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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: 10 Reasons to Trust the Bible

Don Stewart :: The Bible’s Survival

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The Bible’s Survival

Ten Reasons to Trust the Bible – Reason 3

We now move on to another unique feature of the Bible. The fact that the complete written text of Scripture has survived throughout history is a powerful testimony to the preserving power of God. The Bible has survived through time, criticism, as well as through unrelenting persecution. The evidence is as follows:

The Bible Has Survived Through Time

The first book of the Bible was written some three thousand five hundred years ago, while the last one was completed nearly two thousand years ago. The originals (autographs) of each biblical book were written on perishable surfaces and have long since disappeared. We are now dependent upon copies and copies of copies to reconstruct the text. The texts are reconstructed through the science of textual criticism. When textual criticism is applied to the books of the Bible, we are assured that the text we have today is an accurate representation of the original. The text of the Bible not only has survived throughout the centuries, it has survived virtually unchanged.

The Old Testament Reads the Same as When Originally Written

With respect to the Old Testament, it reads the same as when originally written. From the time of their composition, the Jews considered the books of the Old Testament holy. These written works were not ordinary literature or history; they were God’s Divine Word communicated to His people. Because these books were held in such high regard, the people took great care to preserve the texts precisely as they were originally written.

1. The Priests Preserved the Law of God

The Bible says that the priests in Israel were responsible for the preservation of the Law. They were to store the sacred writings beside the Ark of the Covenant; the container, or chest, which held the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament records the command for the placement of the Law:

Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. (Deuteronomy 31:26)

The Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. When the temple eventually was built in Jerusalem, the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple. The Scriptures were always with the people.

The kings of Israel were required to have the Law as a guide in their administration. In fact, they were to make a copy of the Law of Moses for themselves. We read the following in the Book of Deuteronomy:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. (Deuteronomy 17:18-19)

Since these writings were considered holy, they were to be preserved and copied with the greatest of care. The historical evidence reveals that this preservation was consistent and precise.

2. There Is an Unbroken Tradition about How the Old Testament Scripture Reached Us

Fortunately, we have an unbroken historical tradition concerning the people responsible for the preservation of the Old Testament text. The Mishnah (compiled in A.D. 200) is a written record of the Jewish oral traditions from the time of Moses until the first century A.D. The Mishnah informs us as follows as to how the text was transmitted from the earliest times:

Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: be deliberate in judgment, gather up many disciples, and make a fence around the Law. (H. Danby. trans. The Mishnah. London: Oxford University Press, 1967, p. 446)

The “men of the Great Synagogue” refers to the people who lived at the time of Ezra (about 400 B.C). From this passage, we find that we have a continuous history of the transmission of the text from the time it was composed until the end of the Old Testament period.

3. The Sopherim Counted Everything

We also know that from the completion of the Old Testament (400 B.C.), until A.D. 500, the transmission and care of the Old Testament text was in the hands of a group of scribes called the Sopherim (“counters”). The scribes were given this name because of the manner in which they checked the accuracy of the texts they were copying. These “counters” counted the number of letters in each completed copy and the number of words in each section of Scripture and compared them to the texts from which they copied. As transmitters of God’s sacred Word, the Sopherim went to great lengths to ensure the purity of the text.

4. The Massoretes Continued the Faithful Copying of the Text

Eventually a group of specialists arose to become the preservers of the body of Jewish tradition. This Jewish tradition included the sacred writings, laws, history and tradition of the people. These specialists were known as the Massoretes. Their name was derived from the Hebrew word Massorah, meaning, “tradition.” The Massoretes worked in both Palestine and Babylon from approximately A.D. 500 to A.D. 900. The Massoretes contributed to the textual preservation of the Old Testament in several significant ways.

First, the Massoretes collected all of the textual-critical remarks of the rabbis, all of the additional marks added to the margins of the sacred texts (which include memory devices and pronunciation aids), and entered these in the side margins of the copies they made. They also did extensive tabulations concerning the contents of the text which were added to the upper and lower margins of the page.

These specialists considered the text so holy that they never altered it even when the text they were copying contained an obvious error. In such an instance, the procedure was to enter the error into the text they were producing and then enter remarks in the margin concerning how it could be corrected.

The contributions of the Massoretes to the preservation of the text of the Old Testament cannot be overstated. They not only enhanced our understanding of the text by their marginal contributions, they also carefully preserved all of the alternative or variant readings of the texts. This service has proved invaluable to today’s textual critics in their work to determine the Old Testament’s original text.

