In this modern skeptical age, many people have been totally mis-informed about the Bible. Attacks on the Bible as God’s Word are everywhere, and myths about the Bible abound in today’s culture. Here are five common myths about the Bible you may have heard, and the startling truth you need to know about them:
Myth #1: The Bible has been copied so many times, it’s like the telephone game, all we have are copies full of errors and so we don’t have the original.
The Truth: If there is any text we can be sure we have reliable copies of, it’s the Bible. The reliability of copies of an ancient text depend on both the number of manuscripts and the time separating the earliest manuscripts from the original. A lesser, but still important factor is the care taken when they were copied.
The New Testament leaves all competitors way behind in both the large number of manuscripts discovered and the short time interval between the originals and the earliest copies. We have about 26,000 New Testament manuscripts, the earliest of which date only 25-50 years after the time of the originals. The nearest competing ancient document, Homer’s Iliad, has 643 manuscripts separated by 400 years. The average ancient document has about 20 copies discovered and time intervals of a minimum of 400 years, often over 1,000. Yet we trust and do history with these other ancient documents. If we can’t trust the New Testament, we should be thousands of times as skeptical about the other ancient authors.
We have about 3,000 manuscripts of the Old Testament, and evidence that it was very meticulously copied by Jewish scribes. When the ancient Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, dated about 125 B.C. was compared to Old Testament manuscripts dated about 1000 years later, there was about 98% agreement between them, showing the accuracy of the copying. Not at all like the telephone game!
Why isn’t the New Testament like the telephone game? First, they were not trying to make mistakes, they were copying what they believed to be the very Word of God! Second, there were multiple lines of transmission so textual critics can cross compare, since with multiple lines of copying they were not likely to all err in the same place. Third, in the telephone game you can’t check with someone up the line, but with New Testament you can compare earlier manuscripts with later ones. Finally, the New Testament documents were transmitted in writing. If you did that with the telephone game, the message passed on would be much more accurate, but the game would be rather boring!
Expert textual critics who have analyzed the manuscripts and the variant readings among them, are convinced that we indeed have the original New Testament contained within these manuscripts.
Myth #2. Characters in the Bible, such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, or David were not real people , but simply legends.
The Truth: Critics always argue from a lack of evidence and arguments from silence, which in archaeology are usually notoriously weak. As evidenced by hundreds of discoveries over the last century, the science of archaeology has turned out to be a great friend and ally of the Bible against its most persistent critics. It should also be pointed out that archaeological proof has its limits. We may not find detailed proof of personal, private events in the Bible. Such events may not have left traces that could be reasonably expected to remain thousands of years later. But what we do find confirms the biblical record powerfully.
King David was once thought to be a myth, but discovery of the Tel Dan Stela in 1993, with the inscription “House of David”, along with two other subsequent discoveries, caused the skeptics to have to eat their words. (See article: Was King David a Myth?
What about Abraham or Joseph, or the other Bible patriarchs?
Although we might not expect to find personal references to such men in the archaeological records we can verify that the political, historical and social conditions fit their life and times in history.
For example, Joseph was sold for twenty silver shekels, according to Genesis 37:28. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen found that this amount matches exactly with Joseph’s time period according to the Bible and not any earlier or later periods.
Joseph’s appointment by the Pharaoh and his position likewise accord with this time period.
The treaties made by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob correspond very closely to the form of treaties in that period and not to other time periods. The description of Jacob’s life as a shepherd fits well into the shepherding practices of that region and time.
Other evidences that fit the times of the patriarchs include: the inheritance rights of an adopted son, confirmed by the Nuzi Tablets (as in Genesis 15:2–4, referring to Isaac’s servant), having children by proxy as in Genesis 16 when Abraham had Ishmael by Hagar, the domestication of camels, the fit of the types of names of the patriarchs to that period and the great lack of evidence for the use of those names in later periods.
Other specific evidence supporting the accounts of Abraham includes:
The name Abram has also been discovered in tablets dated around 1550 B.C.
The names and the political conditions described in the account of the invasion of the Mesopotamian kings in Genesis 14 have been verified by archaeology as fitting the time period described in the biblical account and not later periods.
