Bible Manuscripts and Translations


Dr. John Hoole



Have you ever played the telephone game at a party?  You know the basic setup.  Everyone sits in a circle.  One person is given a slip of paper with a sentence or two on it.  He or she reads it to himself and then whispers what he read into the ear of the person to their left.  That person then whispers what they heard into the ear of the next person in the circle.  And around the circle this continues until the last person has been told.  The last person then tells the group, out loud, what they have been told.  And, it usually is nothing like what was on the piece of paper read by the first person.


Some skeptics of Christianity claim this is exactly what has happened with the transmission of the Bible.  The claim is that whatever the Bible said when it was originally written was copied again and again and again over the years.  And each time it was copied, errors were introduced into the text.  So, what we read in the Bible today is a total distortion of what was originally written.  Maybe you have heard this line of reasoning before.


In my very first lesson of the “Reliability of the Bible,” I emphasized that the Bible is unlike any other book because its very words have been breathed out by God.  But, how do we know that what was breathed out by God was accurately passed along over the centuries?


How do we know that the original thoughts and words were not accidentally or purposely altered as translations or copying occurred?  Is it possible that what happens in the “telephone game” also occurred over the years?


Let me begin by noting two basic problems with the telephone analogy.  The Bible transmission has involved the careful copying of a written document, not the whispered communication of an oral message.  That is a big difference.


To illustrate that difference, let’s change the rules for the game of telephone.  What if we handed out pencils and slips of paper and circulated the original message in writing?  Each person would have to carefully copy the previous person’s note before passing it on.  Do you think this would improve the accuracy of the transmission?  Of course, it would.  That is how the Bible was copied.


Then the argument against the accuracy of the Bible might change.  The skeptic might say, “Well, somebody might still have become sloppy and miscopied a word.”  That is true, but, later in this lesson, I will tell you how carefully the Bible was copied.


Manuscript Evidence


To briefly review, I have mentioned in the past two lessons the evidence from early church writers showing most of the books in the New Testament Canon were emerging as accepted by early second century.


What about the manuscript evidence?  What do we have in the way of actual copies of the original Greek text?  Are they few or many?


Before continuing, there are three words or terms which need to be recognized.


                   •  Autographs


                   •  Manuscripts


                   •  Translations


Let’s look at each of these.




Autographs are the original texts, either by the author’s hand or by a scribe under their personal supervision.  The original biblical documents, which were begun as long ago as 1500 BC, no longer exist.  All we have today are copies, copies of copies.  This should raise two red flags.


                   1.      By what process were those documents copied, and


                   2.      How successful was that process.




Manuscripts always refer to copies of the originals.  Until Gutenberg first printed the Latin Bible in 1456, all Bibles were hand-copied onto papyrus, parchment, or paper.  I’ll come back to discuss papyrus and parchment shortly.


When I say there are more than 5,000 New Testament manuscripts – either partial or complete, am speaking of manuscripts written in the original language.  Greek for the New Testament books.


However, there are many in other languages that are sometimes called manuscripts because their were written so long ago.  For instance, the Latin Vulgate was written by Jerome in 382.  It was a translation of both the Old and New Testaments into Latin.   Because it is in a different language than the originals, it is technically a translation.  But because of its antiquity, it is often referred to as a manuscript.  10 – 12,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate exist in manuscript form today.


There also exists some very ancient manuscripts in other languages.  There are about 8,000 manuscripts in Ethiopic, Slavic and Armenian.  In all, there are some 24,000 ancient manuscripts in existence for the New Testament alone.


Just taking the Greek manuscripts that have been discovered, the numbers are immense, especially when compared with manuscripts of other ancient non-biblical books.


Let me give you an example.  Josephus (Flavius) was a 1st century historian.  Although his name is Greek, he was a Jew.  He lived from 37 AD to about 100 AD  He wrote a number of major books.


One was THE JEWISH WAR, which chronicles the Jewish revolt against the Romans from 66 – 74 AD.  There exists only 9 copies of this book, all written in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries.  None of them are within 1000 years of the original writing.


Let me show you a couple of other ancient books.


Julius Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars.


