, Musers,

We Christians have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the early textual fragments — those text-laden scraps that contain portions of the New Testament. Scholars call these fragments “witnesses” … perhaps because we don’t have any of the original documents. So, what’s at issue here? We are working with copies of the Holy Writ — not the originals.

When people first learn that we do not have even one of the original New Testament manuscripts, they ask, if I can’t see Paul’s handwriting, how can I know that my Bible has faithfully translated what Paul said?

But the issue is even more acute than that: we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture — and here’s what that implies: we have reconstructed what we believe is the entire New Testament from fragments and citations from early scholars. We believe this reconstruction to be extraordinarily accurate when compared to “the autographa” — the official name for the New Testament corpus.

So, let me state our position of faith plainly: we believe that this postulated New Testament — a body of work whose original documents may never be discovered — is inerrant. Not everyone is comfortable with that. But unless you’re going to affirm that one of our translations is inerrant — as the late Peter Ruckman did with the King James Version — then there’s no inerrancy for you!

Now, even though we don’t claim inerrancy for our translations, the texts we have are nearly perfect, so we should treat our Bibles as if they were inerrant. Since these are the Bibles we have in hand, these are God’s provision for us. It’s just that, since they are all at least once removed from the autographa, they cannot be inerrant in the technical sense. But God still communicates to us through our translations, so we have a duty to study them. These, too, are the word of God.

But how accurate are our Bibles? We have reconstructed the New Testament to 99.4 % accuracy, and the few words that are still in contention have no bearing on doctrine. (Click here if you’d like to see which words and phrases are unresolved.) The New Testament is demonstrably reliable… so it irks me when people say that things like the Bible is a copy of a copy of a copy (and so on), so it must contain errors. People who affirm this are simply uninformed.

Does anyone think that historians and textual critics are sitting there with her hands on their heads going, “Oh no! Fred in Poughkeepsie thinks the Bible has errors! How did we miss that all these years! I’m simply beside myself knowing that Fred — who describes himself as a “man of science” — is absolutely sure that the Bible has errors.”

When we’re talking about the manuscript evidence for the New Testament, we Christians have Mt Everest! The nearest competitors have molehills. Yet, today’s earnest seeker wonders if extra-biblical documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls are a challenge to Scripture. I do not. Archeology is the Christian’s friend — and why shouldn’t it be? We are all looking for truth… and all truth is God’s truth.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)