How accurate are the writings of the Bible, from the originals?

With Lent drawing ever nearer, I know I’m goint to be faced with a few comments from co-workers. One of them, invariably will be: “the Bible is just a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy…how can it be accurate.”
I hear it quite often, but I am not sure how to go about handling this stament. How old are the oldest copies that we have, how many original writings still exist? I have heard that we don’t have any of the orignal “autographs”. How then, do we know that we have the “full story”? For the sake of this discussion, yes, I am excluding (to a degree) papal infallibility.

Thanks for the replies


Read: WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE by Father Henry Graham at

The Bible is actually quite accurate.

Here’s a link that will explain it better than I can:

Entire books have been written on the accuracy of the Gospels and NT actually. That article is basically a summary of the most common arguments. I’m sure it will be enough to silence your co-workers at any rate though :stuck_out_tongue:

Here’s a list of all the New Testament ancient papyri we have found:

The earliest papyri is p52, which scholars generally believe was written 125 AD.

As for the idea that the Bible is “a copy of a copy of a copy”, I’d like to know, how do they know that? If we’ve found manuscripts that have survived over 1,800 years, why couldn’t the original copies have survived 125 years? Especially with the reverence for the originals the Christians had, since they were relics.

So we might have many copies directly from the originals, instead of “a copy of a copy of a copy”.

Furthermore, our faith is not based on the Bible alone, but upon the teachings of the Church as well. The Early Church Fathers both quote from the Bible frequently (almost every verse is covered by the Early Church Fathers suppossedly), and teach all the basic Christian truths our faith is based upon.

So even if we had absolutely no Bible, we still would be on sound ground, since the early testimony of men such as St. Clement of Rome (80AD) and St. Ignatius of Antioch (98AD) affirm our religion. And remember, they were students of the Apostles themselves.

Here’s a link to several books by the Early Church Fathers:

If they are not Catholic, I am not a human. I am that sure they believed just as we believe today.

A great many Catholics (as well as other Christians) do not realize that the Latin Vulgate written by St. Jerome was lost many centuries before the Middle Ages. Remember that even Jerome was producing a copy of the “Old Latin Bible”, which was basically a collection of Latin manuscripts floating around Palestine. When commissioned by Pope Damasus I to produce a bible, Jerome looked first to the Septuagint, but based on his own personal biases, he later relied on the Masoretic text for the OT scripture. Only later did he incorporate the deuterocanonicals.

As I mentioned in several other threads, the “Duoay-Rheims” bible that most people have in their hands today is NOT the DR produced by Father Martin in the late 1500’s/early 1600’s. Only a few original printings exist, but one can purchase (I have) both an online version as well as a facsimile version from The DR bible that is published today by most publishing houses is the Challoner-Revision of the DR, which is not just a revision - it was actually almost an entirely new translation.

As far as accuracy, I believe the following codices would be considered the “most accurate” in terms of reproducing scripture:

  1. Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

  2. Codex Vaticanus is one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament). The Codex is named for the residence in the Vatican Library where it has been stored since the 15th century. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial (capital) letters, and has been dated palaeographically to the 4th century.

  3. Codex Leningradensis is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew, using the masoretic text and Tiberian vocalization. It is dated AD 1008 (or possibly AD 1009) according to its colophon. The Aleppo Codex, against which the Leningrad Codex was corrected, is several decades older, but parts of it have been missing since 1947, making the Leningrad Codex the oldest complete codex of the Tiberian mesorah that has survived intact to this day.

So, in sum, your friend is correct - the bible you probably read and use on a regular basis IS a copy of a copy of a copy. But with biblical archaeology what it is today, new bibles have been produced that are as accurate as ever.

The Masorites did not come into being until the 7th century AD and St Jerome was alive in the 4th-5th century AD so whatever Hebrew he did use, and St Augustine tells us plainly that he did use Hebrew although Augustine found the Septuagint (LXX) preferable because of the Jewish council of Jamnia c90AD which he felt corrupted the Hebrew texts by glossing the Messianic texts as well as excluding the “apocryphal books” found in the LXX, Jerome could not possibly have used the MT because they did not come into being until some 200+ yrs later.

Incidentally; even though I am protestant I disagree with the protestant exclusion of the so-called deuteros because at the time Luther and Tyndale were translating the LV into common language, they specifically excluded (well placed at the back of their translations calling them apocryphal) these books because they were not included in the oldest Hebrew translations. The problem is that these “oldest” translations were the MT. These texts, in Luther/Tyndale’s day had been translated around the beginning of the 11th Century AD meaning that they were some 400-500 yrs newer than the LV. Furthermore these MT’s contained the very glosses concerning Messiah of which Augustine had complained 500 yrs earlier. The MT were taken from the old Hebrew which had been modified by a Jewish council of Jamnia.

Tyndale I suppose could be excused for not knowing this even though he was a “scholar” but Luther was an Augustinian Monk who formed his doctrines on salvation from the writings of Augustine himself. So for him to have read Augustine extensively and then to ignore the Doctor’s list of the Canon as well as his specific objection to the Hebrew texts is strange.

So why did Luther do this?

I think because Augustine had specifically recommended the LXX as the preferable translation and guess what, the “apochrypha” is included in the LXX but not in the MT. I am not sure what Luther’s objection was to these books I have read them and I don’t find anything objectionable in them, but c’est la vie.

Furthermore if you read the ESV for example and compare OT quotes made in the NT to the verses themselves you will find differences in the texts; why? Because the OT is taken form the MT and the NT quotes are from the LXX.

The point.

