Original Bible Texts

Question from a Site Viewer
I know around 40 people wrote the Bible, but what was its first language? And was the Bible back then the same as today?  In other words, are the original Bible texts accurate?

Tim’s Answer
For a quick answer to your questions, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, at least most of it. There are sections of the later books (Daniel 2-7; parts of Ezra, and a few other places in the later books where the language was Aramaic, the language of Babylon that was closely related to the Hebrew language. Generally, however, Hebrew was the original language of what Christians term “the Old Testament.” The New Testament was originally written in Greek, except for Matthew. Many will argue that even Matthew was originally written in Greek. However, the early church writers tell us that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and translated into Greek.

You ask whether the Bible back then was the same as today. The answer is yes. There has been a great deal of misinformation about whether our texts today accurately represent what was originally written. But, with regard to the Old Testament, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940s gave us access to Scripture texts that predate the time of Jesus. What we found was that our present Old Testament Scriptures are unchanged from what existed before the time of Christ. And archaeologists have uncovered a quotation of Scripture dating back to the days of Jeremiah the prophet, which reads identical to our text today. While there are a few translation errors, none of them affect any biblical story or biblical doctrine. They are very minor. Scholars have great confidence that the text we have today represents the text before the time of Christ. Stated another way, the text that Jesus and his disciples used is what we have today.

With respect to the New Testament, we have great confidence that the Greek text we have today is substantially identical to what was originally written, and our English translations are accurate translations of the Greek text. First, we have quotations from the Apostolic and later church fathers that cite the New Testament texts word for word. In fact, we have a quotation in 1 Timothy 5:18 of Luke 10:7 which shows that the text of Luke 10:7 we have today is the same as that which Paul used. From the first to the third centuries, the early church fathers cited verses in the New Testament over 36,000 times. (There are only 7,957 or 7,956 verses, depending on your version, in the New Testament. The early use of Scriptures by those who personally knew the apostles and lived during their time and the following generations of Christians gives us great confidence that our Scriptures are unchanged.) Second, the New Testament books were widely circulated outside of Jerusalem and Israel. We have copies of Greek texts and translations into other languages radiating early in every direction from Jerusalem and dating back to the 2nd to 4th centuries. And, by comparing these texts with one another, we find that there are few variations. In fact, in comparing the texts with one another, the places in the Greek text where there are variants (where the reading is different between different texts or quotations) amounts to around 10,000 words in the New Testament. This is about 7% of the 138,000 words in the New Testament. Most of these variants can be easily resolved as being copying errors. The number of variants that actually create some question among scholars as to what was originally written involves around 400 words. None of these variants affect any significant teaching of the Scriptures.

Accordingly, we can say with a high degree of accuracy that what was originally written is what we have today.

I hope this helps.

a servant


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