Biblical and literary scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon commented on the work of the Massoretes. He said:

Besides recording varieties of reading, tradition, or conjecture, the Massoretes undertook a number of calculations, which do not enter into the ordinary sphere of textual criticism. They numbered the verses, words, and letters of every book. They calculated the middle word and middle letter of each. They enumerated verses, which contained all the letters of the alphabet, or a certain number of them; and so on. These trivialities, as we may rightly consider them, had yet the effect of securing minute attention to the precise transmission of the text; and they are but an excessive manifestation of a respect for the sacred Scriptures which in itself deserves nothing but praise. The Massoretes were indeed anxious that not one jot nor tittle, not one smallest letter nor tiny part of a letter of the Law should pass away or be lost. (Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1941, p. 38)

Their work gives us further confidence that the Old Testament has been accurately transmitted.

5. The Writings Have Always Been Considered to Be Sacred

First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about the Jewish reverence for the Holy Scriptures. He explained it in this manner:

We have given practical proof of our reverence of our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully die for them. Time and time again ere now the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theatres, rather than utter a single word against the laws and the allied documents. (Flavius Josephus, “Flavius Josephus Against Apion,” in Josephus’ Complete Works. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1960, pp. 179, 180)

These writings were always considered sacred by the Jews and thus were copied with the utmost care.

6. The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Reveals Older Hebrew Manuscripts

Though the work of the Massoretes assured us of the careful transmission of the text, until recently, the oldest surviving complete manuscript of the Old Testament dated from around A.D. 1000. This is a full 1,400 years after the completion of the Old Testament. Because of this long time span, there were those who speculated that significant changes could have crept into the text.

This speculation ended in 1947. In that year a dramatic event occurred that revolutionized Old Testament textual criticism. As the story goes, a young Bedouin goat herder in Israel was searching for a lost goat in the caves in the cliffs that are above Wadi Qumran (these caves are located about a mile southwest of the northwest corner of the Dead Sea). In one of the caves he found several clay jars. These jars stood over two feet high and were approximately ten inches wide. In each of those jars he found leather scrolls wrapped in linen cloth. Shortly after his discovery, some of the scrolls fell into the hands of an antique dealer in Bethlehem while others were obtained by the archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem.

One of the first persons to examine the scrolls was the scholar E.L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sukenik immediately recognized their antiquity and value and contacted other scholars for verification. Dr. W.F. Albright, one of the world’s leading archaeologists, confirmed the amazing find. Albright labeled the find “the most important Old Testament manuscript discovery ever made.”

The recovery of the Qumran scrolls was halted by the Arab-Israeli war. It was not possible to go back to investigate further until the peace of 1948. The investigation then revealed hundreds of scrolls in a dozen different caves. They were most likely placed there by a Jewish sect called the Essenes.

The Essenes had established a fortress nearby which they occupied from about 100 B.C. to around A.D. 68, when they fled the advancing Roman armies. Before they abandoned their community, they carefully hid their library in the nearby caves of Wadi Qumran, where they lay undisturbed for almost 1,900 years.

Analysis showed that most of the scrolls were written between 100 B.C. and A.D. 68. They contain portions of every book of the Old Testament (except Esther) as well as numerous documents relating to the doctrines and practices of the Essene community.

One of the most significant finds was a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The Isaiah scroll, found in Cave 1, dates one hundred years before Christ. In addition, an important fragment of Samuel, dating 400 years before the birth of Christ, was found in Cave four. These, as well as other significant finds, revolutionized Old Testament textual criticism. The scrolls from Qumran were given the name “the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

7. The Dead Sea Scrolls Show the Accuracy of the Hebrew Text

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide for us irrefutable evidence that the present Old Testament text has been faithfully copied from the originals. This is in spite of transmission through long centuries.

An example can be found in the text of the prophet Isaiah. After comparing the entire Isaiah manuscript from the Dead Sea Scrolls with the present Hebrew text of Isaiah, Old Testament scholar Gleason L. Archer concluded the following about the Dead Sea Scrolls:

[They] proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more that 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. (Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago, Moody Press, 1968, p. 263)

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls put to rest any speculation against the basic reliability of the Old Testament text. Indeed, we now know without any doubt that the text has been accurately transmitted to us.