I think the MT are corrupted, as did Augustine as do a lot of modern day scholars because of the glosses concerning the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. The LXX is far older (400-200BC) than the MT (600-1000 AD) and was obviously the preferred text of the Apostolic writers. If they, by the Holy Spirit, quoted from this version of the OT, including the Apocrypha (Hebrews, Jude, Jesus himself ie the Golden Rule) then it seems odd that we would set aside this version in the name of being Hebrew scholars which I think smacks more intellectual snobbery than of honest Biblical scholarship.

So in answer to the first question, yes we can trust the NT because we have many old copies of it which prove it was extant and two, thanks in no small part to the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have proof positive that the LXX predated Christ and as such the Messianic texts within are not glosses but rather the removal of them are the glosses. So yes you can trust you Bible.

Beside it is not a copy of a copy of a copy, it is rather many copies made from the oldest extant copy scrupulously examined by fellow scholars to ensure authenticity to assure the lack of corruption which so many nonbelievers protest the text has. The objection, if you know your history, is silly, easily refuted, and readily available to be studied by anyone who cares to do so.

God Bless

The Dead Sea Scrolls prove the accuracy of the Bible.

There are some six or seven versions recognized within Judaism and the modern commentaries I have read have compared the versions, especially on difficult passages.

The translation into Greek is also useful to the Jewish scholars since it strongly suggests an old understanding of various of the difficult passages.

There was a sermon on this subject broadcast on Family Radio, a Protestant oriented, fundamentalist oriented radio network based in Oakland CA.

The speaker gave some figures on the number of errors that have been found, and it is a startling 250,000. But, it turns out most of those are spelling errors. There are other common types of errors that jump out, like words that are out of order, and such.

There are sometimes suggestions that a block of words has been left out. Suppose the scribe had stopped on the word ‘horse’ but then resumed copying on a later occurrence of the word ‘horse’, then the block of words between those two occurrences of ‘horse’ may have been left out.

Then, there is a problem of words that only occur once in the Bible, and there are many of those, more than you’d think.

And, then, you have to recall the problem of reading ancient Hebrew, whose subtlties were lost a long time ago. But, whatever was there in the ancient scrolls was dutifully copied as best and faithfully as possible.

Biblical Hebrew doesn’t use vowels, so the translation into English or another language depends on maybe a couple of choices for the words that the consonants may form. There is no ancient dictionary to resolve the problem, but such study is done internally in the Bible and then externally in related words in nearby Semitic languages in the Near East.

There are ancient literary forms, whose corruption can be discovered in the Bible text.

Some passages are written in the form of a chiasm. That is to say, the arrangement of phrases may follow the form EDCBA X A’B’C’D’E’ where each letter represents a phrase. The D’ may be similar but not identical to the original D. So, disruptions in a chiastic literary structure can be a tip off to a problem in the text. (The chiastic structure emphasizes the verse or phrase X. And example of a large chiastic structure is the account of the flood of Noah’s time. If you look this up, the X verse is something like this: And then God remembered Noah. And, there are 10 or 15 verses in this particular chiasm.

You’d miss this chiasm mostly likely in a rapid reading of the Bible. But, the scholars latched on to this and there are a lot of them in the Old Testament.

I can’t get into it here by way of proof, but the first five books of the bible form a giant chiasm structured around the Sinai event of God making the covenant with Israel. It’s very overwhelming how structured those books are. There’s no doubt or surprise that the covenant is emphasized.

I’m not a scholar, I just read some books. Hope this helps.

I apologize for my choice of wording.

When I mentioned that St. Jerome relied on the “Masoretic Text”, I did not mean that he relied on the text produced BY the Masoretes. I meant that Jerome relied on the ancient Hebrew text for his OT translation, that later came to form the basis of the Masoretic text produced by the Masoretes.

So, while Jerome’s translation did predate the Masoretes themselves, he nevertheless relied on the Hebrew text that the Masoretes themselves used to produce what we now refer to as the Masoretic Text.

Again - I apologize for any confusion.

Excellent points.

It must be remembered that not only the translations are at issue here but also of all the information that was not carried over into the Bible. For example, Tacitus wrote to confirm on the tyranny of Pontius Pilate against Christ but his work was not included. No doubt other works were excluded because they were probably deemed to be redundant.

We might have “ancient dictionaries” but they wouldn’t be in English so we have to take educated guesses as to the meaning of the words in applying them to the modern tongues. Very tricky indeed and that’s why there are so many versions of the Bible out there, each claiming to be better than the other.


I can tell you why Luther wanted Maccabees excluded: it specifically refers to prayers for the dead - which is biblical support for the Catholic dogma of Purgatory.

Luther’s head began to swell so much that he not only excluded the deuterocanonicals, he wanted to exclude several NT books as well because of his “sola fide” belief. One such book was James, which he called “an epistle of straw”.

Takes a brave man to refer to God’s word as “an epistle of straw”, especially when based on pride . . .

Ah yes of course Judas(?) prays to Jeremiah.

Luther did later recant the epistle of straw comment. And lets be fair he also wanted to exclude Romans 12 because of the grafting ungrafting comment.

I think Luther is interesting as far as he goes and find him compelling if he is read in the context of his time, but his objections to a post Trent Church, which put men like Tetzel out of business I think are a little hollow.

However I do think his focus on grace in salvation expressed in short hand by Sola Fide does hold merit even though I don’t hold this Doctrine in the fashion most American Protestants would but in more classically/ carefully defined way.

God Bless

While St. Jerome utilized the Hebrew texts, he didn’t “rely” upon them in the sense that he only used such texts. For instance, the Book of Daniel that Jerome included in his Vulgate is the larger version, which includes the accounts from the Greek translation by Theodotian (and in the LXX) which are NOT included in the Masoretic texts. Fragments of the larger Hebrew version of the Book of Daniel were discovered at Qumran, so it may also be possible St. Jerome had access to the larger Hebrew version of the book of Daniel in his day.

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