How we got the Bible and how reliable is it—Lesson 1

How did we get the Bible?


How did we get the Bible?  Take a look at your Bible and think backward. 

Where did you get it?  From a bookstore.

Where did the store get it?  From a publisher.

Where did the publisher get it?  From a translation committee.

What did the committee use to make their translation?  Manuscripts.

Where did the manuscripts come from?  Every book of the Bible can be traced to a prophet who wrote it down.  Over the years people made copies which came from the original, which are the manuscripts we have today.


Facts about the Bible

The Bible was written by over 40 authors inspired by God over a span of 1,500 years from different ethnic backgrounds living on 3 continents.  The Old Testament contains 39 books and the New Testament 27 books, making a total of 66 books. 


The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a few chapters in Aramaic (Daniel 2-7, Ezra 4-7, Jer. 10:11).  The Roman historian Josephus informs us that the Old Testament was completed and closed in 424 B.C.  Josephus, who was born immediately after Jesus was crucified, declared that since the death of Artaxerxes in 424 B.C., “no one had dared to add anything to the Jewish Scriptures, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them.” (Josephus, Against Apion 1.8).


The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  Septuagint means “70” in Latin.  Seventy Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek around 200 B.C.  When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, most quotes come from the Septuagint.


The seventy translators of the Septuagint also added fourteen non-biblical books that were not found in the Hebrew Bible.  These fourteen extra books, which are known as the Apocrypha, were written long after the last Old Testament prophet Malachi (430 B.C.).  They contain mostly historical information and are not inspired by God.  The Protestant Old Testament keeps only the 39 books found in the Hebrew Bible, while the Roman Catholic Old Testament adds the Apocryphal books found in the Septuagint. 


The New Testament was written in Greek.  During the time of Jesus, Greek was the language of the world.  The New Testament writers completed their work within about 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Most New Testament books were written between A.D. 50 and 96 by the apostles or someone closely associated with them.


An apostle means “sent one,” which was a Jewish legal term that denoted the power of authority.  In other words, the “sent one” had the authority to act and speak in the name of the sender.  Jesus installed His apostles as His authoritative spokesmen.  This is important to keep in mind when considering the authority of the New Testament.  The apostles were witnesses of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They recorded the events as eye-witnesses.


The apostles wrote their letters, gospels, and revelations to the churches.  The churches, recognizing the authority of these writings, made copies and passed them to other churches.  The New Testament quickly spread throughout the entire Mediterranean world. Eventually, the writings were combined into collections.  A harmony of the four gospels called the Diatessaron was put together in the second century.  Justin Martyr, writing about 150 A.D. said that the churches were reading the four gospels in their weekly gatherings.


When the Bible was recognized as one book? 

The Old Testament books had been copied, read, memorized and taught in Israel for many centuries, but no official council had formally met to declare them as inspired by God until the Council of Jamnia (90 AD), which officially recognized the Old Testament as Scripture.  The New Testament gospels and epistles were copied and circulated among the churches for over two centuries.  The Council of Hippo (393 AD) and the Council of Carthage (397 AD) met to codify the 27 books that had already been accepted by the church as divinely inspired by God.


Three tests were used to identify which books met the criteria of being divinely inspired.  First, the book must have apostolic origin.  By the time of the New Testament, the Old Testament had been accepted by the Jews as the authoritative Word of God.  When considering the New Testament, the source had to be an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle.  This fact alone would eliminate many false gospels from being accepted.  Matthew, John, and Paul had all seen the resurrected Christ.  The only non-apostles were Luke (who traveled with Paul), Mark (who accompanied Peter), and James & Jude who were Jesus’ half-brothers.


Second, the books had to be sound in doctrine.  The writings had to line up with the teachings of Christ, apostles, and Old Testament.  This is why Paul could say with confidence, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).  Third, the books had to be recognized by the early church.  The early church fathers and councils recognized the 39 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament books. See 2 Peter 3:15-16, 1 Thess. 2:13.


God inspired the original manuscripts, which we no longer have.  The material on which they wrote only lasted about forty years, so the copyists had to keep making new manuscripts to preserve the text from being destroyed.  What we have today are copies made from the original manuscripts, so how do we know that what they copied is accurate?


