Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What to say when someone asks "Is the Bible Reliable?"

Yes and no. And what should you and I say when a friend has an honest question about it?

I recently read a great article by Jonathan Dodson about this very question.

He suggests that instead of fighting the question (or the questioner) that we should name an error or two.

It might go something like this. "Does your Bible contain errors?"

"Yes. The Bible does have some mistakes. Some are translation issues. It's hard to translate and surely there are some poor translations. It's one reason we have so many of them. Some are transmission issues. The Bible is an ancient book that came together long before photocopiers. Errors have crept in over the centuries of copying. And there are errors of substance. Errors that make a difference in the intent of what the author tried to communicate. What's interesting is that those are very rare. They account for less that 1% and do not impact on any significant core teachings of Christianity. So, yes, there are some errors, but "no" they don't render the whole thing unintelligible."

Here are some examples of errors.

1. Spelling and Transmission Errors.

A comical that Dodson gives is 1 Thessalonians 2:7 which reads, “we were horses among you” (Gk. hippoi, “horses,” instead of ēpioi, “gentle,” or nēpioi, “little children”) in one late manuscript.

2. Minor Changes

The presence or absence of an article such as “the” or changed word order. Just because a sentence wasn’t copied in the same order, doesn’t mean that we lost the meaning.

3. Substantive errors

The biggest of these is actually not really an error, but a clear addition. Most scholars think the ending in the Gospel of Mark that most of our Bibles have was added much later than the original. And our translations usually footnote it to make that clear.
So, what does this means for us? Is the Bible reliable? We can be VERY confident that we have Bibles that accurately reflect the original books written by Jesus' first disciples. The really hard question is not "are our Bibles reliable?" but "can we live lives that reflect what they teach?"