Chapter 2: The Bible is Reliable
If you ask a Mormon if he believes the Bible, he will refer to a Mormon
document, The Articles of Faith, verse 8, which says, "We believe the
Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also
believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."
Mormons will tell you they believe the Bible "as far as it is translated
correctly." Most Christians will agree with that statement. What Mormons will
not tell you, unless you ask, is that they do not believe the Bible has been
translated correctly, but that it has been corrupted over the years.
Do you remember when your teacher played a game in class? She whispered
something in the ear of three students in the front row, who whispered the
message into the ear of the fellow student behind them, who in turn whispered
into the ear of the student behind them, until the final three students in the
back row received the message. Of course all three had something different to
repeat. Mormon thought is if a message can change to that extent in five
minutes, we cannot trust a message that has been passed around for 2,000 years!
Mormons also claim that the number of different translations on the market
evidences this corruption. If we know what the Bible originally said, why are
so many translations available?
While the arguments of Mormons to discredit the reliability of the Bible may
seem persuasive on the surface, they collapse when looked at carefully. In this
chapter we will see that the Bible is a reliable document that has been
accurately preserved over thousands of years. Next, we will explain why so many
translations exist. Finally, we will discuss how archaeology and secular
history have confirmed the historical accuracy of much of the Bible. This third
section will provide a ground for us to compare the accuracy of the Book of
Mormon, which we will examine in the next chapter.
1. The text of the Bible is pure.
A. The New Testament. Most, if not all, of the New
Testament was originally written in Greek. How do we know that the New
Testament which we have today is what was originally written? Let us take a
look at the evidence that consists of thousands of ancient manuscripts, ancient
versions, and quotations of the New Testament found in the writings of the
early Church Fathers.
1) Greek Manuscripts. Approximately 5,000 manuscripts of
the New Testament have survived in the original language.5
2) Ancient Versions. By the second century, the New
Testament was being translated into different languages. Syriac, Latin, Coptic
and other translations provide valuable sources from which to compare.
3) Early Church Fathers. Within 300 years of Christ, almost
36,000 quotations of the New Testament appear in the writings of the early
church fathers. In fact, every verse in the New Testament is quoted but
What does all of this mean? Let us go back to grade school. Remember our
game? The teacher notes that mistakes occurred while passing around her
message. Suppose another teacher goes around to several of those in the middle
of each of our three lines and asks them what message they received. Then
suppose he interviews others in the lines as well. After a while he will
probably be able to determine where the errors occurred and by comparing what
several of the students say, will be able to come back to a statement, which is
very close, if not exact, to what was originally said. Likewise, although there
are variations in the New Testament manuscripts, there are literally tens of
thousands of manuscripts from which to do a comparative study. And when
scholars in the field of textual criticism do comparisons, a text of the New
Testament can be produced which is better than 99.5 percent pure to what the
originals said.7 And none of the less than one-half of one
percent of what is in question affects, any doctrine.
B. The Old Testament. The Old Testament was written in
Hebrew before the New Testament (between 1,400 to 400 B.C.). One issue on which
Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christians agree is Jesus and His apostles
believed that the Old Testament was the inspired, uncorrupted Word of God.
Jesus' ministry was dedicated to teaching and fulfilling the Scriptures.
When tempted, Jesus appealed to the Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-11). When answering
questions concerning Himself, He appealed to the Scriptures, "It is written . .
." (Mark 9:12). At His arrest (Matthew 26:52-56), trial (Matthew 26:64),
execution (Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:26-31; 23:46), and resurrection (Luke 24:27,
44-46), Jesus appealed to the Scriptures. Jesus cites one of Moses' statements
found in Genesis as if God spoke it (Matthew 19:4-5). His apostles,
likewise, viewed the Old Testament Scriptures as the inspired Word of God (2
Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Mormons believe that although Jesus and His apostles had God's Word in their
hands (i.e., the Old Testament), much of it has since been corrupted;
therefore, is not trustworthy. Is this true? Let us look at the evidence which
consists of the Hebrew text which has been passed on for over one thousand
years known as the Masoretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient versions, and
Old Testament verses cited in the New Testament.
1) Masoretic Text. The text of the Old Testament used by
translators of the Bible is referred to as the Masoretic text, named after the
Masoretes who meticulously copied and edited the text between A.D.
2) Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1946, hundreds of scrolls and
fragments were found in eleven caves in northern Israel. Texts from every book
of the Old Testament were found, with the lone exception of Esther. Of most
importance are two Isaiah scrolls, which are dated between 200 to 50 B.C. One
of them has been wonderfully preserved and contains the book of Isaiah in its
entirety. When this text of Isaiah was compared to the book of Isaiah in the
Masoretic text, there was nearly a 100% correlation between the two, which
indicated that the Hebrew text has been marvelously preserved from a time
before Jesus until the present.
3) Ancient Versions. Two ancient versions are helpful when
comparing them to the Hebrew text: the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch.
The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in Jesus'
day and is quoted many times by the New Testament writers. If you were to
translate the Septuagint back into Hebrew, the similarity to the Masoretic Text
is striking. The Samaritan Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible
which were used by the Samaritans, a group of Jews which permanently separated
themselves from the general Jewish population around 500 B.C. Again the
similarities to the Masoretic Text are striking.
4) Old Testament verses in the New Testament. The writers
of the New Testament cite verses from the Old Testament a total of 330
times!8 Most of these citations are from the
Septuagint. Others are from the Hebrew texts. Once again there is an incredible
correlation to the Old Testament that we have today.
