ACCORDING TO the Guinness World Records, the Bible is the best selling book of all time with calculations of between 5 and 7 billion copies printed, and about 80 million copies continuing to be printed each year. It has obviously withstood the test of time, but let’s look at what it is and why it is held in such high regard.
What Is The Bible?
The Bible we read today consists of the Old Testament (containing books written before Jesus was born) and the New Testament (books and letters from Christ’s birth onwards). It was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years by many different writers from various backgrounds, all of them inspired by God.
What does it mean to be “inspired”?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
The words and message of the Bible have been ‘breathed out’ by God, received by faithful scribes and written for our learning.
How do we know that we can trust the Bible?
There are a number of different lines of evidence, but we will consider just two. The first is the accuracy of the text which shows that the Bible we have today is basically the same as the original; and the second is the evidence of fulfilled prophecy which shows that it is the work of God.
1. Accuracy of the Text
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is believed by many to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th Century. In 1947, ancient manuscripts were found by a Bedouin shepherd boy in caves near Qumran on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. The boy was actually looking for his lost goat, and threw a stone into a cave expecting to hear the reaction of a startled animal, but he instead heard the sound of broken pottery.
On further investigation, the caves yielded earthenware pots containing parchments. They were hidden there 2,000 years previously, and were remarkably well preserved due to the dry conditions of the desert caves.
Many of the fragments have since been pieced together by teams of scholars, and they have been shown to be incredibly similar to the Hebrew manuscripts on which the Old Testament of the Bible is based, which date to 1,000 years later. This demonstrates that the meticulous copying of the manuscripts by Jewish scribes had faithfully preserved the original text.
Further discoveries in the area have led to a collection of approximately 1,000 manuscripts preserved in over 25,000 fragments, including every book of the Old Testament apart from the book of Esther.
The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, and is believed to be one of the oldest, as well as being one of the best preserved. It is also the largest, at 734 cm long. It contains 54 columns showing all 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is a prophetic book, foretelling the birth of Jesus:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
Much of the book of Isaiah speaks of Jesus, his suffering and also his death. However it also has much comfort for its readers: ‘Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live’ (Isaiah 55:3).
The Bible has much more manuscript evidence than other contemporary writings. For example, there are believed to be 5,600 copies of the New Testament writings, with less than 100 years between the original texts and the oldest existing copies. By comparison, there are just seven copies of the works of Plato, with over 1,200 years between the original text and the oldest existing copy. For scholars of ancient texts the Bible has a wealth of manuscript evidence to corroborate the original message.
2. Prophecy Fulfilled
Daniel was a Jew who was taken into captivity in Babylon in approximately 605 bc. He worked in the court of Nebuchadnezzar who was the King of Babylon, and his life is recorded in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. In the second chapter of this book we have the most remarkable example of fulfilled prophecy. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a mighty statue made up of different metals; for example, the head was made of gold and the arms were silver. In the dream, a stone hit the feet of the statue causing it to topple over, and it was ground into powder. A wind blew the powder away and the stone grew into a mountain that filled the whole earth. As strange as this dream may sound, Daniel gave to Nebuchadnezzar a detailed explanation of its meaning:
You, O king… you are the head of gold. Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these (Daniel 2:37–40).
Daniel explained that Babylon was the head of gold, and the other metals were a succession of kingdoms that would come afterwards: Persia, Greece and Rome. If we look in our history books, we can see that this prophecy accurately described the succession of world powers over the centuries. However the dream doesn’t stop there: its fulfilment extends to our own time and beyond, as the stone that demolished the image grew into a mountain. This is describing to us the hope of the Bible which is the establishment of the Kingdom of God:
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold (vs. 44–45).
Having looked at such a powerful prophecy and its fulfilment in world history, we can have confidence that the future part of the prophecy will happen, and we could be alive to witness it!
What does This Mean for Us?
We have shown that the Bible is very relevant to us today, and it is appropriate that it continues to be the best selling book of all time.
The Bible assures us that Jesus will return to the earth, as his disciples were told by the angels when he ascended to heaven:
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).
The Bible is God’s message to humankind. It tells us His purpose and gives us a sure hope for the future. So, be sure to get a copy of this remarkable book and start reading it for yourself!
Miriam & Laurence Davenport