Is Our Bible Reliable?

By Not Known

We believe that the Bible as originally recorded does not contain any mistakes (2 Timothy 3:16).  However, before printing was invented, the Bible was hand-copied.  Inevitably, scribal errors crept into the text despite the ancient copyists exercising meticulous care.  This is particularly so when Hebrew was written using only consonants with no vowels.

I first learnt Hebrew a good 27 years ago. Unfortunately I have forgotten all of it.  A friend had just returned from Israel.  Eager to show off my newly-acquired ability of reading Hebrew, I grabbed the photos from him.  Then, I discovered to my horror that I could not read any of the names of places or road signs − there were simply no vowels!

Apart from this, the ancient Jew also had this strange habit of not leaving spaces between words!  All these meant that over time, how words ought to be pronounced is forgotten.  The best example is the divine name of God that the ancient Hebrews thought too holy to be pronounced.  Nowadays, most scholars believe it should read as ”Yahweh” but the truth is that no one can be entirely sure!

It was only during AD 600s to 900s that Jewish scribes called the Masoretes, began to devise strict rules for copying Biblical texts.  They added vowel points and accents that enabled words to be read and the Masoretic Text henceforth became the basis of our Old Testament.

However, does that mean the Hebrew text we now possess is unreliable as we cannot tell how closely the Masoretic Text resembles the original Hebrew documents?  Amazingly no!  In 1947, ancient Hebrew scrolls dating between 225 BC and AD 70 were discovered in the caves at Qumran near the Dead Sea in Israel.  There were at least fragments for every Old Testament book except Esther and they confirmed the accuracy of the Masoretic Text.  Yes, there are variations between the Masoretic Text and certain Old Testament manuscripts but all of these are trivial, e.g. slips of the pen, grammar, misspellings and differences in structure.  Nothing has been found to affect any doctrine of the Bible significantly!  Indeed, two of the Isaiah scrolls from Qumran were found to be “word for word identical” with the Masoretic Text!

Internationally renowned Biblical scholar, Dr Harold J. Sala concludes that no doctrinal issue in the Bible has been questioned.  In fact, more than 90% of the original text of the Bible can be reconstructed accurately from the thousands of manuscripts we now possess and that gives us confidence that our God indeed miraculously preserved the Biblical text.


Joseph Teng