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I’m writing in response to the recent Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” Eichenwald writes:

“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

Is Eichenwald correct in saying that none of us have actually read the Bible but simply bad translations?

Of course not.

There are poor translations out there, but there are trustworthy translations such as the ESV, NASB, NKJV, and 1984 NIV version.

What makes these translations trustworthy is the art of textual criticism.

Textual Criticism is a very exact science that compares various manuscript readings to determine the original as accurately as possible. Although we do not have any originals of the Bible, we have access to the original text through textual criticism.

The Church historically has affirmed that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and that the original writers of the Bible were directed by the Holy Spirit to produce nothing less than God’s Word.

RC Sproul notes that we restrict inspiration to only the originals, and the Church has not taken the position that each and every copyists received the same guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Although the originals are only considered the true inspired Word of God, we can confidently say that due to textual criticism, we have good translations of the Bible.

Sproul goes on to say that there are thousands of copies of the New Testament, and some are considered more accurate than others.

“The copies don’t always agree at every detail. (The important thing to consider is regarding) the main substance of Scripture, more than 99% is in agreement in all the families of the copies. It is in less than 1% of the texts in the Bible that variant readings are found. No major doctrine of the Christian church is affected by those variant readings (Commentary on John – pp. 148-149).”

My Colleague Joel McCall says:

“It stands to reason that if the original text of a document is lost,the more copies of that document one can obtain, the better chance he has of eliminating copyist errors in his job to reconstruct the original text. It also stands to reason that the shorter the time gap between the original lost text and the earliest copy, the less chance of error there would be.”

Look at this chart and compare the # of copies and time span to other accepted books of history:

 Title  When Written Earliest Copy   Time Span  # of Copies
 New Testament  40-100 AD  125 AD  25 years  5,300 
 Illiad (Homer)  900 BC  400 BC  500 years 643 
 Annals (Tacitus)  100 AD  1100 AD  1000 years  20
 History (Pliny)  61-113 AD  850 AD  750 years  7
 Poetics (Aristotle)  384-322 BC  1100 AD  1400 years  49
Tetralogies (Plato)   427-347 BC  900 AD  1200 years  7

When it comes to the Old Testament, It was completed in 400 BC. The oldest complete text was found around 900 AD, making a time gap of 1,300 years. However, in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave 8 miles south of Jericho. These Scrolls contained 40,000 inscribed fragments that made up 500 books. One of the scrolls was a complete manuscript of the book of Isaiah, dating back to 125 BC. The Jews have accepted the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as their Bible for centuries.

Over the years, professional scribes translated the Old and New Testament. Eichenwald criticizes some of the scribes, calling them amateurs. One thing he needs to know is that the Talmudists (100-150 AD) and the Massoretics (500-900 AD) were extremely meticulous when making copies of the Old Testament. For example, they counted the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book. There were others, like Ezra in Old Testament times, who were professionals (See Evidence That Demands a Verdict).

Now there are translations that are merely paraphrases (The Message). I would stay away from using paraphrases in your devotions. These are not God’s Word.

We must remember that God intended to circulate the Bible throughout the world, and the task of the Church was to make copies of the originals so they could be spread throughout the world and be translated into different languages.

There are good and accurate translations of God’s Word that are trustworthy and true. Don’t buy into the lie that there aren't.

The Bible

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