Summary and Conclusion on the Old Testament

As we have seen, the evidence in support of the trustworthiness of the Old Testament text is overwhelming. Though the oldest parts of the Old Testament are probably 3,400 years old, if not older, we can be confident that the text we possess today accurately represents what was originally written. We conclude this because of the following evidence:

1. The Jews Believed They Were Copying God’s Word

Throughout the centuries, the Jewish scribes viewed the text they were copying with reverence and care. They wholeheartedly believed they were copying God’s Word. This reverence toward Scripture has always been with the Hebrew people from the very beginning.

2. The Massoretes Did Not Change the Text When Copying It

When we compare the manuscripts from the Massoretic tradition among themselves, there is very little variation in the text. Any variation that is found does not materially affect the meaning of the text. In other words, all of the manuscripts we find tell the same story.

3. The Dead Sea Scrolls Confirm the Text Was Copied Correctly

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide overwhelming confirmation that the Hebrew texts were copied faithfully over a period of 1,000 years.

Concerning the accuracy of the transmission of the Hebrew text, scholar Basil Atkinson, who was Under-Librarian of the library at Cambridge University, says it is “little short of miraculous.”

William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeologists, made the following conclusion:

We may rest assured that the text of the Hebrew Bible... has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature. (cited by H. H. Rowley, Old Testament and Modern Study, p. 25)

Hence, when we read our present-day Old Testament we can have the assurance that we are reading basically the same thing that was originally written by the biblical writers. This is what the facts tell us.

The New Testament Has Been Transmitted Accurately

Now we take a look at the New Testament. What do we know about its reliability? Is it trustworthy? What manuscripts, or hand-written copies, do we have to reconstruct its text?

The books of the New Testament were originally written in the common Greek of the day called koine. In the first century, Greek was the international language. As is the case of the Old Testament, we do not possess the autographs (originals) of the New Testament books, but are dependent on copies, and copies of copies to reconstruct the text. We will discover, as we did with the Old Testament, that we can have complete trust that the text of the New Testament has been transmitted to us in a reliable manner as well.

In the case of the New Testament there are three lines of evidence available to reconstruct the original: the Greek manuscripts, the versions (translations) of the Greek text and the writings of the church fathers.

The First Line of Evidence: the Greek Manuscripts

The problem with almost all ancient writings is the lack of existing manuscripts, or hand-written copies, to reconstruct the text. Most ancient writings have the slimmest manuscript evidence by which scholars attempt to establish the original.

In the case of the New Testament, however, there is no such problem because we are not lacking manuscripts to reconstruct the text. On the contrary, we have such an abundance of manuscripts that it makes the establishment of the text virtually certain.

There Are Four Ways of Dividing the Greek Manuscripts

The oldest and most important evidence to reconstruct the New Testament text are the Greek manuscripts; since the New Testament was originally written in Greek. These manuscripts are categorized according to writing material (papyri), the style of the letters (uncial and minuscule manuscripts) and the format of the document (lectionaries). We can make the following observations:


The first group of manuscripts, the papyri, is named after the material they were written upon. Papyrus is the surface upon which the originals (autographs) of the New Testament were composed. Strips of the papyrus reeds were pressed together to make this writing material. It must be noted that papyrus is extremely perishable, surviving only in warm, dry climates.

The papyrus fragments that have survived contain some of the earliest witnesses to the New Testament text. In fact, about sixty-five of the earliest New Testament fragments we possess were written on papyri (all of these dating before A.D. 300).

At the turn of the twentieth century there were only nine known papyrus fragments that contained parts of the New Testament. There are now more than 120 known papyrus manuscripts (and still counting). These papyrus manuscripts are designated by the letter “p” followed by a superscript Arabic number (e.g. p52 or by a capital P followed by the number, thus P52).


The second line of evidence to reconstruct the text of the New Testament are the uncial (or inch high) manuscripts. The name is derived from the inch high size of the letters. Uncial writing consists of upper-case letters that are deliberately and carefully written. There are over three hundred uncial manuscripts of the New Testament?all written on parchment (animal skins).

The uncial manuscripts were basically written between the fourth and tenth centuries—there are five fragmentary uncials that date from the third century.


In the ninth century A.D., uncial writing began to be replaced by a faster method known as minuscule writing. Minuscule writing was a script of smaller letters not as carefully executed as uncials. By using minuscule writing, books could be turned out much faster. Minuscule writing was in use from the ninth to the sixteenth century.


