Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

New Testament

     When we say that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, we are always referring to the original autographs. No biblical scholar or theologian that I know of has ever made the assertion that the translations we hold in our hands today are inspired and inerrant. This then raises the question of how accurate and faithful are our current translations to the original autographs. How reliable are the copies we have today? Well, let’s consider the evidence.

Manuscript Evidence

Quantity of Manuscript (MSS) Evidence1

1. Greek MSS

Uncial                                        307

Minuscules                              2860

Lectionaries                             2410

Papyri                                        109

Subtotal                                  5686

2. MSS in Other Languages

Latin Vulgate                      10,000+

Ethiopic                                 2,000+

Slavic                                      4,101

Armenian                                2587

Syriac Pashetta                       350+

Bohairic                                   100

Arabic                                        75

Old Latin                                    50

Anglo Saxon                                7

Gothic                                          6

Sogdian                                        3

Old Syriac                                    2

Persian                                         2

Frankish                                       1

Subtotal                            19,284+

Total All MSS                  24,970+

     Why is it so critical to be informed as to the quantity of manuscript evidence that we have? Because, the more extant manuscript evidence we have, the more we can reconstruct the original manuscripts and determine the accuracy of the copies we have today. As noted above, the New Testament has about 25,000+ existing manuscripts; by comparison, no other writings of antiquity come even remotely close to this kind of evidence, as I will note next.

Manuscript Evidence: The New Testament vs. Other Ancient Writings2

AuthorBookDate WrittenEarliest CopiesTime GapNo. of Copies
HomerIliad800 B.C.c. 400 B.C.c. 400 yrs.643
HerodotusHistory480-425 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,350 yrs.8
ThucyditesHistory460-400 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,300 yrs.8
Plato 400 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,300 yrs.7
Demosthenes 300 B.C.c. A.D. 1100c. 1,400 yrs.200
CaesarGallic Wars100-44 B.C.c. A.D. 900c. 1,000 yrs.10
LivyHistory of Rome59 B.C.- A.D. 174th cent. (partial) mostly 10th cent.c. 400 yrs.   c. 1,000 yrs.1 partial   19
TacitusAnnalsA.D. 100c. A.D. 1100c. 1,000 yrs.20
Pliny SecundusNatural HistoryA.D. 61-113c. A.D. 850c. 750 yrs.7
New Testament A.D. 50-100c. 114 (frag) c. 200 (bks) c. 250 mNT c. 325 cNT+ 50 yrs. 100 yrs. 150 yrs. 225 yrs.5366

Ravi Zacharias states, “In real terms, the New Testament is easily the best attested ancient writings in terms of sheer number of documents, the time span between the events and the document, and the variety of documents available to sustain or contradict it. There is nothing in ancient manuscript evidence to match such textual availability and integrity.”3

In explaining why this information is so significant, Story states, “…not enough time elapsed between when Jesus spoke and when His words were recorded to allow for misinterpretation or the development of legendary material about Him. Nor has enough time elapsed between the autographs and existing translations to allow significant transmission errors or tampering.”4

Support from the Early Church Fathers

Early Patristic Quotations of the New Testament5

WriterGospelsActsPauline EpistlesGeneral EpistlesRevelationTotals
Justin Martyr268104363 (266 allus.)330
Clement (Alex.)1,107441,127207112,406
Grand Totals19,3681,35214,03587066436,289

     What all this manuscript evidence has done for Christianity and its critics is prove that textual corruption of the New Testament is practically non-existent. It is estimated that only half of one percent of the entire New Testament is in doubt, far less than the corruption that has taken place among other writings of antiquity. And that half of one percent doesn’t affect in any way the accuracy of any doctrinal or historical truth. In essence, what textual critics have been able to conclude, is that the New Testament we hold in our hands today is virtually accurate and faithful to the original manuscripts.  Kenyon, who is recognized as then greatest textual critic of the twentieth century, stated, “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.6

External Evidence

     External evidence has to do with evidence provided from areas other than the manuscript evidence or the New Testament authors themselves. Four external sources will be considered here.

Christian Writers

     Here we are referring to early writers, early church fathers who lived close to the time the New Testament was written, some of which knew New Testament writers personally. Their writings go a long way in providing additional corroborating evidence for the reliability of the New Testament. Some of those writers include Papias, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Irenaeus.

Non-Christian Writers

     These writers were also individuals who lived very close to the time of Christ. Even though they are not writing from a Christian point of view and therefore are not as explicit as Christian writers were, their writings help establish the reliability of the New Testament because they help validate the historicity of the New Testament. Some of these writers include Josephus (a Jewish historian), Tacitus (a first-century Roman historian), and Pliny the Younger (Roman author and administrator).


     Archaeological discoveries have been a death blow to all those Bible critics who for years argued that the many of the biblical narratives were nothing more than fiction rather than historical facts and events. Archaeology has taught us all this, just because something hasn’t been discovered yet doesn’t mean that the biblical narratives are not true. In fact, we can now safely assume that all other biblical narratives that have not yet been validated by archaeology are true, since many of those that had been dismissed as fiction have now been validated.