The regions where Abraham lived have been shown to have been inhabited in Abraham’s time, as well as the existence of the cities of Ur and Haran, contrary to skeptics’ theories. The city of Haran, which is portrayed as a thriving city in the Bible at the time of Abraham, has been shown by archaeology to have been abandoned from about 1800 B.C. to 800 B.C. Archaeologist Barry Beitzel comments: “It’s highly improbable (that someone inventing the story later) would have chosen Haran as a key location when the town hadn’t existed for hundreds of years.”
Kenneth Kitchen refutes the modern claim that the patriarchs were legendary: “We are compelled, once and for all, to throw out Wellhausen’s bold claim that the patriarchs were merely a glorified mirage of/from the Hebrew monarchy period. For such a view there is not a particle of supporting factual evidence.”
Myth #3. The Bible is full of contradictions, and so can’t be the Word of God:
The Truth: We hear a lot about Bible “contradictions” from people these days. Many say that because of these discrepancies the reliability of the Bible cannot be trusted. Especially brought up are the four gospels, since they have many parallel accounts that have surface disagreements with one another. But let me give you six different ways you can explain these supposedly fatal contradictions:
1.They used “paraphrase”: Saying the same thing in different words. In first century culture, it was permissible to vary the exact wording when you quoted someone, as long as the meaning of the quote remained intact. They could vary the amount of detail given for a specific account also. For example, “two cars collided in the intersection” might be said also as “the first car crashed into the second car as they both were moving through the intersection of First and Second Street”. Each describes the same event, one gives more detail, but the basic meaning is not changed. If the second quote said: “there was only one car in the accident, and it hit a pole” then that would be a contradiction. But we find none like this in the gospels.
2.They were different witnesses to the same events. One thing the seeming disagreements in Scripture shows is the absence of collusion. They could even have been designed that way as one more evidence of authenticity. Some of the Bible’s verses, when carefully studied in the proper context, exhibit superficial discrepancies and conflicts which resolve themselves on closer examination. This kind of evidence is exactly what is looked for in a court of law to establish credibility and independence of witnesses. If things agree too well they look artificial and contrived.
3.They didn’t always put things in time order. Some of the Bible writers record historical events out of chronological order to fit whatever theme they are trying to emphasize, but this does not detract from the historicity of the events themselves.
4.Repetition of teachings: Another simple explanation would be that Jesus gave the same essential teachings more than once, with slightly varying words each time. Surely over three years of ministry he repeated certain teachings!
5.Verses taken out of context : Also, a large number of perceived discrepancies are the result of taking a Bible verse out of context. Many are also due to the prejudice of the critic. Many of these contradictions are “much ado about nothing.”
6.“Compression” of the narrative:
If every little detail in a Biblical account were given, it might clear up the discrepancies, but the Bible itself would be so bulky and hard to follow that it would not be nearly as useful to the reader.
When all these factors and more are taken into account, the so-called contradictions are no longer an obstacle to belief in the Bible as God’s Word.
Myth #4. The Resurrection is just hearsay and Christians don’t need to believe in a literal resurrection anyway.
First, the resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential to Christianity. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 : “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1Cor 15:19) Also we would still be in our guilt and sin (v. 17) and Paul and all the apostles would be liars (v.15.) Without the resurrection, the Christian faith is in vain (v. 14).
Second, the resurrection of Christ is among the most rigorously supported historical events. There are facts supporting the resurrection that are so strongly attested to that the majority of scholars believe them, regardless of whether they are conservative or critical. Five of these facts are:
Jesus’ death by crucifixion: evidenced by five non-Christian sources in addition to the Gospels: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Talmud.
The disciples’ belief that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them: evidenced by
Their claims that Jesus appeared to them, documented by nine sources including:The testimony of former church persecutor Paul.
Oral traditions which scholars identify from their incorporation into the book of Acts, including creeds and sermon summaries in the book of Acts.
Written sources including the four Gospels (treating them solely as additional historical documents without regard to divine inspiration), as well as the testimony of church fathers Polycarp and Clement, who personally knew some of the original twelve apostles. In all, nine sources in three separate categories. Their belief that these were the actual appearances of Christ was evidenced by their suffering and martyrdom, as testified in at least seven written sources, namely Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian and Origen.
