Q: "How do you know the Bible has been passed down accurately over so many years?"

A:  Transition of the original text from copy to copy, from scribe to scribe, has been likened to a game of "telephone" in which one person whispers a phrase to another person, and that person passes it on to the next person, and so on down the line, until the final person shouts out a completely unrelated phrase and everyone laughs at them, to their embarassment. In the same way, many have said, isn't it likely that the Bible as we have it now is a completely different animal from the documents first put together thousands of years ago?

So what do you think would be a good test? Take the latest copy you have, and the earliest copy you have (Dead Sea Scrolls for some parts of the Bible) and compare. The Dead Sea Scrolls are about 2000 years old (~0 AD). For a thousand years after that, all manuscripts are lost, and then the next oldest one is at about 1000 AD... Comparing them to the Dead Sea Scrolls, they find very few errors, all along the lines of changing an "a" to an "an" and that sort of thing. It measured so well compared to other historical documents that, well, it shocked historians greatly. I attribute this to divine intervention, but... let's just say the text is remarkably well preserved for having been copied so many times.

I would like to give more specifics, but I'll need to look up references and such, and will put them here later.

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Q: "Why isn't there a question number 2?"

A:  Er... there was one, but I wasn't particularly inspired to type a response to it, but I couldn't remove it because I'd have to re-order all the questions below because my HTML methods are very crude. Oops.

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Q: "Who determined what books go into the Bible and what gets left out?"

A:  Well, they put all of the candidate texts into a large cannon, and shot them all out. The ones that didn't fall apart were considered holy and put in the Bible.

*silence*

I see no one is laughing at my corny joke about the canon. In any case, the process of determining which books go into the Bible is called canonization, and the complete set of official Biblical books is called the canon. This process was very informal for a few centuries, as all church leaders tended to agree on what was Scripture and what wasn't. Disagreement arose due to sects coming forth with their own assortments of Scripture, throwing out those which did not lend to their particular philosophy, and adding some which supported them. One such example was a man named Marcion, who hated Jews, and threw out the Old Testament from his Scripture set.

It was in response to these problems that church leaders were forced to make an official list of holy books. Books outside of this list could be helpful, and theologically correct (much like Christian books written today) but would not be treated as God's Word.

They did not form an official body to do this, but this list-making took place in isolated Christian communities, working among themselves. When the isolated communities finally got together, they found their lists to correspond dramatically. By the end of the fourth century, the united church had an official list, which became the Bible as we know it today.

Reference links:
Answers in Action - Is the Bible Reliable?
The Christian Thinktank - Process of God's Communication

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Q: "Do Christians take the Bible completely literally?"

A:  All Christians believe that the Bible is the real Word of God, and that no other writings that exist or will ever exist will equal it in authority. However, many Christians disagree on how literally to take it.

On one end are Christians that believe every word of the Bible, in its original form, is exactly as God intended it to be, and any change of a single word would make it less perfect. Note, however, that no Christians take the Bible completely literally, in the very technical sense, as it does contain obvious metaphors. For example, when Jesus says, "I am the door", or "I am the vine", Christians do not believe he swings on hinges or that he is actually a plant. So if we are to pick nits, I think it is safe to say that no one takes the Bible literally in such a technical way. However, barring obvious similes and metaphors, there are large numbers of Christians who take the Bible literally otherwise.

On the other end of the spectrum are Christians who take the Bible's words with much liberty, believing that God has sent us the basic message and given the human writers license to write the words in whatever way they want, including occasional errors, even. However, the basic message of salvation is true.

There are churches and scholars who take this further, and even make God and sin into a metaphor, and do not believe it would make a difference if Jesus did not exist as a real person. I recognize that there are parties that hold this view, but I do not think they can call themselves Christians. If Christ is not central to your philosophy, it does not make sense to put his name in the title of your philosophy. As a wise man once said, "Christianity without Christ is just ianity." And "ianity" makes no sense. Which is exactly my point.

My personal viewpoint is that "every word is as it should be" in the original text. I don't think it's central to becoming a Christian, and that as long as you believe the Bible to be God's authoritative word, you can live a productive Christian life and respect other Christians with differing views. However, there is a point I think where you give yourself too much liberty with God's words such that you give yourself so much power over interpretation that you can't use the Bible to tell you what to do, as it is colored too much by "interpretation" and possible errors. No longer is the Bible authoritative, but the interpreter.

But the one thing people are concerned about the most when this question is asked, are "impossible" events, such as 6-day creation, the flood, miracles, and the resurrection of the dead. My answer is that there is no earthly reason why these things ought to be impossible. It's just culturally ingrained into us modern folk that they are. It was culturally ingrained into people of the middle ages that people could not fly, ever, unless by black magic or something. If they had read a book that said someone flew in a machine with wings, they might have said, "You can't really take this book literally, it must be a metaphor or a legend." Which makes sense from their point of view. Nobody they knew had ever flown or heard of such a thing. Similarly, today we might say that nobody we know, and no scientists we've ever heard of, have ever reported someone rising from the dead. Therefore, it must be impossible. I think that, just like flying, this is a cultural artifact, and hasn't really any facts to back it up. Many of these things would be tremendously difficult to cause, and have never ever happened before, but if you think about it, if these things happened every day, nobody would put it in a book. It's believable and common for people to clip their toenails, and that is exactly why no one puts it in a book. Nobody cares. So the people of the Bible did clip toenails and cook and clean and go shopping, but that's mostly not in the Bible because, really, who wants to know? That's why it looks like miracles were happening all the time in the Bible, because of course, you put the special events in, and then you don't put in the hundred years that passed until the next special event because people were clipping toenails, cooking, farming, etc.

Sure, there is scientific evidence that seems to contradict some of these miraculous events mentioned in the Bible. On the other hand, there is scientific evidence in favor of it too. Scientific evidence is like that. There's always a ton of it, and a lot of it seems to disagree with each other. It takes human reasoning and sifting to figure out the truth from the jumble of facts that science brings us.

So, in short, Christians vary immensely in how literally they take the Bible, but all Christians regard the Bible as God's word, and containing a true message that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

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Q: "How does the Bible correspond with other historical writings?"

A:  The non-Christian historian Josephus is the most often given example of a secular historical writer whose record of events corresponds extremely well with the Bible's record. Josephus was a Jew, and a Roman sympathizer, and was not a follower of the Christian religion. There is much correspondence, however, between his account and the Bible accounts (Matthew-Acts) of first century Judaism and the early Christian church.

Ancient tablets in the Mediterranean region also contain narratives of events detailed in the Bible, as well as names of famous kings and places in the Bible.

For many other examples, see Answers in Action - Written Sources for a list.

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Q: "How does the Bible correspond with archaeological evidence?"

A:  In the past, many skeptics have said that the Bible contains legendary material, and names of places and people which did not really exist. Examples of alleged legends are the Hittites, King David, Sargon (king of Assyria), and Belshazzar (king of Babylon).

Recent archaeological finds have unearthed tablets and murals that depict these names and events, in locations and cultures that did not believe in the Israelite God.

Brief example: In the book of Daniel, it was said that the last king of Babylon was Belshazzar, who offered to make Daniel the third-highest ranking official in the kingdom when Daniel read the handwriting on the wall that no one could read. Critics claimed that in reality, Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon, and there was no Belshazzar. Tablets were then found that stated that Belshazzar was Nabonidus's son, and co-regent with him at the time. Not only does it disprove critics' arguments, it finally makes sense why Belshazzar promoted Daniel to third-highest instead of second.

For many other examples, see Answers in Action - Biblical Archaeology and the Associates for Biblical Research website.

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Page last updated 4/28/02.