The process of copying the manuscripts

Since they had no copying machines or duplicating presses, the manuscripts had to be copied by hand.  This task was done by scribes, who patiently copied the Scriptures when the scrolls became too worn to be used any longer. 


The Jewish scribes valued the Scriptures so much that they counted every letter on every page they copied.  The word for scribes, sopherim, literally means, “the counters” because they counted, not only every word, but every letter of the entire manuscript.  The middle letter of the manuscript of the manuscript was marked, as was the middle word of each major section of a book. 


Before a scribe began his work each day, he would test his reed pen by dipping it in ink and writing the name Amalek, then crossing it out.  This custom came from Deut. 25:19 which says, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek form under heaven.”


To ensure accuracy, certain rules had to be followed.  The scribes could only copy one letter at a time and not an entire word.  After each word was copied, the scribe had to verbalize the word.  After a page was copied, another person counted the number of letters on that page and compared it with the original.  After a page was checked, a third person would check to see what the middle word was on the page.  If the number of letters didn’t match up with the original, they destroyed the entire page and started over! 


By the time Jesus was born, the most recent Old Testament book, Malachi, had been copied and recopied over a span of more than 400 years.  The books of Moses had been copied for more than 1,400 years!  Thanks to their hard work, today we have over 14,000 manuscripts; 5,686 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and 1,000 manuscripts in other languages.  The biblical manuscript evidence far surpasses the manuscript reliability of other ancient writings that we trust as authentic every day.  Here is the manuscript evidence of some non-biblical writings:  Aristotle (49 manuscripts), Herodotus' History (8 manuscripts), Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars (10 manuscripts), and Plato (7 manuscripts)


The oldest extant Biblical Greek manuscript fragment is the Rylands Fragment dated 135 A.D.  It’s a papyrus fragment discovered in Egypt that quotes from John 18.  Since John died around 100 A.D., we know that the Gospel of John had to have been copied and circulated before it reached Egypt. 


Dead Sea Scrolls

In 1947, a shepherd boy was throwing rocks in a cave and heard something break.  Inside the cave were jars of ancient manuscripts, which had been preserved for 2,000 years.  Biblical archaeologists searched the area and found scrolls in 11 caves.  They found multiple portions of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, and 25 copies of Deuteronomy.  They also discovered 100,000 fragments from 875 manuscripts.


In one cave they found a copy of the entire book of Isaiah.  When they compared the Dead Sea Isaiah manuscript with the book of Isaiah we have today, they were identical except for the spelling of a few words.  This proves that the ongoing duplicating of the manuscripts over 2,000 years kept them true to the Word of God.


Researchers in the Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) Laboratory at the University of Arizona used carbon-14 to date samples of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  They determined the ages of the scrolls ranged from the third century B.C. to 68 A.D., which are consistent with ages determined by paleographic research.


Some Interesting Dead Sea Scrolls

The “Crucified Messiah” Scroll refers to a Messiah who suffered crucifixion for the sins of men.  Many modern-day scholars assumed that the first century Jews believed that Messiah would reign forever without dying.  This manuscript reveals that the writer of this scroll understood the dual role of the Messiah, as both suffering and reigning.  This scroll says the Messiah was "pierced" "wounded" and was "put to death."  Jesus is the only one who ever claimed to be the Messiah who was crucified.


The "Son of God" Scroll refers to the Messiah as "the son of God" and the "son of the Most High," which are the exact words recorded in the Gospel of Luke. This scroll reveals that they understood the Messiah would have divine origin. 


Other New Testament Quotes Identified in the Scrolls

In 1971, a biblical scholar named Jose O'Callaghan studied some of the small fragments of scrolls discovered at Qumran.  To his great surprise O'Callaghan noticed that several fragments did not fit any Old Testament text, but did resemble several verses in the New Testament.  Dr. O'Callaghan identified eight different scroll fragments that appear to be quotes from Mark, Acts, Romans, 1 Timothy, and James—showing that five New Testament books existed before 68 A.D.


