Answering those questions is what this podcast is about.
Here is the chart I talk about in the podcast. Click on it to download a PDF of it.
As I was thinking about it, I realized history is like an anchor. Just as an anchor keeps a ship from floating off in any direction, so too, history can help tie what we believe to what happened in the real world, outside the pages of a sacred text.
To continue the analogy, history helps answer questions like:
**When were the scriptures written?
**Who wrote them?
**Where were they written?
These answers form historical links in the chain of the anchor that goes from the real world to the text we have today–and we’ll answer them in the podcast.
But how does history answer these questions?
Finding the links in the chain, the answers to our questions aren’t difficult or scholarly and hard to understand. History is concrete and straightforward at its core. By looking at what was found with ancient documents in elements as simple as the pottery that the scrolls were stored in and the coins left around them, plus looking at what the scribes used as writing materials and how they wrote, it’s easy to identify when they were written.
Following is the chart that is talked about in the podcast that shows the number of Bible manuscripts compared with other historical sources. Click on it to download the PDF.
Show notes, an outline of the script of the podcast, not a transcript
Truth & History
Lesson Two: How History Helps Us Determine the Truth of the Bible
Isn’t the Bible full of errors? Hasn’t it been copied so many times nobody has any idea what the original was? HOW can history help us decide?
All really good questions
• Hi I’m Yvon Prehn and this is Bible 805!
• Today we’re going to look at how history helps us answer the questions about how we can trust the Bible as a reliable historical document.
History as an anchor
• As I was thinking about it, I realized history is like an anchor. Just as an anchor keeps a ship from floating off in any direction, so too, history can help tie what we believe to what actually happened.
• Here is how it works.
History helps answer these questions:
• #1—WHEN did something happen?
• #2—WHO was involved?
• #3—WHEN did someone write about it?
• #4—WHO write about it?
• #5—How many copies do have of what was written?
• #6—How consistent are the documents with each other?
• #7—Did anybody else write about it?
• #8—WHERE did all these things happen?
Obviously, DATING is really important
• Especially with religious documents.
• If something was written shortly after a religious leader lived and by someone who knew him personally, it obviously can be trusted to tell a true story more than someone who wrote 200 or more years later and didn’t know the religious leader.
• And contrary to what you might think, Dating Documents isn’t that hard to do.
• You look at two areas:
• What was found around the document
• The document itself.
Around the document
• In many instances, archeology discovered collections of documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden in a cave.
• Pottery and Coins
• Pottery—many of the manuscripts stored in pottery or pottery surrounding them
• Easy to date pottery for those familiar with it, just like when you go to a second-hand store—easy to see 70’s dishes are often olive green, grandmothers’ dishes have flowers on them, more contemporary ones are pure white.
• Archeologists date ancient pottery in similar ways
• For example Pottery decorated with a style consistent with the early Philistines from 1200 to about 1000 was prominently featured Mycean art and images of a seafaring people.
• In the time of the divided kingdom in Israel and Judah, each kingdom had its own distinctive pottery.
• As we get closer to the time of Christ the black and red-glazed pottery we often see in pictures of Greek archeological times was popular for the more wealthy.
• Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in pottery that was found in only one other place in excavations of that time–at Qumran–which was one of the reasons why they tied the scrolls to that community.
Coins also important
• Coins are key because the various emperors and other rulers usually had their image stamped on their coins when they came into power.
• So if you found a cave with coins stamped with the image of Caesar Augustus and earlier emperors and none of the later ones, you could say that things were placed in the cave probably around the time he was emperor.
• And that’s consistent with what we find.
Geography—important, WHERE did the events written about take place?
• Are the places talked about REAL PLACES?
• Can we find them on a map? New or old?
• A story about something that took place in Atlantis lacks the credibility of something that happened in “Bethlehem, in Judea”
• Does the archeology of that place verify the account of it in the religious writings?
• You might think that is obvious, but not every faith system has either identifiable places or descriptions of what happened and when it happened in the way the Bible does—more about that in the next lesson.
Did anybody else write about it?
• This isn’t much different than how companies rank social media posts today.
• The more “likes” or interaction a post gets the more popular it is and the more it is passed on.
• The past is little different. If something was considered important (and probably true) many people outside the original author would comment on it.
• One or two accounts, even though they may claim to be from a divine source, if they have no verification outside the community that produced them aren’t as trustworthy.