The last witness, which we have to the New Testament text, are portions of Scripture known as lectionaries. Lectionaries came about as a result of the Christians following the custom of the Jewish synagogue.

In the synagogue, different portions of the Law and Prophets were read at services on each Sabbath. In the same manner, believers in Jesus would read a different part of the Gospels, and of the New Testament letters at their services. This was done according to a fixed order of Sundays and Holy Days. The Scripture portions are the lectionaries. Fragments of lectionaries come from as early as the sixth century A.D., while complete manuscripts are found as early as the eighth century.

The surviving Greek manuscripts can be cataloged as follows (please note these numbers continue to change as new manuscripts are found):

Type of Manuscript Number Surviving
Uncial 318
Minuscule 2,813
Lectionaries 2,281
Papyri 128
Total Over 5,500

It should be noted that when we speak of manuscripts or copies we are referring to any part of a manuscript or copy that has survived. Thus, the copy could be anything from a mere fragment to a complete text.

Though the total number of surviving Greek manuscripts is larger than all other ancient works, they are not the only means available for reconstructing the original text.

A Second Line of Evidence: the Versions (Translations)

A second line of evidence by which the New Testament text can be established comes from the versions. Versions are translations of the different New Testament books into languages other than Greek. Ancient literature was rarely translated into another language with the New Testament being an important exception.

From the very beginning, Christian missionaries, in an attempt to spread their faith, translated the Greek New Testament into the various languages of the people they encountered. These translations, some made as early as the middle of the second century, give us an important witness to the text of that time.

When the copies of the manuscripts of the versions are cataloged, again we are faced with an overwhelming number. The following chart reveals the huge number of manuscripts of the early versions of the New Testament:

Versions Number of Manuscripts
Latin Vulgate 10,000 + (may be as high as 25,000)
Ethiopic 2,000 +
Slavic 4,101 +
Armenian 2,587 +
Syriac Peshitta 350 +
Bohairic 100 +
Total 19,000 +

Because the versions are translations from the original Greek, they are not as valuable as the Greek manuscripts in reconstructing the text. However, they are an important witness to the text’s reliability.

The New Testament Compared to Other Ancient Works

When the total manuscript evidence for the New Testament text (Greek manuscripts and early translations) is compared to other ancient writings, the difference is striking. Note the following comparisons:

Date Earliest Time (Years) Number of Copies Written Copy Span
Euripides 450 B.C. A.D. 1100 1,500 9
Sophocles 450. B.C. A.D. 1,000 1,400 193
Catullus 54 B.C. A.D. 1,550 1,600 3
Homer 900 B.C. 400 B.C. 500 1800
N.T. A.D. 40-100 A.D. 125 50 24,000

Two Questions Need to Be Asked about Establishing the Reliability of an Ancient Document

When reconstructing the text of an ancient work, two key questions need to be considered. The first question deals with the time span between the date the work was completed and the earliest existing copy available to reconstruct the text. Usually, the shorter the time span, the more dependable the copy. The longer the time between the original and the copy, the more errors are apt to creep in as the text is copied and recopied.

What Is the Time Span Between the Original and the Earliest Copy?

As the above chart reveals, the time span between the composition of the New Testament and the earliest existing copy is much shorter than for these other ancient works. Using this standard of comparison, the New Testament is far superior in this regard.

How Many Copies Exist?

The second question that needs to be addressed concerns the number of copies. “How many copies are available to reconstruct the text?” The more copies available, the better off we are?since there is more evidence to help one decide what the original text said.

For example, if an ancient work were to come down to us in only one manuscript copy, there would be nothing with which to compare that copy. There is no way of knowing if the scribe was incompetent since it could not be checked against another copy.

With such a wealth of manuscript evidence, we have every right to assume that nothing has been lost from the original New Testament text. Yet, the Greek manuscripts and the versions do not exhaust the lines of evidence.

More Evidence: the Church Fathers

A third line of evidence, used in establishing the New Testament text, is quotations from the writings of the early Christians known as the “church fathers.” In their writings, they often quoted from the New Testament text. Every time we find a biblical quotation in their writings, we have a further witness to the text.

For example, seven letters have survived which were written by a man named Ignatius (A.D. 70-110). In those letters he quoted from eighteen different books of the New Testament. Every time he cites Scripture, we can observe the Greek text he was using.

