Is the Old Testament Reliable? – I Peter 1:25

What is the Biblical doctrine of the inspiration of the scriptures? How important is the doctrine of Biblical inspiration? What is the difference between inspiration and historical reliability? Are the statements of the Old Testament as reliable as those of the New Testament?

The Old Testament can be proven reliable in at least a couple of ways: Textual transmission is one. What do I mean by that? Other ways involve hard scientific evidence such as archeology, geography and geology.

Let’s start with Textual transmission.
Do we have the original writings of Moses, David or Isaiah? Do we have accurate copies of the original documents of the Old Testament?

Gleason Archer says that the Old Testament differs in consistency from all other pre-Christian documents. For example there exist copies of the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.” When those copies are compared it is found that words, clauses and sentences are inserted, omitted and inverted. But in the two copies of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls they not only agree with themselves, but they are in 95% agreement with the Book of Isaiah in our Bibles. And the differences are only in obvious slips of the pen and variations in spellings. They do not change the message of God’s revelation in the slightest.

Robert Dick Wilson has studied the many kings described in the Bible, Israelite and foreign, and concluded: There were about 40 living from 2000 to 400 BC. Each one of them are confirmed by outside historical evidence, although the spellings of their names are often slightly different. He said, “No stronger evidence for the substantial accuracy of the Old Testament records could possibly be imagine, than this collection of kings. Mathematically, it is one chance in 750 sextillion (21 zeros) that this accuracy is mere circumstance.” Despite whatever disparaging things might be said about the Jewish scribes, their attention to the precise copying of their scriptures cannot be questioned. In fact some have gone on to say that their work was just short of miraculous.

How many copies, older than 600 years, are there of the New Testament? (About 25,000) Even though the quantity of ancient Old Testament manuscripts does not equal that number, their numbers are quite astounding. Two to three thousand years is a long time to expect ancient documents to last. Since we don’t have much of that kind of ancient evidence does that destroy our trust in the accuracy of the Old Testament? There is quite a history involved in those Levites whose job it was to preserve the Word of God. Between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC there were the “scribes.” Up to the time of Christ these scribes worked in pairs called “Zugoth.” From the time of Christ to about 500AD there were the “Talmudists.” After 500 AD those copyists were called “Masoretes” which comes from “masora” – “tradition.”

The Talmudists had seventeen precise rules which had to be followed in copying the scriptures; some of which were: A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, cut to a specific length and tied together with string taken from clean animals. The length of each column could not be over 60 lines and the breadth had to be 30 letters. There were precise rules about the ink. Not one word or even accent could be written from memory. Between every consonant there had to be a space the width of a thread. Between each parashah (paragraph?) there had to be the space of 9 consonants. The 5th book of Moses had to terminate precisely at the end of the line. The copyist had to have bathed that day and be wearing his full Jewish attire. If while writing the tetragramaton a king should speak to him, he must not take notice of him.

People today might snicker at such rules as these, but when all added together they helped to guarantee the accuracy of the copies. And the Talmudists were so convinced that when they finished their transcription that they had an exact duplicate, they would give their new copy equal authority as the original. You might say that they were the first Ruckmanites.

The later Masoretes treated the scriptures with the greatest imaginable reverence and had an even more complicated system of safeguards than the Talmudists. They counted the number of times each letter occurs in each book. They knew and checked the middle letter of both the Pentateuch and of the complete Hebrew Bible. They counted everything that could be counted. When a copy failed in any one of a hundred different tests, it was discarded.

Despite all the care that the Jews exerted to preserve their scriptures, before 1947 the oldest known copy of the Old Testament had been penned in 10th century AD. What happened in 1947? (The Dead Sea Scrolls.) How were the Dead Sea Scrolls found? How were the Dead Sea Scrolls made? Do the Dead Sea scrolls contain the entire Old Testament? But what they do contain prove that we possess accurate copies of the Old Testament.

In addition to the Hebrew copies of the Old Testament, there are translations which help to prove the reliability of our Bibles. For example there is the Septuagint. What is the Septuagint? (Greek copy of the Old Testament.) What is the symbol used for the Septuagint? (LXX) Another important version of the Pentateuch is that of the Samaritans who lived in a segregated society from the Jews from about the 5th century BC. Their scriptures consistently agree with the Jew’s. Origen in the 2nd century produced his “Hexapla” of the Old Testament with six different translations laid out in columns side by side. In addition to these there are ancient copies of the Mishna (teachings), Gemara, Midrash and various other papyri.

And then there is the corroboration of science.
What do the root words making up “archeology” mean? (“Old word” or the study of old things.) Archeology is considered a science, but it is different from most other sciences. How much of archeology can be duplicated in a laboratory? How much of archeology attempts to prove prior theories?

In the 19th and 20th centuries the Bible took a beating at the hands of the higher critics. When some of those critics began searching for proof of their theories, like William Ramsay, they began to discover just the opposite. From the initiative of the apostates came the work of Biblical archeologists. And as we might expect, not one discovery of archeology contradicts any statement of the word of God. But: does archeology prove the inspiration of the Bible? (No, not its Author, only its veracity.) Has archeology authenticated and proven everything that the Old Testament says? (It can’t.)

Some of the great victories won through archeology. Sodom and Gomorrah. Jericho. Saul’s capital at Gibeah. David’s capture of the city of Jebus. The relationship between Joseph, the son of Jacob, the nation of Israel and Egypt. The nature of the Babylonian captivity.

What do critics tell us about Genesis 1? (Mythology.) Why do thousands of geologists believe that the Biblical accounts of creation are true? Why do thousands of geologists believe that the Biblical accounts of Noah’s flood are true?

In 1974 a great royal palace was unearthed at Ebla in Northern Syria. Within the walls of Ebla were found over 15,000 tablets and fragments of tablets. One of the great things about the Ebla tablets is the establishing of hundreds of cities and towns named in the Old Testament. Another blessing has been the corroboration of the extravagant tribute received by Solomon. There have been many critics who said that the quantities of gold and silver which were given to Solomon were impossible. Ebla documents proves that the statements were true. And a third thing that Ebla has done is to authenticate some of the pagan religious practices which had been denied by earlier critics.

We could go on, but one very important thing about the Old Testament is the New Testament. If one is considered true, then it logically follows that the other is true as well, because they are so intertwined. If the Old Testament is fiction then its attestations in the New Testament were not inspired. Over and over again, the New Testament says that the Old Testament is true.