The story about finding Codex Sinaiticus

In 1844, Russia’s Tsar Alexander sent a biblical scholar named Constantine von Tischendorf to the St. Catherine monastery at Mt. Sinai to search for manuscripts.  While working in the library, Tischendorf noticed a basket containing loose manuscript pages from a Greek manuscript.  He recovered 43 leaves and, in a discussion with the monastery's librarian at the time, learned that two basket loads of similar “waste paper” had already been burned in the monastery’s furnace!  Tischendorf started his manuscript collection process by whisking away his 43 leaves, bringing them back to Europe.


Tischendorf returned to the monastery in both 1853 and 1859.  On his last visit, a monk showed him a heap of loose leaves, wrapped in cloth.  It turned out to be the Codex Sinaiticus Greek manuscript of the entire Bible, which was copied in the 4th Century A.D., making it the earliest complete manuscript copy of the New Testament in existence. After some negotiations, Tischendorf paid the monastery 9,000 rubles for this priceless manuscript (about $18 in today’s money), and took the Codex Sinaiticus from Mount Sinai to Saint Petersburg, Russia.


In May 1975, during restoration work, the monks of St. Catherine's monastery discovered a room beneath the St. George Chapel which contained numerous parchment fragments.  Among these fragments, they discovered 13 missing Old Testament pages from the Codex Sinaiticus.


The manuscript is currently regarded by the monastery as having been stolen.  The Greek Orthodox monks keep a framed copy of a note left by Tishendorf promising to return the manuscript.  Conveniently left out of the church's revised history is how the monks of the 1850’s sold the manuscript to the Russians in return for some influence in church politics and 9,000 rubles (18 bucks).


Most of the modern Bible versions use the Codex Sinaiticus manuscript that Tischendorf found as one of their main source manuscripts in translating.  If he hadn’t gone to that monastery in 1859, that manuscript may have been burned up in a fireplace by some monk trying to keep warm!


Translating the manuscripts

You’ve probably heard people say, “The Bible has been translated so many times no one knows what it really means.”  They assume it is had been translated from one language, into another language, into another language, and so on, for 2,000 years.  They confuse transmission (copying a document word-for-word to make a second, identical document.) with translation (creating a new document into a new language). 


An ancient document can be accurately translated into a thousand different languages, as long as we keep going back to the oldest manuscripts for each new translation.  Our English Bibles have been translated from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts from the 4th Century and earlier, not from a Latin translation from the 16th century.


Why do the different Bible translations and versions read differently?

Various Bible translations read differently because they use different methods to translate. Every time a verse is translated into another language, it has to be reworded so that the reader can understand.  The Bible can be translated into English using any one of three methods.


Literal translation—(word-for-word)  It strives to stay as close to the original wording as possible.  Examples: New American Standard Version, King James Version

Dynamic Equivalent translation—(thought-for-thought)  It says close to the original text, but translates the meaning and explains idioms and figures of speech in modern-day equivalents.  Examples: New International Version, New Living Translation.

Paraphrase —(phrase-for-phrase)  A paraphrase is not an accurate word-for-word translation of the original but tries to convey the general idea of the text in modern day language.  Examples: Living Bible and The Message


Here is an example of the three different methods used in four translations of Luke 9:44.  Although they are worded differently, they convey exactly the same thought and meaning.




KJV (Luke 9:44)

NASV (Luke 9:44)

Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.

Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.



Dynamic Equivalent


NIV (Luke 9:44)

The Living Bible (Luke 9:44)

Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.

Listen to me and remember what I say.  I, the Messiah, am going to be betrayed.


Indisputable proof the Bible is true

How do we know the Bible is true?  Through prophecies recorded throughout the Old Testament that have come to pass.  Because God knows the future, He can predict the future.  He revealed future events to His prophets who recorded them in Scripture, even though it would be centuries before the prophecies would come to pass.  The prophets would die and never see their prophecies fulfilled.  So why did God inspire them?  For future generations (that’s you and me).


These fulfilled prophecies would become proof to future generations who study the Scriptures that the Bible is indeed true.  Although there are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible, many were fulfilled by one man in particular—Jesus the Messiah.  God left this evidence so that we would put our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Jesus said, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He” (John 13:19).  Again He said, “And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it comes to pass, you may believe” (John 14:29).


