There is a theory in the world today that the Bible has been changed over the thousands of years since it was originally written to the point that we cannot know what was originally written.
This is a popular theory among the Muslim community, Catholics, and others. The basic idea is shown in the chart to the right. The changes either came because of mistakes by the copyists or on purpose so that it would say what they wanted it to say. It would make sense for the rulers of the Jews over thousands of years to make changes to their Bible so that it would say what they wanted for the people at the time.
There is good evidence, however, that this has not happened.
First, one must look at what the scribes (those who made the copies) were thinking about when they made their copies. To the Jewish mind, the Old Testament was the word of God. This meant that they were very careful when they copied it. We do not have knowledge of the system the scribes used prior to AD100, but at that time, the Talmudists had taken over the responsibility of copying the Old Testament. They had a set of rules which were quite strict. The most important rules include not copying even the smallest mark from memory. They always had to look at the scroll or codex from which they were copying before they wrote a letter. They also had to make sure that the scroll or codex they were copying from was “certified” as a good copy.1
In about AD500, the group of Jewish scribes known as the Masoretes took over the responsibility of copying the Old Testament.
They had even stricter rules in that they numbered the letters in each book and knew the middle letters of each book, so they could check the accuracy of their copying down to the number of letters that they copied.
These rules grew out of a deep respect for the Old Testament as the word of God, which was something the scribes shared from the beginning. This shows that they were very careful in making their copies.
Another strong evidence that the Old Testament has not been changed over time so that we do not know what was originally written is the comparison of the Masoretic Text with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and some of the scrolls have been dated to be as old as from 125BC. Before these were discovered, the oldest copy of the Old Testament we had was the Masoretic Text from AD916.
When comparing a copy of Isaiah from 125BC with the Isaiah in the Masoretic Text, they discovered something strange. Nothing of importance was different. The prophecies about Jesus were still there. There were a few insignificant differences in wording, but the content was the same.
How do we know that the New Testament has not been changed over time? First, you could talk about the respect that the monks and other copyists had for the New Testament as the word of God. But there is something much more scientific that we can look at. We have thousands of copies from the New Testament that are very old. This makes the chart of the copying process different from what we have above.
As careful as copyists may be, when something is copied by hand over thousands of years, mistakes are bound to happen. That is what makes the many copies that can be compared so important.
If more than one copyist makes a mistake in copying a book, they are not likely to make the mistake in the same place, unless they collaborate together and purposefully make the change. When making a comparison of many different manuscripts from many different areas, scholars are able to find where changes have been made, whether on purpose or by accident. You can illustrate this with John 1:1 as with the chart below.
|In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God and the word was God.|
|At the end was the word. And the word was with God and the word was God.|
|In the beginning was the Lord. And the Lord was with God and the Lord was God.|
|In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God and the word was Jesus.|
When you examine the 4 different copies of John 1:1, you see that there are changes to all but the first. However, you can still find what the original said by comparing them. You can see that all but one reads “beginning” instead of “end” so you can see that “beginning” is the original, and so on. When you include manuscripts from many different places, at different times, you can know with even more certainty what is original. The science of Textual Criticism has many other ways that they use to find the original wording of any old document when they can compare several manuscripts that have been put into practice by the compilers and translators of the Bible today.
We can have the utmost confidence that the Bible we have today accurately reflects what the authors originally wrote. We can have even more confidence that it has not been changed if we believe that it is the word of God. Why would God let His word be changed to the point that we don’t know what He said? We know that there have been copyists errors, but God has made sure that we have everything we need that pertains to life and godliness and nothing has been changed to keep us from having that. I believe the Bible I read today accurately reflects the original writings. How about you?