He lived from 100 – 44 BC.  The Gallic Wars were a series of Roman military campaigns into the country of Gaul.  Today, only 10 copies exist, and the earliest was written about 900 AD.  Again, nearly 1,000 years between the writing and the earliest copy.




Plato lived from 427 – 347 BC.  He was a student of Socrates, and wrote a number of philosophical works.  One is called the “Dialogues of Plato.”


Only 7 copies, partial or complete, have been found of any of his writings.  The earliest copy dates to about 900 AD.  This is more than 1,200 years between the original and the oldest copy.


Let me ask you a question that some of you may already know.




The answer is Homer’s ILIAD.  There are fewer than 650 manuscript – partial or complete – of the Iliad.  The earliest copy was written in the second century.  When you consider that Homer composed his epic about 800 BC, we again have nearly 1,000 years between autograph and manuscript.


I could take you to the writings of others, like Herodotus or Thucydides, and you would find less than 10 copies of their works.  And the earliest manuscripts are more than a thousand years from when they were originally written.  There is but the thinnest thread of manuscripts connecting these ancient materials to the modern world.


That is not the case when it comes to the New Testament.  The gap between the writings of the New Testament books and the earliest manuscripts are extremely small.


In the case of some of the more than 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts we have today, a number of them can be dated to within one or two generations from when originally written.  One manuscript, known as the John Ryland Manuscript, is a partial script of the book of John.  Though in Greek, it was found in Egypt, and is dated to AD 125, within 30 years of the life of the apostle John.


Sir Frederick Kenyon, former director of the British Museum, said:


“In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament.”


F. F. Bruce:


"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good attestation as the New Testament."


The Writing Materials


The original writings of scripture were done on a variety of materials.  This included Stone, papyrus, parchment, paper and, possibly, leather.  And in a few cases, the biblical writers referred to different writing media.


Revelation 5:1 NKJV


1       And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.


                   Mentioning a scroll indicates that Papyrus or Parchment or Paper were used.


2 John 12 NKJV


12     Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.


Probably, the earliest writings were on stone.  But early on came manuscripts written on Papyrus.  Then came parchment and, finally, paper.  Paper was invented by the Chinese in the 3rd century BC, and slowly migrate west along the Silk Road.


On the topic of Papyrus, I want to take a short diversion.  You can find references to Papyrus in several Scriptures.


Isaiah 35:7 NIV


7       The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.


Job 8:11 NKJV


11     Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water?


Isaiah 18:1-2 NIV


1       Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush [Upper Nile],

2       which sends envoys by sea in papyrus boats over the water.


Papyrus boats – reminds me of when baby Moses was set afloat among the reeds.  In fact, the NIV translates his basket as being made of papyrus.


Exodus 2:3 NIV


3       But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.


Papyrus is made from Egyptian reeds.  This plant’s presence in Egypt has been greatly reduced, and is hard to find there today.  Do you know what papyrus looks like?  I have brought with me a copy of an ancient Egyptian painting on papyrus which I purchased in Cairo, when a group of us were in that country.  At the place where I purchased this, they gave us a demonstration on how papyrus was made.


This painting is a copy of one that was found on the wall of some of the temples or tombs.  This particular painting is of King Tut and his wife, Ankhesanamum.  The hieroglyphics you see to each side of the painting were not part of the original.  But they are typical of the hieroglyphics used at that time.


The next material used for writing was parchment.




                   It is made from the skins of cattle, sheep, goats, and antelope.


One sort of parchment is called “vellum.”  It refers particularly to parchment made of calf skin.  The word “vellum” and the word “veal” both come from the word VITULIS, which is Latin for “calf.”


Allow me to give you a brief history about the invention of parchment.  Pergamum’s huge library was second only to that of Alexandria, Egypt.  It contained 200,000 handwritten volumes.  It was located on the acropolis to the north of the temple of Athena.


The story is documented that, during the 3rd century BC, the ruler of Pergamum sought to lure Eratosthenes, the librarian at Alexandria, to their city, to expand their library.


Ptolemy, the ruler in Egypt at that time, became incensed that someone would try take his scholarly librarian.  He then imposed an embargo of all shipment of papyrus to Pergamum.  Egypt was the only source for papyrus.


