Front Page
Series Contents
Series Theme:  Can I Believe the Bible





Title:   4. Why we can trust the Bible


A series that explains what the Bible is and why we can trust it.



1. Introduction

This is one of a series of pages on the Bible and explains in general terms what the Bible is and how it came to be.  

We hope that as you read you will come to see that any intelligent person has good cause to trust and believe the Bible as we have it today.

In the first part of this page we will repeat a little, for the sake of clarity, what you will find  on the "What is the Bible?" page in this series




2. How did it come to be written?

The earliest parts of the Old Testament appear to have been written by Moses (one of Israel's earliest and greatest leaders), often at the instigation of God as an account of God's dealings with Israel.

Subsequently scribes obviously wrote down things that were happening and these were formed into the historical books.

Other key writers were king David and king Solomon, and then a variety of prophets.

In the New Testament, the Gospel writers collected together all the information they could about the life of Christ and thus we have four books recounting the same history from differing viewpoints.

The letters came to be written as the travelling church leaders communicated with friends and with churches they had been to.

The Revelation was written by the apostle John recording a vision he had received.



3. Full of mistakes?

This is a question many ask when first being introduced to the Bible. The questioner usually goes on to say, "Surely when the writings were passed on down through history, weren't mistakes made so that we have a very different version from the original? "

Fortunately we are able to give a clear answer to these two questions. Let's start with the first and more general question. The answer to that is, "No, there are questionable words and if you look in a Bible, at the bottom of any page, you will find what those words are - and there are not many!"

So why is that? To answer that we have to consider the Old and New Testaments separately.



4. A Reliable Old Testament?

The strange thing (at first sight) is that we don't have tremendous numbers of old parchment finds by archaeologists and the reason for this is twofold:

  • First, all ancient writings were written on parchment which can eventually, with use, become marked, disfigured and even destroyed.
  • Second, the Jews had such a high view of these ancient writings that copying and using the scrolls was subject to the most stringent of rules.

When copying, only the experts could copy and the utmost care had to be taken and if there was the slightest mistake the manuscript had to be destroyed completely.


Similarly when being used, if the manuscript became disfigured it had to be destroyed so there was absolutely no possibility of a false record being conveyed. The integrity of the Old Testament documents was the highest possible.



5. A Reliable New Testament?

In the case of the New Testament we have confidence for almost the exact opposite reason - there are so many.

It is estimated that we have over 24,000 (!) manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament that date from before AD350.


When you compare this with other ancient writings which scholars accept, it is staggering because for the best of ancient classical writings there are rarely more than 20 copies, more often only 7 or 8.

When we compare all these New Testament manuscripts we find an amazing uniformity.

Apart from the actual New Testament writings,  there are also many other fragments of documents by early Christian writers, so many that one scholar wrote that the quotations of the New Testament scriptures quoted in the works of early Christian writers "are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of the actual New Testament manuscripts".



6. Why were these particular writings included?

Why include what's been included, and exclude other writings?  This is where we come to what is called the Canon of Scripture.  Canon comes from the Greek word Kanon meaning reed or measuring stick or standard. The word 'canon' applying to Scripture means "an officially accepted list of books"

The Hebrew canon of the Old Testament first came into being after the sacking of Jerusalem and the dispersing of the Jews in AD70.

Up until then they had been happy to use the collection of what we now call the Old Testament writings, having been passed down for many, many centuries. With the break up of the nation in AD70 it was felt a formalised list of the books be decided upon.

The leaders and scholars only included a book in the canon if:

  •  it appeared to come from the inspiration of God,
  •  had no question mark over it,
  •  had life transforming power and,
  •  was accepted by the whole community.

Similarly the New Testament canon was acknowledged in the fourth century AD, in order to counter heresies and spurious writings.

For the early church the above rules applied, as well as requiring that the key leaders (the apostles) in the first century had agreed and approved the documents.

Thus any writing (and there were many) that did not seem to be touched by the inspiration of God, or was in any way questionable, was excluded from the canon.

Contrary to much casual comment, the writing and compiling of the Biblical documents underwent amazing scrutiny.

What we have today is therefore, a remarkably accurate representation of the original writings of the Scriptures and where there is doubt over words, that is made obvious.

If we have questions about the Scriptures, they need not be over the reliability of the documentation!



7. Why so many Bibles?

So why do we have so many version of the Bible today?
We now turn to the question of translation.

We've said that the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek and therefore, for our use today, it has to be translated into English.

Translating an ancient language two thousand years old is not always easy, and so different translators may use different English words to try to convey the same meaning.

Scholars of the Bible may learn the original languages and read it in the original. For most of us however, we don't need to go to those lengths. Although there are a number of different translations that came out last century the meaning is basically the same.

Some may be in older English, some with formal language, some with informal as the translators have sought to provide easy reading for different levels of literacy.  Some versions are paraphrases which are free renderings that don't seek to convey the exact words, but merely the sense of the sentence to give a feel of the overall meaning.

The New International Version is one of the most commonly used modern versions today and one of the newest paraphrase versions is the called "The Message".

Rather than see the variety of different versions (translations) as a problem, we should see the variety as something that adds richness to our understanding.



8. So what have we covered?

We have considered:

  •  How the Bible came to be written
  •  Why the Old Testament is reliable
  •  Why the New Testament is reliable
  •  How the particular books of the Bible were chosen
  •  How different translations cater for different people

In other words, what we have in the Bible is almost exactly as it was originally written, and we can trust it!

What we have to do next is see what it says and consider can we trust what it is saying to us as we live at the beginning of the twenty first century.