• This is especially true if the people writing about a person or group were hostile to it. Some of the most interesting verification we have of the importance of the concerns for hurting people in the early church is that there are numerous writings by the enemies of Christianity lamenting how the Christians, “not only take care of their own poor, but ours as well” and how when a Roman would leave a newborn child to die on the trash heap outside town, which was perfectly legal and often happened to excess female children, the Christians would rescue the baby and raise the child
• We have all these ways of determining the date and truthfulness of documents by things that surround them, but what about the documents themselves?
• How can we tell if they are really old or more recent or when they are written?
Let’s look at the Manuscripts themselves for dating information
• Again, it’s really not hard to do this
• For a document to have historical truth, the historical anchors that tie it to the truth, to what really happened in the physical world, should have these characteristics:
• It should be about real people, real places
• It should have a verifiable author, at least approximate dates of when it was written.
• Next lesson we will look at this as we view various religions
• Wee are not trying to define the truth of any faith system at this time. You must draw your own conclusions—What we are looking at now (and more in the next lesson) is to look at the evidence to determine what documents are most historically valid.
Criteria to date manuscripts
• Media used, what it was written on:
Papyrus (200s & earlier)
Parchment, vellum (used 300 on)
• How the letters are constructed
Uncial is written entirely in capital letters commonly used from the 1st to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes.
8th century on
• HANDWRITING EXAMPLE HERE
• Word spacing, early MSS all words run together
• USE of Color
Illumination, not used until later, in monasteries
So what do we find?
Here are some of the manuscripts we have:
• John’s Gospel from about 200AD (you’ll see uniqueness of the short time in a little bit and next lesson)
• A New Testament fragment from 50-125AD
Not only do we have fragments, but we have 3 complete Bibles very early
• Codex (means a book as opposed to scrolls)
• Date: extensive manuscript evidence from very early (thousands of copies, fragments)
• Authorship—stated eyewitness accounts, early enough to be disputed by people who actually saw the events and that are verified extensively in non-biblical sources
• The credibility of the author—goes along with early dating. Something claiming to be written by the Apostle Thomas, but was dated written hundreds of years after he lived, obviously wasn’t written by him.
• Authenticity or corruption of the text—if we have more than one copy, how many copies, and how well do the copies agree, again thousands of copies are out there of the Biblical texts that can be dated very early.
One more question…..
• Did all these copies change over time? Are the copies different? Have they been copied so many times, original meaning lost?
• Again, an easy answer since……
• Dead Sea Scrolls
Why are they so significant? It’s because they date back to just after the time of Christ and when compared with medieval and modern manuscripts, NO SIGNIFICANT variation.
Nor is there variation from the earliest copies until now or differences between them other than very minor ones.
• What we have today in our Bible is what was recorded soon after the events and is essentially the same as when it was written!
Keep in mind as we go forward
• Historical, manuscript evidence is not…..
• Esoteric, hidden, or a field requires any advanced intelligence to understand—pretty simple actually.
• Wikipedia.com (and the web) has all the images, history, stories, more info on
• Historical evidence that confirms the usefulness of the true manuscript dating is still a long way from asserting God as the author of the Bible and believing everything in it, but it’s very hard to even begin that journey if you can’t trust the documents. . . . . and it’s a great start!
Where we will go from here
• Lesson 3: Why the Christian Bible is unique among all other scriptures
• Lesson 4: Old Testament: history and reliability
• Lesson 5: Apocrypha: history and reliability (or lack thereof in this case)
• Lesson 6: New Testament: history and reliability
• Lesson 7: Canonicity: how we got the books we have in the Christian Bible
• Lesson 8: How we got the English Bible
That’s all for now,
• Please check out the show notes and other materials at www.bible805.com
• Until next time, I’m Yvon Prehn, your fellow pilgrim, writer and teacher for Jesus.
• I’d like to close with this benediction:
• May you know the invitation of God, to move
-from confusion to clarity
-from wandering to rest
-from loneliness to knowing you are loved
-from turmoil to peace
From wherever you are on your spiritual journey to a growing knowledge of God’s Word and in your personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit . Amen
• What are some questions you’ve heard others ask about the Bible?
• How would you answer them?
• Why is the historical reliability of the Bible important to how you interact with people who don’t know Jesus?
• Why is the historical reliability of the Bible important to you personally?