As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and Pergamum needed another writing material if they were going to expand the library.  They developed a technique to smooth and polish tanned animal skins resulting in what was called Pergamum material (He-pergamene charta – the Pergamene sheet),or, in Latin, parchment (vellum).  And, eventually, parchment completely replaced the need for papyrus.


Now, back to our lesson.  In many cases, the manuscripts we have are only partial or fragments.  Other manuscripts contain the entire New Testament.


Some manuscript copies of the New Testament are written using all capital Greek letters.  One such copy of the entire New Testament is called CODEX SINAITICUS.  This manuscript is written on vellum and was discovered in 1844, but not in an archaeological dig.




         The name of the manuscript helps us.


On one of our Holy Lands trips, we visited Egypt.  From Cairo, the capitol of Egypt, we took an overnight train ride up the Nile River to the city of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, where you will find 63 tombs and chambers of Pharaohs that lived between 16th and 11th centuries B.C.  From there, we took a flight to Sharm-el-Sheik on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.  We roughed it at the beach for a couple of hours, snorkeling and taking a few underwater pictures.


From our relaxing in Sharm-el-sheik, our bus took us to the traditional Mount Sinai (Arabic-Jebel Musa, meaning Mountain of Moses).  The mountains in this area are solid granite, jutting up from the floor of the desert.


St Catherine’s Monastery is located at the base of Mount Sinai.  This monastery is the oldest Christian monastery still active in the world.  It sits at about 5,000 feet above sea level.  The top of Mount Sinai is about 7,500 feet elevation.


St. Catherine’s Monastery was built, by order of Emperor Justinian, between 527 and 565.  Tradition has it that it was built on the site of where Moses encountered the burning bush.  We were not allowed into the monastery, but were told inside there are priceless works of art.  Probably of greater significance, at least for Bible scholars, is the huge library that is located there, second only to that at the Vatican.


St. Catherine’s library includes some of the oldest biblical manuscripts.  Their collection consists of some 3,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other languages.  The Codex Sinaiticus in the British Museum in London, was discovered here.  The CODEX SINAITICUS dates to about AD 330-360.


I think I have discussed manuscripts enough for this session.  The amazingly huge number of manuscripts of the New Testament and the quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church is so large that it is practically certain that what we have is a reliable Bible.




When talking with skeptics or religious seekers, it is very common to hear the following questions in regards to the Bible.


         •  How can you trust something that is that old?


         •  How do we know that the copies of the Bible are what the original authors wrote?


         •  Surely the Bible has some errors in it, right? After all, it is thousands of years old.


The Bible has been copied an innumerable amount of times by an innumerable amount of people.  Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that at least one of them made a mistake?


If you asked questions like these, you have asked question about “Transmission.”  To transmit is to cause to go to another person or place; to hand down, to transfer.  Transmission analyzes the process through which people reproduce things.


Obviously, the Old and New Testaments were written by different authors and have a very different history.  So, it would be helpful to look at them separately.  The first thing we know about the copying of the Old Testament is that the O.T. was not copied as many times as you might think.




The Old Testament was kept isolated within the Jewish community.  This was true until the Christian community came along.  The New Testament was spread everywhere when it was first written, but the Old Testament stayed with the Hebrew people unto the beginning of the church.  The early Christians advertised both testaments because they believed that the new was a continuation of the old.  But the Jews kept the Hebrew Bible to themselves.


The Jews were commanded by God to separate themselves from other nations in their worship of God.  They were not to adopt the detestable religious practices of the Babylonians or the Philistines or the Greek.  The Israelites were to be one hundred percent devoted to God.


While the Israelites did not follow this command like they should have, the Hebrew people did isolate themselves socially from the nations around them.  In fact, the New Testament portrays the Jews as almost arrogant in their separation from other nations.  The Jews believed they were better than the Samaritans and better than the Romans.  And, because of this separatist attitude, the copying of the Hebrew Old Testament was done completely in-house.  People from other nations were not allowed to touch the Old Testament.


This isolationism also protected the Hebrew Scriptures from error.  The same people who wrote it, copied it, studied it, taught from it.  The same nation that first put it down on paper later copied it down on paper.


When the Israelites turned away from Jehovah, it was possible to lose the copies of the Law.  You can see this in 2 Chronicles 34, when Josiah becomes king.