Thus, the early church fathers provide us with an excellent early witness to the text. We must be careful, however, in relying too heavily on the fathers, because sometimes their quotations were often paraphrases (not word-for-word citings) of the biblical text. In addition, the manuscripts of their writings have gone through a period of copying, during which mistakes have slipped into the documents. Nevertheless, their writings remain an important witness to the New Testament.

The Entire New Testament Text Can Be Found in Their Writings

The number of quotations of the fathers is so overwhelming that, if every other source for the New Testament text (Greek manuscripts, versions) were destroyed, the text could be reconstructed merely on the writings of the church fathers alone. In his nineteenth century book, Our Bible—How We Got It, Charles Leach relates the story of Sir David Dalrymple:

Sir David Dalrymple was wondering about the preponderance of Scripture in early writings when someone asked him, ‘Suppose that the New Testament had been destroyed, and every copy of it lost by the end of the third century, could it have been collected again from the writings of the Fathers of the second and third centuries?’ After a great deal of investigation Dalrymple concluded... ‘You remember the question about the New Testament and the Fathers? That question roused my curiosity and as I possessed all the existing works of the Fathers of the second and third centuries, I commenced to search and up to this time I have found the entire New Testament, except eleven verses.’ (Charles Leach, Our Bible?How We Got It. Chicago: Moody Press, 1898, pp. 35, 36)

The situation today is even better. The entire New Testament can be reconstructed from the writings of these early Christians.

There Are Over One Million Quotations of Scripture from the Fathers

There is more. Today, it has been estimated that there are over one million quotations of Scripture in the writings of the early church Fathers! Confidently, we can say that when the evidence from the Greek manuscripts, the versions (translations) and the church fathers is considered, any impartial person cannot help but be impressed with their testimony.

Summary and Conclusion on the New Testament Text

Although we do not possess the originals of any of the books of the New Testament, the evidence shows that it has been transmitted accurately throughout history. We summarize the evidence as follows:

1. There Was a Short Time Span Between the Originals and the Earliest Copies

The time span between the date of composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest surviving manuscripts is relatively short. Most other ancient works have a much longer gap between the time when they were written and the earliest available manuscript.

In fact, there is in existence a complete New Testament manuscript (Codex Sinaiticus) which was copied within 250 years of the time of the writing of the New Testament.

In addition, we have about seventy fragments of the New Testament that go back even earlier. They contain about two thirds of the text of the New Testament. The classical writings (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) are viewed as having been transmitted in a reliable manner, yet, the time span between the original and their earliest copy is over 1,000 years. The New Testament documents, if considered on the same basis, also must be considered trustworthy.

2. There Are Many Manuscripts to Reconstruct the Text

Not only is the interval shorter between the writings of the New Testament and the earliest existing manuscripts, the number of manuscripts (over 5,500 in Greek) is far superior to any other ancient work. Given the axiom, “The more manuscripts, the better chance to reconstruct the original,” we again see that the New Testament is in much better shape than other ancient works.

3. The New Testament Was Translated at an Early Date

The New Testament was translated into other languages at an early date. Those versions provide further evidence in establishing the true text. The number of manuscript copies of the different versions is around 20,000. Most other ancient writings were never translated into another language.

4. There Is the Added Testimony from the Church Fathers

A further line of evidence is found in the writings of the church fathers where verses, passages and entire books are cited. As we have noted, if the other sources for the New Testament were non-existent (Greek manuscripts and the translations of the Greek text into other languages) the entire New Testament text could still be reconstructed through the writings of the church fathers alone. There is nothing like this for any other ancient work.

Given the above facts, we conclude that the New Testament has been accurately transmitted throughout history. Any contrary conclusion is based either on a willful desire not to accept the evidence as it stands, or ignorance of the facts.

Sir Frederic Kenyon, former keeper of ancient manuscripts and director of the British Museum, was an authority second to none on manuscript evidence. After a lifetime of study of ancient documents he came to the following conclusions:

It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain... The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world. (Sir Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1941, p. 23)

Kenyon also emphasized that the New Testament text has been once and for all shown to be reliable. He wrote:

The interval between the dates of the original composition [of the New Testament text] and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established. (Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1940, p. 288)

It is clear that the New Testament text has survived and survived in a reliable manner.

The fact that the text of the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament has survived intact is a true wonder. This is difficult to explain apart from the fact that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. Indeed, very few writings from the ancient world have survived.