How close can we get to a pure text? Approximately 90 percent of the text of
the Old Testament is without any variation, regardless of the textual
tradition.9 Within the remaining 10 percent, the variances are
insignificant, none of which affect any biblical doctrine. Most can be
eliminated when certain errors are detected: obvious slips of the pen, an
inadequate knowledge of the Hebrew language on the part of the
translator,10partisan thinking,11 and different dialects.12 Therefore, when proper textual criticism is
conducted, a text with a purity exceeding 95 percent results. The remaining
uncertainties mostly amount to a simple discrepancy in word order.
When the evidence is considered, we can confidently assert that the Bible in
our possession today, both the Old and New Testaments, is a pure and
trustworthy text we can rely on. Even scholars who do not believe the Bible
refuse to levy the charge that the Bible has been corrupted over the years
resulting in a text which we cannot be certain of. The Bible is a text which
has been preserved with amazing accuracy, far better than any other work of
2. What about all the translations?
We have established that the Hebrew and Greek texts used today by
translators are essentially pure to what the originals said. So why are there
so many English translations of the Bible? Does this indicate that we cannot be
certain what those Hebrew and Greek texts said?
It has been nearly 400 years since the King James Version (KJV) of
the Bible was produced. The English language has changed considerably over that
period of time. The orthography (i.e., the way a word was written) of 1611 is
not readable to most of us today as anyone picking up a KJV from 1611 will
immediately find. Likewise some spellings and word meanings are different today
than four hundred years ago. For example, Psalm 5:6 in the King James Version
reads, "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing."
To "speak leasing" today might refer to a consumer going to a car dealership
and discussing the leasing of an automobile. However, in Elizabethan English,
the term "leasing" meant to lie. Modern translations "update" the
language. "You destroy those who speak falsehood" (Ps. 5:6,
NASB).13 "You destroy those who tell lies" (Ps.
Consider 1 Corinthians 15:9 (KJV) where Paul says, "For I am the least of
the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted
the church of God."
The word "meet" is no longer used in the sense of being worthy or deserving.
The original text and the meaning of the Greek word remains unchanged, but our
English translation of the word should be "updated" as our language changes.
Modern translations have responded.
"For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an
apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (NASB)
"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an
apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (NIV)
English translations were also created to serve different purposes. If you
have studied another language, for example French or Spanish, you know that the
grammar of one language is different from the grammar of another. Some
translations were made for the purpose of being a literal translation (almost a
word for word accuracy). The New American Standard Bible is a good
example of such a translation. Other translations were made for the purpose of
being accurate but easier to read. The New International Version
attempts to maintain accuracy while putting the message of the original Greek
and Hebrew in today's English vernacular. The Living Bible is not a translation
but a paraphrase. It attempts to restate the meaning of the verse solely for
ease of reading. The New Living Translation seeks to be an accurate
translation while promoting a simpler vocabulary. So translations are not
necessarily scholars disagreeing with one another, but language updates and
The Mormon scriptures affirm that Mormons believe the Bible is the Word of
God "as far as it is translated correctly" (Doctrine and
Covenants, Article of Faith 8). Since we can now know with a great deal of
certainty what the original text of the Bible says, the linguist can translate
the Hebrew and Greek into English. An understanding of the role of different
translations reveals that most of them faithfully and accurately render the
message of the original languages.
3. Archaeology and history have confirmed the
Is the Bible myth or are the places and events described in it a part of
human history? Many findings from archaeology have confirmed the historical
accuracy of the Bible. In their book, When Skeptics Ask, Geisler and
Brooks describe a fascinating archaeological find, "The excavation of Gezer in
1969 ran across a massive layer of ash that covered most of the mound. Sifting
through the ash yielded pieces of Hebrew, Egyptian, and Philistine artifacts.
Apparently all three cultures had been there at the same time. This puzzled
researchers greatly until they realized that the Bible told them exactly what
they had found."15
What does the Bible say regarding Gezer?
"For Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with
fire, and killed the Canaanites [Philistines] who lived in the city, and had
given it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife. So Solomon rebuilt Gezer"
(1 Kings 9:16-17, NASB).
The Egyptians killed the Canaanites (Philistines) who lived in Gezer, burned
the city, and gave it to Solomon's wife. Solomon rebuilt it and populated it
with Jews. The biblical account explains the ashes and the Hebrew, Egyptian,
and Philistine artifacts.
The Smithsonian Institution's Department of Anthropology has an official
statement on "The Bible as History." In it they say, "Much of the Bible in
particular the historical books of the Old Testament, are as accurate
historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more
accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These
biblical records can be, and are used, as are other ancient documents in
archeological work. For the most part, historical events described took place
and the peoples cited really existed."16
Outside sources have confirmed much of the New Testament as well. Suetonius
was an ancient Roman Historian who wrote in the very early part of the second
century. In The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius writes, "Because the Jews at
Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled
them from the city"17 (Claudius, Section 25).
"Chrestus" may refer to Christ; however, what is of real interest is that
the pagan historian says that the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.
Approximately sixty years earlier Luke wrote, "And he [Paul] found a certain
Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his
wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome"
(Acts 18:2, NASB).
The New Testament, especially the writings of Luke, is filled with accurate
historical data. So much that archaeologists and historians alike have been
impressed. The famous archaeologist and once skeptic Sir William Ramsey wrote,
"Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . this author should be placed along
with the very greatest of historians."18 The classical historian A. N.
Sherwin-White writes, "For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming
. . . any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail
must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for
The spade of the archaeologist, the pen of ancient non-Christian historians,
and tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts provide evidence that the Bible is
a volume which is historically reliable and that its text has been preserved in
a pure form. In other words, it is trustworthy. Unfortunately for the Mormon
Church, as we shall see, the same cannot be said for their scriptures.