Is the Bible reliable?
Often times when I engage in a conversation with an atheist or a non-Christian, one of the questions I am frequently challenged with has to do with the validity or reliability of the Bible; “How can you trust a 2,000+ year old book written by people that didn’t know where the sun went at night?” is one of my personal favorites. Joking aside, questions concerning the validity of the Bible are legitimate in their own right if it’s coming from a position of open-mindedness and the individual will humble themselves to listen to what is presented to them. As Christians we are told to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), however, this doesn’t mean we can’t find scientific, historical, or archaeological evidence in support of what’s written in the Bible. We just need to know where to look but sadly not a lot of people are interested in putting in the time required to get those answers and would rather take what is given to them. I plan to look into some “tangible” evidence that supports the biblical narrative starting with the dead sea scrolls. If you’re already a believer in Christ, then all this will do is strengthen your faith. If you’re a non-believer, I encourage you to read on with an open mind and humble attitude. What I will be sharing can’t “directly” be used to say “See! This proves God is real!” but as the title of this section suggests it will give you a different idea of what you may have previously believed when it comes to the authenticity of the Bible.
What are the dead sea scrolls?
I’ll first start by giving a background as to what the dead sea scrolls are. Although they are hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, most people I’ve talked to aren’t very familiar with them.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts that were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. They are around 2,000 years old dating from the 3rd century BC (mid-2nd temple period) to 1st century AD, most of them being written in Hebrew and a small number of them are written in Greek and Aramaic. Around the time of the 2nd temple period they were regarded highly because they were believed to be of divine origin or divinely inspired by God.
Most of the scrolls unfortunately, were discovered as fragments while some were found fully intact. Despite this challenge, researchers were still able to reconstruct them into 950 different manuscripts. Around 230 of these manuscripts are now referred to as “Biblical scrolls” as they make up the books within the Hebrew Bible representing the earliest of the Biblical text in the world. Out of all the books, the manuscripts for the book of Isaiah were of most importance as they were found entirely preserved and dated to be the oldest out of the other books. Not only was the scroll preserved but it had 20 copies and was frequently quoted in the other scrolls as well. The only books not found among the dead sea scrolls were Esther. (Some sources report that only the book of Esther was missing while others state it was both Esther and Nehemiah).
Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Jewish Historian described as an “invaluable” historical source, writes in his book Against Apion –written as a defense for Judaism- that the books in the Torah are believed to be divinely inspired and that because of this belief, Jews wouldn’t dare to alter the texts and would die for them,
- “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from, and contradicting one another: [as the Greeks have:] but only twenty two books: which contain the records of all the past times: which are justly believed to be divine.” (Against Apion, book I, chapter 8)
- “And how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation, is evident by what we do. For during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold, as either to add any thing to them; to take any thing from them; or to make any change in them. But it is become natural to all Jews, immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines; and to persist in them: and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.” (Against Apion, book I, section 8)
This adds an additional layer of historical context as to how the Torah (as well as early Christian Bible) were treated and protected. Against Apion was believed to be written in the early 2nd century AD and as part of his quote he says that this serious attitude towards the Torah has been going on for “ages”, a time period that at least predates the 2nd century AD and would align with what historians believe the age of the scrolls to be. Josephus’ statement on the validity of the Jewish texts also validates the importance placed on the scrolls around the 2nd temple period as stated earlier in the article. I provided the link to his book as well if you are interested in seeing his full statement in section 8 as it’s too lengthy to fit into this post.
Most of what I’ve mentioned previously has been historical and archaeological findings. However, science also validates the significance of the scrolls. In a 9 page article titled Radiocarbon Dating of Scrolls and Linen Fragments From the Judean Desert, several scrolls were tested to ensure their estimated age was indeed accurate based on the tests and findings. Here’s an abstract from the article, “We report on new 14C measurements of samples of 18 texts (scrolls) and 2 linen fragments from Qumran Caves 1, 2, and 4 and from Nahal Hever, both in the Dead Sea region. The radiocarbon results are in good agreement with estimates of age based on paleography”, paleography being the study of ancient writing systems and the dating of manuscripts. At the bottom of the article, I included a link to the 9 page pdf (provided by Cambridge University Press) for those interested to see how the testing was carried out.