2 Chronicles 34:14-15 NKJV


14     Now when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses.

15     Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, "I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord." And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan.


Also, when they were conquered by other nations, they might lose where they could find a copy.  After the people began to return to the land of Israel following the Babylonian Captivity, we are told that a copy of the Law was found and Ezra read from it.


Nehemiah 8:1 NKJV


8       Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.


Before 1947, the oldest complete manuscript of the Old Testament dated to the 10th century after Christ.  The oldest manuscript of the Hebrew Bible before 1947 is called ALEPPO CODEX.  This manuscript was written in the city of Tiberius, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the year AD 935.  Somewhere along its history, it lost 193 of its total 487 pages.


The oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible is called LENINGRAD CODEX.  It was written in AD 1008.  It has been housed in the National Library  of Russia in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), whose name was changed in 1924 to Leningrad.


There are older manuscripts, dating to 913, but they include only the prophets.


As you can see, over the last 1,000 years, the Jewish Tanakh was based on manuscripts having not been written any earlier.  Between approximately AD500 and AD1000, a group of scholars, called Masoretes, had the responsibility of copying the Hebrew Scriptures.  They were based primarily in Tiberias and Jerusalem.  Today, the Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew Bible (Tanakh).


Let me give you an idea of the care and almost obsession the scribes who copied their scriptures.  They were extremely meticulous, having a deep reverence for preserving the accuracy of the text.  They followed specific rules.


1.      They could only use parchment from skins of clean animals.  They were Kosher.


2.      The sheets of the book must be fastened with parchment cord from clean animals.


3.      Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.


4.      Each line must have a breadth containing 30 letters.


5.      Between every new paragraph, or section, there must be the breadth of 9 consonants.


6.      There must be three lines between books.


7.      The ink must be a specific black mixture.


8.      They must verbalize each word out loud while they were writing.


9.      They could not write from memory, but had to read and sound out the word.


10.    They must clean the pen and each time they came to the word “Jehovah,” lest it blotch.


11.    If a King came and said something to the scribe while writing Jehovah, the king was to be ignored.


12.    The letters, words and paragraphs had to be counted.


13.    The document became invalid if two letters touched each other.


13.    The middle word, paragraph and letter must be marked in the margins, to help later copiers.


14.    If there was a much used word, how many times it appears in a book was put in the margins.


Now, let me return to a statement I made earlier that these manuscripts were the oldest known until 1947.  What happened in 1947?  In 1947, in God’s design, came the greatest manuscript discovery of the 20th century.  I am talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And with this discovery, virtually all aspects of it demonstrate the accuracy of the Old Testament.


In the years 150 B.C. to about 70 A.D., a monastic community of Jews lived in the Judean hills near Qumran.  Qumran is located northwest of the Dead Sea.  Among the writings of this group of people, we find parts of the Old Testament.  These were the books this group lived by.  In AD 70, when they realized that the Roman armies were invading Palestine, they hid their Hebrew scrolls in nearby caves.


Almost 2,000 years later, in 1947, two Bedouin shepherds discovered the first 7 scrolls.  They were trying to find a stray goat, and thinking it may have entered a cave they tossed some rocks into one hoping to scare the goats out.  What they heard was the breaking of pottery.


In the next nine years, other scrolls were found in other nearby caves.  Some nine hundred books, in scroll form, and tens of thousands of partial fragments were found.  About 100 of these scrolls record parts of the Old Testament in Hebrew.  In the cave into which the Bedouin threw a stone, called Cave #1, was found seven scrolls.  One was a complete copy of the book of Isaiah.  Additionally, parts of every book in the Old Testament, except Esther, was found in 11 caves.


When the Isaiah scroll text was compared to Masoretic manuscripts of a thousand years later, the reading of both manuscripts were virtually identical.  This was also true when fragments of other books were compared.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have become a powerful witness that the Old Testament of our English Bible today, and the Old Testament of 150 BC were the same.




No book, secular or religious, comes to us from the ancient world with more abundant evidence of faithfulness in the original autographs THAN DOES THE New Testament.


While the Old Testament stayed primarily with the Jews, the New Testament was sent all over the known world.  And we know something of the process used for reproducing it.


