Can You Trust the Bible?
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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Sometimes you may wonder about the reliability of the Bible. Can you trust the words you read? How can you have confidence that what you read in your Bible is an authentic representation of what was originally written?
In the last few years, questions like these have been asked, not just in seminary classrooms, but in popular forums as well. Certain biblical scholars have received considerable attention in the secular media because they have sought to undermine confidence in the text of the Bible. This can be worrisome to those of us who consider Scripture to be a trustworthy foundation for faith and life.
You might have full confidence in the text of Scripture when you come upon a verse like Ephesians 1:1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus" (NIV). It looks just fine in translation. But then you notice that your NIV Bible has a note attached to the verse that reads something like "Some early manuscripts do not have in Ephesus." Or, such as in the ESV, "Some manuscripts saints who are also faithful (omitting in Ephesus)." What? Some early manuscripts of the letter we call "Ephesians" don't have the words "in Ephesus"? Does this mean this letter might not even have been written to the Ephesians? How can we have confidence in the words of this letter if we can't know whether "in Ephesus" is authentic or not?
Obviously, I can't deal with the larger issues of the reliability of the biblical text in this short reflection. A whole chapter of my book on the Gospels deals with these issues in depth. You can find this chapter on my blog. For now, let me make a couple of observations.
First, scholars don't know for sure why "in Ephesus" doesn't appear in some ancient manuscripts of the letter. It may be that Paul intended this letter for many churches, leaving a space for the names of different cities to be inserted. Thus, our ancient manuscripts reflect the original letter (without "in Ephesus") as well as the version for Ephesus (with "in Ephesus"). Or, it may be that the early church, sensing the value of the letter, turned it into a letter for all churches by removing the phrase "in Ephesus" from copies that went to other cities. In either case, the early church rightly saw that Paul's letter we know as Ephesians had broad application to all of God's people.
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