Why are they significant?
As I stated earlier in the introduction, the scrolls are regarded as a highly significant discovery, both in the “religious” and non-religious community. Even wikipedia comments on the scrolls’ significance and historical value showing that this claim isn’t a religiously biased one. In the article The Dead Sea Scrolls by Dr. Adolfo Roitman, Lizbeth and George Krupp, they state that it “represents a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times, for never before has a literary treasure of such magnitude come to light”. Not only is this an important Biblical discovery, it also sheds light into Jewish history as well as early Christianity. Below are several quotes further the significance of the scrolls:
- “The Qumran Caves Scrolls contain significant religious literature” (Dead Sea Scrolls – Digital Library).
- “The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century” (6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls).
- “Since their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls have amazed scholars by their priceless insights into the preservation and proper understanding of God’s infallible Word” (Dead Sea Scrolls—Timeless Treasures from Qumran)
- “The texts have great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with deuterocanonical and extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism” (Dead Sea Scrolls – Wikipedia)
The main reason these scrolls are important biblically speaking is due to the fact that before the discovery of the scrolls, the earliest surviving Old Testament manuscripts dated back to around 900 AD, well into the 8th century! However the dead sea scrolls introduced manuscripts that are 1,000 years older than these!
- “Remarkably, many of these ancient scrolls closely match the Masoretic Text tradition, which modern Hebrew and English Bibles are based upon, confirming the Old Testament text has been faithfully preserved for all these centuries. Further, the scrolls give us a window into the practices of scribes during the Second Temple Period, showing how they prepared, wrote, copied, and made corrections in preserving texts. Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls fill a major gap in the history of the biblical text and help us see God’s overarching care in preserving the Old Testament” (Dead Sea Scrolls—Timeless Treasures from Qumran).
Another piece of the discovery of the dead sea scrolls is that it sheds light into the trustworthiness of the translations of referenced Hebrew passages in the New Testament. Currently, these passages are quoted in Greek, known as the Septuagint instead of directly quoting from the Hebrew text itself. “Some biblical manuscripts found at Qumran give witness to another Hebrew text tradition underlying this Greek translation, which validates the Septuagint as a faithful translation of a Hebrew text existing during that time” (Dead Sea Scrolls—Timeless Treasures from Qumran).
Some of the scrolls found were commentaries of many of the old testament books, a finding which helps us better understand how the ancient world interpreted these Biblical texts. The manuscripts show the diversity Jewish groups had at the time relating to their beliefs, practices, and politics which give a deeper context to the New Testament, “Thus, the scrolls provide valuable background information, opening up for modern readers the ancient world in which the New Testament was written. Further, comparison of Qumran teachings with New Testament beliefs can deepen our understanding of New Testament passages in their first-century context”. Parallels between what was taught in the New Testament and Qumran manuscripts confirm the Jewish roots of Christianity illustrated by the image below:
I believe the facts laid out through the discovery of the dead sea scrolls, historical accounts on the preservation of the texts, as well as scientific analysis done to validate the age of the scrolls proves that the Bible has been very well preserved contrary to what the general population have been told or believe. Whether you take this new information and open your mind to the possibility that the Bible may have more to offer than what the world says is entirely up to you. I’m just here to present the facts that I believe lays out a solid case.
- Dead Sea Scrolls
- Dead Sea Scrolls—Timeless Treasures from Qumran
- Radiocarbon Dating of Scrolls and Linen Fragments From the Judean Desert
- 6 Things You May Not Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls
- Dead Sea Scrolls – Digital Library
- Flavius Josephus
- Against Apion
- Harvard University Press
- Dead Sea Scrolls – Wikipedia