Back in history, if a king wanted to send a letter to his people, he would call his scribes together and dictate the letter to them.  If he called 40 scribes, forty letters would go out.  If a scribe misrepresented the king or if he got part of his letter wrong by accident, he could be killed for his imprudence.


When the church first started, the Apostles began to circulate instruction to the local congregations of believers in the form of letters.  As the church continued to grow and more and more congregations appeared, Christian scribes would get together and copy the letters together.  They would always find the oldest copy of the original autograph to copy.


In their writing, to conserve space, they would start in the top corner of the page to the bottom corner, without leaving spaces between words like we do today.  That may seem strange to us, but books were rare, and the common practice was to read the books out loud (See Rev. 1:3).  So, scrunching all the words together would not have been a problem for the average reader, because he sounded his words out as he read.


Another thing we know about the copying of the New Testament is what the oldest copies are able to tell us.  How accurate were the New Testament scribes?  We can compare the Bible we have today with the oldest manuscripts we have.  Those copies come in various forms.  One is in fragments or pieces.  Due to their years and years of weather and war and destruction, some New Testament books have only survived in fragments.


Here are a few examples.  Fragments labeled p(4), p(64), and p(67) contain fragments of the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 3, 25 and 26.  These fragments date back to mid to late-2nd century.  Today, those fragments are located in the British Museum in London.


Here is the significance of all the fragments and complete copies now in existence.  We can cross check the New Testament we have with all the Greek manuscripts.  Doing so show overwhelmingly how our Bible is corroborated by the ancient copies.




Some people have the idea that the Bible has been translated so many times t0hat it has become corrupted through various stages of translating.


If a couple of Mormons were to knock at your door, somewhere in their conversation, if you chose to talk to them at all, they would say “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”  I don’t know how many times I have heard that statement.


Those words come directly out of their Articles of Faith, #8, in the “The Pearl of Great Price.”  And in some ways, we might not have a problem with the statement, because, indeed, there are some bad translations of the Bible.  One is the Jehovah’s Witnesses “New World Translation”.


But this is not really what Mormons have in mind.  If you examine the writings of former Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson, you would find these words: “Unlike the Bible, which passed through generations of copyists, translators, and corrupt religionists who tampered with the text, the Book of Mormon came from writer to reader in just one inspired step of translation.”  In other words, to correctly interpret the Bible, one needs the Book of Mormon.


So, has the message of the Bible become corrupt through many translations?  Have religious people tampered with the text?


The fact of the matter is when the Bible is translated into a different language, it is usually translated from the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.  There have been times when a translation was derived from an earlier translation.  Some were prepared from the Latin Vulgate, which was translated from the Greek in the 4th century.


I think it is safe to say today that all translations done in the last two centuries used the earliest Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  They are not translated from another translation.


You may be wondering why there are so many translations today.  Let me first go back to the beginnings of our English translations.


The earliest English translation was done by John Wycliffe in 1380.  During the early to mid-16th century, there were 6 different translations, most of which were either only Old or New Testament.  For instance, the Tyndale Translation – 1526-1530 – included only the New Testament and books of Moses.


The Catholic Bible in English is called the Rheims-Douay.  This translations was done in two parts at two different times and places.  The New Testament was translated in 1582 in the French city of Rheims.  The Old Testament was added in 1610 in the French city of Douay.  Back then, both Rheims and Douay were communal cities.  The Rheims-Douay Bible is still the primary English Bible for the Catholics.  A revision to this version was made in 1750 (Challoner’s Revision), but it still retained the name Rheims-Douay.


In the year following the original Douay – 1611 – the King James Version was published.  47 scholars spent 6 years on the translation.  They used the Erasmus Greek Text for the New Testament, and the Masoretic Hebrew manuscript for the Old Testament.  King James himself actually had nothing to do with this Bible except that he authorized its publication in England.  Therefore, it is sometimes referred to as the Authorized Version.


It may surprise you that between 1611 and 1885, there were no new Bible translations published.  But since the English Revised Version in 1885, there have been many translation.