The Old Testament prophets made these predictions about the future Messiah, which were fulfilled by Jesus.


Date prophesied


Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14)

792-722 B.C

Matt. 1:18-25

To be the Son of God (Ps. 2:7)

1,000 B.C.

Matt. 3:17

Descendent of Abraham (Gen. 22:12)

1, 872 B.C.

Matt. 1:1

Descendent of Isaac (Gen. 21:12)

1,892 B.C.

Matt. 1:2, Luke 3:34

Descendent of Jacob (Num. 24:17)

1,452 B.C.

Matt. 1:2, Luke 3:34

From Tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10)

1,689 B.C.

Matt. 1:2, Luke 3:33

From Family of Jesse (Isa. 11:1)

740 B.C.

Matt. 1:6, Luke 3:32

From House of David (Jer. 23:5)

589 B.C.

Matt. 1:1, Luke 3:31

Born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2)

722 B.C.

Matt. 2:1

Herod tries to kill him (Jer. 31:15)

627-585 B.C.

Matt. 2:16-18

To be called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14)

792-722 B.C.

Matt. 1:23

Spirit of the Lord upon Him (Isa 61:1)

792-722 B.C.

Luke 4:16-21

Preceded by a messenger (Mal. 3:1)

450-400 B.C.

Matt. 11:10

Called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1)

710 B.C.

Matt. 2:15

Would do miracles (Isa. 35.5-6)

792-722 B.C.

Matt. 11:2-5

Rides in Jerusalem on donkey (Zech. 9:9)

520 B.C.

Matt. 21:5-9

Betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9)

1,000 B.C.

Matt. 10:4

Betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:12)

520 B.C.

Matt. 26:15

Money thrown in God's house (Zech. 11:13)

520 B.C.

Matt. 27:5

Price given for Potter's field (Zech. 11:13)

520 B.C.

Matt. 27:7

Forsaken by disciples (Zech. 13:7)

520 B.C.

Matt. 26:31

Wounded, bruised, scourged (Isa. 53:5)

792-722 B.C.

Matt. 27:26, Luke 22:63

Hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16)

1,000 B.C.

John 20:25

Garments divided (Ps. 22:18)

1,000 B.C.

John 19:23-24

Lots cast for His clothing (Ps. 22:18)

1,000 B.C.

John 19:24

Given vinegar to drink (Ps. 69:21)

1,000 B.C.

Matt. 27:34

"Why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Ps. 22:1)

1,000 B.C.

Matt. 27:46

"Into Thy hand I commit my spirit" (Ps. 31:5)

1,000 B.C.

Luke 23:46

Messiah's side pierced (Zech. 12:10)

520 B.C.

John 19:34, 37

Messiah's bones not broken (Ps. 34:20)

1,000 B.C.

John 19:32-36

Buried in rich man's tomb (Isa. 53:9)

740 B.C.

Matt. 27:57-60

Dead 3 days and 3 nights (Jonah 1:17)

760 B.C.

Matt. 12:40

Resurrected from dead (Ps. 16:10, 30:3)

1,000 B.C.

Acts 2:31, 13:33-35

Ascends into heaven (Ps. 68:18)

1,000 B.C.

Acts 1:9, Eph. 4:7-10

Messiah is light to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6, 42:6)

740 B.C.

Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47, 26:23


Peter Stoner in Science Speaks calculated the probability of one man fulfilling 48 prophecies to be:  1 in 10,000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000  (157 zeroes!)


This is indisputable proof that the Bible is God’s Word and Jesus is the Messiah.  This means that Jesus really did die for our sins and rose from the dead.  Furthermore, it means that everything He taught is true. 


If you will call out to Him, He will save you from your sins and give you eternal life.  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).  If you would like to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord, you can pray: “God, I realize that I’ve done a lot of bad things and have sinned against you.  I’m sorry and I want you to change my life.  I believe Jesus died on the cross for me, and He rose from the dead.  Jesus, come into my heart and save me.  I give my life to you.  Amen.” 


If you prayed that prayer and meant it with your heart, you are now a Christian and have received eternal life.