We can go a step further. Most books printed in modern times do not survive for even twenty years! The great majority of books that have been printed are now long gone.

However, there was something that made scribes copy these biblical texts over and over again for thousands of years. Not only did they continue to copy the text, they made certain to accurately copy and care for these writings. Why did they take so much care in their copying? The answer: they believed that they were copying the very Word of God!

The Bible Has Survived Unrelenting Persecution

This brings us to our next point. The survival of the Bible is all the more amazing when we consider the fact that the Bible has been the object of never-ending persecution. It has been the most intensely hated book of all time. Every possible effort has been made to destroy this book. All attempts have miserably failed.

The fact that the Bible has been singled out for this type of persecution points to the fact of its divine origin; sinful human beings do not want to hear its message of condemnation for sin and future judgment. From the time the Bible was completed, it has been persecuted with an unrelenting fervor. No other book in history has received the same types of attacks as the Bible has.

1. Jeremiah’s Book Was Destroyed

Actually, this type of attack against Scripture is not something new. From the Old Testament, we learn that an evil king destroyed the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. Scripture records what took place:

The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and Jehudi brought it from the room of Elishama the secretary and read it to the king and all the officials standing beside him. It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him. Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. Even though Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Instead, the king commanded Jerahmeel, a son of the king, Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet. But the LORD had hidden them. After the king burned the scroll containing the words that Baruch had written at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up.” (Jeremiah 36:21-28)

Though the Scripture was burned by this wicked king, the Lord made certain that it was written again. The truth of God’s Word cannot be destroyed.

2. Antiochus Destroyed Copies of the Scripture

During the time between the testaments, about 168 B.C., there was a Syrian ruler named Antiochus IV who captured the city of Jerusalem. Not only did he defile the temple, Antiochus also destroyed copies of Scripture. He declared that those who possessed a copy would be punished by death. We read about this in the apocryphal book of First Maccabees. It says:

The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. (1 Maccabees 1:56,57)

Antiochus, like many others, attempted to destroy the Holy Scripture. Yet his attempt also failed.

3. The Edict of the Roman Emperor Diocletian to Burn the Scripture

The persecution of Diocletian is another example of the type of attack the Scriptures have endured. In A.D. 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian wrote an imperial letter ordering (1) the destruction of all Christian churches, (2) the burning of all Christian Scriptures and (3) the loss of civil liberties by all professing Christians. Diocletian’s edict did not stop the spread of Christianity or the production of copies of the Bible.

Diocletian was so convinced that he had wiped out Christianity that he ordered a medal struck with the following words:

The Christian religion is destroyed and the worship of the gods restored.

Diocletian, like so many others, has been proven wrong in his attempt to destroy Christianity and the Holy Scriptures.

4. The Edict of the Next Emperor, Constantine, to Produce Copies of Scripture

The historical irony is that Constantine, the Roman emperor who succeeded Diocletian, converted to Christianity and eventually ordered fifty copies of the Scriptures to be produced by the best scribes at government expense! This is another example of God’s Word enduring despite unrelenting persecution.

The list goes on and on. No other book, ancient or modern, even comes close to the persecution and hatred the Bible has received. Why? Why is this one Book so hated? Simply put, it is because it tells the truth about God and us. However, many people do not want to hear this truth.

The Bible Has Survived Constant Criticism

The Scriptures have also survived criticism from a variety of different sources. The criticism has been constant and unending. Two points need to be emphasized:

1. No Book Has Been Criticized like the Bible

No other book has been subjected to such thorough criticism as has been leveled at the Bible, yet the Bible has been equal to that challenge, withstanding the most rigorous criticism imaginable.

The late theologian, Bernard Ramm, made the following observations about the various attempts that have been made to silence the Scriptures:

A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and the committal read. But somehow the corpse never stays put. No other book has been so chopped, knived, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified. What book on philosophy or religion or psychology... of classical or modern times has been subject to such a mass attack as the Bible? With such venom and skepticism? With such thoroughness and erudition? Upon every chapter, line, and tenet? (Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences, Chicago: Moody Press, 1957, pp. 232-233)

Nothing compares to the criticism the Bible has received. Attempts have been made to equate the Bible with other religious writings; to explain it as a product of its times. The stories of Scripture are portrayed as mythical and the scientific references as ignorant.

However, the evidence proves the opposite. The historical references are accurate and the scientific statements do not reflect the ignorance of the day.