•  American Standard Version             1901

•  Weymouth New Testament             1903

•  Maffatt Bible                                   1924

•  Centenary New Testament              1924

•  Smith-Goodspeed                           1927

•  Williams Translation                         1937

•  Knox Bible                                      1949

•  Revised Standard Version                1952

•  Philips New Testament                     1957

•  Berkeley Bible                                 1959

•  Beck Bible                                       1963

•  Jerusalem Bible                                1966

•  Barclay New Testament                   1969

•  New English Bible                            1970

•  New American Standard                  1971

•  New International Version                1978

•  New King James Version                 1982

•  New Revised Standard Version        1989

•  Contemporary English Version          1995

•  New American Standard Update      1995

•  New Living Translation                     1996

•  World English Bible                          1997         Update of 1901 ASV


There are two primary reasons for new translations of the Bible.


1.      Language changes over time.


         2.      Earlier manuscripts have been uncovered.


If people are going to read the Word of God in their contemporary languages, new translations are going to be needed.


For instance, take 1 Thessalonians 4:15.  This is a passage dealing with the second coming of Christ.


In the King James, it reads:


15     For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.


Back in 1611, the word “prevent” did not mean “to hinder someone”.  It meant “to come before.”


So, the New International Version (NIV) reads this way:


15     According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.


Languages are always evolving.  So later translations don’t change the meaning of the verses in the Bible. They just put it into a more contemporary common language that will make it more easily understood, but always holding the meaning of the earliest manuscripts.


Some translations have come about for another good reason.  Since 1850, a large number of manuscripts have been uncovered, and many of these were earlier Greek copies.  If the earlier copies had any difference from the later ones, then new translation would incorporate these differences.  The NIV and the NAS were two such translations.


I want to make sure that we are all aware that when I speak of differences between manuscripts, I am not speaking of anything so appreciable as to affect any doctrines.  That has never happened.


God’s control over the Word down through history


I want to address the statement of those, like the Mormons, who have said that down through history the Bible has become corrupted to where it doesn’t reflect the message of the original autographs.  Those who make such statements are in conflict with the Scripture’s own statements.


Isaiah 40:8 NKJV


8       The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."


God has His own hand upon the preservation of His Word.  To say its message has been lost is to doubt God’s ability to sustain it.  The Word of God will not fall, but stand forever.


Mark 13:31 NKJV


31     Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. 


If the Word of God has gone into apostasy, then Christ lied to us.  I reject that idea – the Word has come to us today, still with its pristine message.


1 Peter 1:23 NKJV


23     having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,  


Did Peter lie in this verse?  No, the Word is alive and abides forever.


John 17:20 NKJV


20     "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;”


This is the real Lord’s prayer.  A few minutes after praying these words, Jesus is betrayed by Judas.


He knows His time has come, and He is praying for His disciples.  But Jesus is also praying for those in the future who are going to believe in Christ through the words of the apostles.  That includes us.


And the primary words of the apostles were put into writing, in what we now call the New Testament.  If the message of the apostles has been lost or corrupted, how would anyone ever come to Christ through their words.  It is illogical to believe that the Lord’s special prayer for all future believers was honored only for a short period and then was ignored for 1800 years until Joseph Smith came along.


When the apostle Paul told us to take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, as mentioned in Ephesians 6, was he telling us to take up a defective sword?  Did the Holy Spirit fail us when, in John 14, Christ tells us that the Spirit would guide us into all truths?


It’s God’s Word, and He has had his hands on it down through the centuries.  Nations and people have tried to destroy it from the face of the world, but it is God’s Word, and He said it would stand forever.


Speaking of having valid copies of the Bible, consider this.  When Jesus was here on earth, all He and the apostles had were copies of the Old Testament.  No originals existed then.  And yet Jesus regarded the copies of His day as so close to the originals that He had full confidence the Scriptures He used had been faithfully preserved through the centuries.


Should we have confidence in the Bible?  For me it is clear that it is God’s reliable Word and direction for our lives.  It is indeed a book we can have confidence in.  The respect that Jesus and His apostles held for the Old Testament copies they had is, at the least, an expression of confidence in God’s ability to providentially preserve the message of the original writings.


I like what the Westminster Confession says about this.


“The fact is, the God who had the power and sovereign control to inspire the Scriptures in the first place is surely going to continue to exercise His power and sovereign control in the preservation of Scripture.”