The conversion of church persecutor Paul, evidenced by
Paul’s own letters, the proven reliable historical testimony of Luke, and reports about him referenced in his letter to the Galatians, where it is said there was a story about his conversion being passed around in Judea, that he now “preached the faith he once destroyed” (Gal. 1:23)
Paul’s martyrdom for his Christian faith is also mentioned in seven separate sources
The conversion of James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, evidenced by
James’ former unbelief in key New Testament passages (Mark 3:21, 31, 6:3-4; John 7:5). These are not likely to have been inventions since they reflect unfavorably on both Jesus as a rabbi and James as an eventual church leader.
The appearance by Jesus to James in the very early creed passage in 1 Cor. 15:7, and
His subsequent leadership position in the church, mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and also by Luke in Acts 15. One scholar has said that we would have to invent an appearance of Jesus to James if we did not have the record of one, to account for all the facts concerning his conversion.
Finally, his martyrdom is mentioned in three separate sources.
The empty tomb, believed by about 75% of scholars, evidenced by:
The start of the church right in the city (Jerusalem) where Jesus was crucified,
Enemy attestation that the tomb was empty by their stolen body theory, and
The fact that the women , whose testimony would not have been viewed as credible in that patriarchal culture, were the primary witnesses to the empty tomb.
Again it must be emphasized that none of these facts depend on the Bible being divinely inspired, but simply by viewing it like any other historical document.
Myth #5. The Bible was just written by men and so is not really God’s Word, and is no different than any other ancient book.
The Truth: The Bible gives a mountain of evidence that it is a supernatural book, unlike any other. In fact, there is so much evidence, I will outline it in a separate article, but I shall list and summarize it here:
Prophecy of people, places and nations: Predictions of the histories of at least a dozen nations are in the Old Testament, in books that can be demonstrated to pre-date the fulfillment of the prophecies. Very specific details are predicted, unlike the “prophecies” of astrologers and soothsayers. Several people are also specifically named in advance.
Messianic Prophecy: The details of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are laid out in great detail in Old Testament prophecies that were written over a span of about 1,000 years. There are several that even indicate the time of His arrival on earth. It can be demonstrated that no one could fulfill the over 300 prophecies and allusions to Christ either deliberately or by chance.
Prophecy of the nation Israel: The unique and special history of God’s chosen people is spelled out in Old Testament prophecy. Especially unique and unprecedented events predicted thousands of years in advance were the survival of Israel as a nation even after losing their land, and the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in its own land after 25 centuries. Some have said you can’t look at these prophecies and their fulfillments, and credibly remain an atheist or agnostic.
Scientific foreknowledge contained in the Scriptures:Biblical verses that reflect knowledge of scientific facts discovered centuries or even millennia after the Bible was written, with many of these facts not discovered until the twentieth century. Facts such as the beginning of the universe at a finite point in the past, the rotation of the earth, the existence of invisible germs, the earth having no supporting structure holding it up, and many others.
Types and foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament: These are in addition to the more obvious Messianic prophecies, and by typology forecast the coming life, death, and resurrection of Christ as well as His attributes. Some examples: The meaning of the names in Genesis 5 and their relation to the Christian gospel, the forecasting of the death of Christ seen in the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, the many features of the Passover feast that point to Christ’s sacrifice for sins, the features of the lives and ministries of Old Testament figures such as Joseph, Moses, Ezekiel, Elijah, and many others, that are types of the characteristics of Christ and the events of His life, and many, many more.
The unity of the use of words as symbols in the whole Bible, such as the consistent idiomatic use of the word “rock” or “oil by many different authors over many centuries, from different cultures, who in most cases never knew each other.
Numerical features and the structure of the Scripture itself, which speak of having the inspiration of One Mind behind them. These include the underlying numerical structure of sevens seen in the text of the Old and New Testament, the first mention of an important word or concept whose usage there serves as a foundation for its later development in the Bible, and the controversial but intriguing phenomenon of equidistant letter sequences found in the Pentateuch.
I will develop these features of divine inspiration further in a future article, but for now we see the incredible amount of evidence we would have to explain away if we say that the Bible is merely a human document.
So in conclusion, let’s stop believing and propagating these 5 myths about the Bible, and instead proclaim its Truth and Authority as God’s Word!
 Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003, 344-345.