Modern unbelieving scholarship, while attempting to destroy the confidence in Scripture, has not succeeded in proving its case. To the contrary, objective investigation shows, more than ever, that the Bible is a unique book in a class by itself.

2. Millions Still Read, Love and Trust the Bible

We must note that the criticism of Scripture has not made any real impact. Millions of people still love and trust the Bible.

The impact of two thousand years of persecution and criticism of Scripture has been aptly summed up by H.L. Hastings. Over one hundred years ago he wrote:

Infidels for eighteen hundred years have been refuting and overthrowing this book, and yet it stands today as solid as a rock. Its circulation increases, and it is more loved and cherished and read today than ever before. Infidels with all their assaults, make about as much impression on this book as a man with a tack hammer would on the Pyramids of Egypt. When the French monarch proposed the persecution of the Christians in his dominion, an old statesmen and warrior said to him, ‘Sire, the Church of God is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’ So the hammers of infidels have been pecking away at this book for ages, but the hammers are worn out, and the anvil still endures. If this book had not been the book of God, men would have destroyed it long ago. Emperors and popes, kings and priests, princes and rulers have all tried their hand at it; they die and the book still lives. (H.L. Hastings, as quoted by John Lea, The Greatest Book in the World. Philadelphia, PA., 1922, pp. 17, 18)

The Bible has survived, and continues to survive.

Conclusion: the Survival of the Bible Is a Wonder

Though time passes, the Bible remains a dramatic testimony to the keeping power of God. Rulers and critics come and go, but the Bible remains. Most books do not survive twenty years. Fewer still will survive for one hundred years and the fewest of few have survived for one thousand years or more. Yet the sixty-six books of Holy Scripture were written from one thousand nine hundred and fifty years ago to three thousand four hundred years ago. They have not only survived for this long, they have also survived intact.

The prophet Isaiah, speaking 2,700 years ago, made the following declaration:

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

The fact that the Scriptures have survived through time, unrelenting persecution and constant criticism is a true wonder.

Summary – Reason 3
The Bible’s Survival

A remarkable feature about the Bible is the fact of its survival. Although the various books were written from 2,000-3,500 years ago on perishable material, the books have survived. Not only have they survived, they have survived intact. A number of points need to be made.

First, the text of the Old Testament has been transmitted with amazing accuracy. Indeed, today we can read the Old Testament with complete confidence that it is the same account of what was originally written. The message of the God of the Bible has not been changed or altered. God’s Word in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, has been accurately transmitted to us here in the twenty-first century.

The same can be said for the New Testament. What was originally written by the writers of the New Testament is exactly what we find today. The words of Jesus Christ, as well as His message of forgiveness of sin, have been transmitted to us intact. Therefore, humanity is held responsible for acting upon the claims of Jesus which are found in the New Testament.

The fact that the text of Scripture has survived in such a manner is a true wonder. Most ancient writings were never copied! Yet, the Scriptures have been copied and recopied over and over again. Why? It is because the individuals copying them believed they were copying more than mere history or the story of an ancient people? Indeed, they believed they were copying the very Word of God!

There is still more. The Bible has survived time, persecution and criticism. We must appreciate how important this is. First, the fact that the Bible has survived at all is a true wonder. When we realize that the books were written upon perishable material, thousands of years ago, we should not expect them to survive to this day. But, they have. Again, this is a true wonder.

In addition, the Bible has been persecuted like no other book in history. It is recorded that one of the kings of Judah destroyed the entire text of the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. Yet the Lord told Jeremiah to write it again, and he did. The message was not destroyed! This type of persecution has been repeated over and over again in history. However, the Scriptures still exist. It has been impossible to get rid of them. Again, we must ask ourselves the question as to why this is so.

Finally, the Bible has been criticized like no other book ever written. Every line, every word, every syllable has been subject to the most intense criticism and evaluation. Why has this one book been hated by so many people? Why do we find these attempts to prove the Bible is not what it claims to be? According to the testimony of Scripture itself it is because its words reveal the truth of God to sinful humanity. Truths that many people do not want to hear.

While the Bible has been the most attacked and criticized book in history, it stands today as strong as ever. Indeed, it is still changing the lives of millions of people who daily read it. The fact that it has survived such criticism is a true wonder.

These factors make the Bible unique among all other books that have ever been written. It is indeed a one-of-a-kind book in the fact of its survival.

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.