Burrows states, “On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has shown, in a number of instances, that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development. This is a real contribution and not to be minimized.”7


     “Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the (Hindu) Veda. But none of those books contains predictive prophecy.”8 The question is why? Because predictive prophecy that fails to come true in all its details will expose those writings as false and non-inspired. The Bible on the other hand, is loaded with predictive prophecy, much of which (the exception being that which is yet to be fulfilled) has been fulfilled literally down to the minutest details, showing once again that the Bible is inspired and that everything it says is true and accurate.

Old Testament

     Four lines of evidence will be considered here. These four lines of evidence will demonstrate that the Old Testament is historically reliable as the New Testament evidence has demonstrated it to be historically reliable.

How We Got It

     Back in the day, before the printing press was invented, Jewish scribes were responsible for copying the Old Testament manuscripts. The autographs were written on materials such as papyrus, materials that deteriorated fairly quickly. Because of this, Jewish scribes would have to copy and recopy those manuscripts often. In order to ensure that the new copies were not corrupted (they knew that they were duplicating God’s Word), extreme measures were adopted to ensure integrity in the transmission process. For example, after the copying of a text was complete, they would count every single line, word, syllable, and letter to ensure accuracy. Story states, “As a result of their diligence, the Old Testament in our Bible today is virtually identical to the autographs. Bible scholars have demonstrated this by comparing ancient copies of the Bible with more recent copies.”9

The Dead Sea Scrolls

     The Dead Sea Scrolls are copies of the Old Testament text that date back to more than a century before the birth of Jesus. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest complete Hebrew manuscripts we had dated from 900A.D. or later. Paleographers, after careful study of these newly discovered texts, have dated some of those manuscripts to around 125B.C., making them about 1000 years older than the oldest manuscripts we had up to that time.  What did textual critics discover after carefully comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls to our standard Hebrew Bible? Archer states that these texts “prove to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations of spelling.”10

Qumran Manuscripts of Books of the Old Testament11

Canonical Division (According to the Hebrew Bible)Old Testament Book (According to Order in Hebrew Bible)Number of Qumran Manuscripts (?=possible fragment)
Prophets (Nevi’im)Joshua2
Former Prophets1-2 Samuel4
 1-2 Kings3
Latter ProphetsIsaiah22
 Twelve (Minor Prophets)10+1?
The Five ScrollsSong of Songs4
 1-2 Chronicles1
Total 223 (233)


     As in the case of the New Testament, archaeological discoveries have gone a long way in validating the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. Events, people, nations, etc. that had been dismissed for years by the critics of the Bible as mythical have been proven to be accurate by these discoveries, just as the Old Testament had stated.

     Story writes of some of those archaeological discoveries:12

  • “Jericho, and several other cities mentioned in the Old Testament, previously thought to be legendary by skeptics, have now been discovered by archaeologist.”
  • “Bible critics use to claim that the Hittite civilization mentioned in Genesis did not exist at the time of Abraham because there was no record of it apart from the Old Testament. However, archaeology has discovered that it not only existed but it lasted more than 1200 years. Now you can even get a doctorate in Hittite studies from the University of Chicago.”

Predictive Prophecy

     It is absolutely astonishing to see how many fulfilled prophecies the Old Testament contains. These prophecies provided details not just generalities, and when they were fulfilled, they were fulfilled down to the minutest detail. We find three kinds of prophecies in the Old Testament:13 (1) About Jesus the coming Messiah, (2) about people, cities, and countries, and (3) about the Jews.

Some examples of detailed prophecy fulfilled in Christ:

Micah 5:2Luke 2:4-7
Isaiah 53:12Luke 23:32-33
Psalm 22:16John 19:18
Isaiah 53:9Matthew 27:57-60

Little states, “One cannot deny the force of fulfilled prophecy as evidence of divine guidance. Furthermore, these are prophecies that which could not possibly have been schemed and written after the events predicted.”14

     Without question, the Bible, unlike any other literary work of antiquity, enjoys an unparalleled amount of evidence that clearly demonstrates beyond any doubt, that the Bible we hold in our hands today is as accurate and faithful to the original autographs as we could possibly have. Any discrepancies are minimal and negligible which in no way undermine its historic reliability. How did this happen? Well, God not only authored the Bible, He preserves it as well.

1 Adapted from Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1999), 34.

2 Ibid., 38.

3 Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas, TX: Word, 1994), 162.

4 Dan Story, Defending Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1997), 40-41.

5 McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 43.

6 Frederick G. Kenyon, The Bible and Archeology (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1940), 288.

7 Millar Burrows, “What Mean These Stones?” in An Introduction to Bible Archeology, ed. Howard F. Vos (Chicago, IL: Moody, n.d.), 91-92.

8  Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1986), 28.

9 Story, 35.

10 Gleason L. Archer Jr., Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1964), 19.

11 McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 80.

12 Story, Defending Your Faith, 36.

13 Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe, rev, ed., (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 68-69.

14 Ibid., 70.

Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at

Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D. and published by Reasons for Faith International Ministries, Inc. by permission. No part may be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright © 2006-2021 Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.

© 2020 Reasons for Faith International Ministries. All Rights Reserved. Website Developed by Louise Street Marketing Inc.

Follow us: