One of the most common questions that people ask is “How do I know what Luke, or Paul, or John wrote in the 1st century is what I am reading now? How do I know the text has not been changed over time, either by scribes or various folks along the way?” That really is the fundamental question about the historical reliability of the Bible. Is what the Gospel writers wrote, the very thing we have before us now?
The way this is established for the New Testament is not that different from the way it is established for other writings of antiquity. When we want to know whether we can trust what we have before us, it all comes down to manuscripts. Do we have copies of these books that are not only near the time in which they were written, but also plentiful enough that we can compare them to one another and see if they have changed? The New Testament, thankfully, stands out as entirely unique in this regard. When we compare it to other documents of antiquity, the New Testament is miles above any other type of writing. Whereas most writings probably average around 10 to 20 exit manuscripts of it, the New Testament has over 5,700 right now. What does that mean? That means we can look at see how the text has developed over time; we can work our way back to the original text; and we can have great assurance that what we possess now is what was written. And if we can possess now what was written back then, then we can be assured that we have a historically reliable book.