Everybody Knows the Bible’s Been Changed…Right?

Aug 18, 2014 | Wes Hynd

I don’t like it when people distort my words. In fact, I hate it when I am misrepresented in who I am and what I stand for, and man, does that ever happen often with writing. I don’t even like my writing being edited, let alone misunderstood. So if anybody ever decides to write about me, especially after I’m dead and can’t set things straight, I sincerely hope they get things right.

I imagine Jesus would feel the same way. Over the last few months, we have looked at archaeological evidence for the Bible’s veracity, we have examined the evidence that the Bible accurately predicts future events, and we have seen that Jesus’ disciples really did not have a motive for lying about these predictions. However, many critics charge that Christians changed the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life after they were first written so that what we now have is not anywhere close to what was originally recorded. In other words, people distorted and misrepresented Jesus, making him into someone he was not.

There are several problems with this argument. First, it’s implausible. It’s really not clear to me why anyone would have wanted to distort reality so heavily as to create a fake deity and spawn an entire world religion. We’ve seen that the disciples certainly had no such motives and that almost all of them, amidst countless others, were willing to die for what they believed to be true about Jesus. The implication here is that somewhere along the way, within the lifespan of those who knew Jesus and personally witnessed his miracles, teachings, death and supposed resurrection, somebody had the audacity to change the story. Not just somebody, but multiple people changing multiple accounts written by multiple authors and verified by a whole variety of witnesses. But if this wasn’t the original story, then why did all of the disciples die willingly? What were they dying for and so dedicated to if it wasn’t what we have recorded for us now? What was the original story that still motivated the same historical events? Not only is it not clear why anyone would do this, but it’s also not clear how history supports this claim in any way, or how they would even have gotten away with it in the presence of so many witnesses. Even if later Christians are accused of changing the text, history only supports the accounts we currently have; it doesn’t allow for a different picture of Jesus.

Secondly, we have an abundance of evidence to work with. The field of scholarly criticism currently has nearly 6,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament available to study and compare, not including over 10,000 Latin copies and between 5,000 and 10,000 others. On top of this, the early church leaders recorded so much of the New Testament in their own writings and letters that we can reproduce the entire thing over and over and over again just from their writings. It’s easy to get hung up on the fact that we do not have the original papyri which the New Testament documents were written on until we realize that we don’t have the original manuscripts of any historical work of antiquity which we hold to be reliable today. In fact, the 20,000+ manuscripts which we have of the New Testament are more than any other historical work of antiquity. How much more? Second place goes to Homer’s Iliad with around 2,000 copies. Things get a lot shakier after that. The average ancient Greek author has less than 20 manuscripts still around today, and often only two or three. New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace asserts that on the basis of manuscript evidence, we have 1,000 times more evidence that Jesus Christ existed than that Alexander the Great existed.[1]

Of course, the amount of manuscripts isn’t the only important factor here; we need to know how close in date our manuscripts are to the originals. For Alexander the Great, what we know about him comes 1,000 years after he was alive. For Greco-Roman historians and biographers, we have no copies until 700-2,000 years after the originals, and yet we trust that these represent what was originally written. By contrast, our earliest New Testament manuscripts are dated to within 100 years of the originals. Nothing else comes even close.

Thirdly, time has helped us, not hindered us. Dr. Daniel Wallace points out that “as time goes on, we are getting closer and closer to the original text,” not further and further away.[2] In 1611, when the King James Version of the Bible was translated, it was based on seven manuscripts. Now, we have discovered 6,000 Greek texts alone. We have more and more to work with as time goes on, not less.

Fourthly, the differences make no difference (and actually show us what is original and what is not). With most historical texts, we don’t even have enough manuscripts to compare any differences or changes to see if there are any. With the New Testament, we have 20,000 manuscripts to compare and study. Are there differences? Yes. There are 400,000 variants in the texts. That sounds like a lot until you know that 99% of these variants make no difference at all, and the vast majority of them are spelling differences and word order differences. Did you know there are around 1200 ways you can say “John loves Mary” in the Greek language?[3] In reality, less than 1% of the textual variants actually mean anything. There are two relatively significant portions of the Gospels which probably were not included in the original manuscripts, and the very fact that we know this is a testament to the wealth of evidence we have to work with and our ability to use it. Even these variants do not jeopardize a single doctrine of who Jesus is or any other significant Christian belief. In fact, Bart Ehrman, a scholar who has laid the foundation for much of the popular skepticism toward the New Testament’s validity with his book Misquoting Jesus, said himself in a quote published on the book that “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”[4] This quote was removed shortly after because it hurt sales.

There are other problems we could discuss regarding the argument that Christians have changed the Bible, but it seems clear that the New Testament stacks up extremely well against any other historical work which we place our trust in today. We have seen that archaeological discoveries support Biblical people, places and events, that the Bible makes predictions about the future which appear to have actually occurred, that the disciples did not have motivations to lie, and that the Bible has been consistently and accurately transmitted throughout the years. However, many argue that although the disciples genuinely believed in a resurrected Jesus and were willing to die for this belief, this doesn’t mean that it actually happened. This is another fair point, so we will look at the resurrection of Jesus in a few more weeks.

What really motivates your skepticism toward the Bible?


[1] Dr. Daniel Wallace, Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then? (2014) http://marshill.com/media/best-sermon-ever-2014/is-what-we-have-now-what….

[2] Wallace, Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then? (2014).

[3] Wallace, Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then? (2014).

[4] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (2005).

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About the Author

Wes Hynd

Wes has been involved with Power to Change as a student and on staff for 10 years, including one year on STINT in Panama. Currently, he works with students at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University and loves to get students excited about living a life of passionate commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Wes is married to Nadine and enjoys playing soccer, listening to music and talking about deep philosophical questions. He is also a Toronto Maple Leafs fan (do with that what you will).

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