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The Preservation of the Bible

by Mike Matthews on April 1, 2011; last featured May 25, 2014
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One of the most amazing testimonies to Scripture’s truth is its preservation over thousands of years despite sometimes intense efforts to destroy it.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
Jesus Christ made an amazing prophesy about this preservation of His Word: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:31; also Matthew 24:35). He believed that God’s Word is indestructible (“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle [small mark in Hebrew lettering] of the law to failLuke 16:17).

Moreover, Jesus believed His words would spread around the world: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14); “the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10). And that is what we find today. God’s Word has been preserved.

The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 confirmed that we still have the same Old Testament as they did at Jesus’s day. The survival of thousands of New Testament manuscripts confirms that the New Testament writings were also providentially preserved. The question among textual scholars is not whether some words are missing, but which variant readings, in a few minor cases, are the correct ones.

In contrast, few copies have survived from nearly every other classic book, such as Caesar’s Gallic Wars or Herodotus’ Histories. While copies of major portions of the New Testament survive from documents dated around AD 300, most other classic books survive in copies no older than around AD 900.

God’s Word survived despite intense efforts to destroy it. For instance, in 175 BC the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, ordered the Jews, on pain of death, to destroy their Scriptures and worship the Greek gods. But Judas Maccabaeus saved the books and led a revolt that won independence for the Jewish nation. (Today, Jews celebrate this event at Hanukkah.)

Another example is the Roman emperor Diocletian’s order to have Christianity outlawed, its leaders killed, and their Bibles burned. As a sign of God’s providence, the next emperor, Constantine, legalized Christianity and paid for fifty new hand-written copies of the Bible.

The Bible has not only been preserved, but translated into over two thousand languages (both ancient and modern). Many of the earliest surviving manuscripts include translations, such as Syriac versions, showing that God’s Word was spreading from the very beginning, and the words of its message have been preserved in many languages.

Many apologetics books, such as Brian Edwards’ Nothing but the Truth, provide much more detail on this interesting topic.

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