Accuracy of the Bible is unrivaled as a text
The recent controversy surrounding CBS News documents related to President Bush's National Guard service demonstrated how the reliability and validity of documents must be examined before they are accepted as truth. In the same way, when considering Christianity, one must examine the reliability of the Bible, the foundation of the Christian faith. Upon careful review, one will find that the Bible is not only the most distributed, most translated and most unique religious text in the world, but it is one of the most verifiable and reliable documents in history, religious or otherwise.
C. Sanders, in the Introduction to Research in English Literary History, explains tests that determine a book's historical reliability. The three tests are the bibliographical test (examining the manuscripts that exist), the internal evidence test (is the whole book consistent with itself?), and the external evidence test (can outside sources verify the contents of the book?). In using these academic tests, one will find that, indeed, the Bible is unrivaled in its historical accuracy.
The Bible passes the bibliographical test with the support of unparalleled archeological evidence. There are over 24,000 manuscripts, either in part or whole, of the Bible; by comparison, the book with the next most number of manuscripts is Homer's Iliad, at a distant second of approximately 640 manuscripts. Moreover, while the oldest known manuscript of Greek classics are dated a thousand years or more after the author's death, and for Latin authors, about three hundred years, the oldest manuscript of the Bible dates to a mere hundred years after it was written. This means that it could not have been myth (as there is not enough time for legend to develop) and the accounts are true (or else it would have been easy to refute by contemporary critics). Therefore, if the Bible is to be rejected based on the bibliographical test, than one must also discard every book of antiquity as well.
The second test of historiography, the internal evidence test, deals with contradictions within the text that may compromise the integrity of the work. According to John W. Montgomery, a leading Bible scholar, literary critics must follow Aristotle's dictum that "the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself...[therefore], one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies."
It is in this test that many scholars find contradictions, and it would be impossible to go into detail the rebuttal of these criticisms. But broadly, almost every single contradiction that is mentioned cannot stand up to in-depth analysis. Archeological finds have proven that many such contradictions are actually typological errors due to human error as manuscripts were written by hand, while other contradictions are due to erroneous applications of Biblical interpretation, the use of anachronistic assumptions and genuine lack of in-depth research into the Bible's context.
The Bible thirdly passes the external evidence test because there are extensive references to Biblical events by non-Christian writers. Examples of cross-references can be found in the works of Tacitus, the first-century Roman historian who was one of the most accurate and trusted historians of ancient times; Suetonius, the chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian; Josephus, the noted Jewish Pharisee and historian; Thallus, another Roman historian whose works have not survived but whose accounts related to Christ have been quoted by later authors like Julius Africanus; Pliny the Younger, the Roman administrator; the Roman Emperor Trajan; Lucia, a Greek critic of Christianity in the second century; Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian - the list goes on.
What is important to note is that these authors were by no means sympathetic to Christianity. If the Bible was false, they could have easily shown how it was false. But instead, they mention Biblical events as undisputed common knowledge. Such unfriendly affirmations and verifications of the Bible can but lend significant weight to the integrity of the Bible.
In passing these three tests of historiography with flying colors, Biblical accounts must be considered historically reliable. Confirmed in its authenticity, the Bible should thus be considered as a historically relevant document and its arguments examined in one's pursuit of faith.
Joshua Wu is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.