MAPS to Guide You to Biblical Reliability
by Hank Hanegraff
|Here is how to use
M-A-P-S to guide you through Biblical reliability:
Have you tried to show someone the historical reliability of the
Scriptures, and not known where to start? A quick trip to your local
well-stocked Christian bookstore likely will overwhelm you. Where among
the dozens of impressive, comprehensive reference books should you
Fortunately, while there is a wealth of information available to
support the reliability of Scripture, you don't have to burn, the
midnight oil to give a reasonable answer to those who ask, "How can
we know the Bible is reliable?" Four basic principle chart your way
to understanding basic biblical reliability.
To help you remember, I've developed the simple acronym "MAPS."
Remember the word MAPS and you will be able to
chart Bible reliability.
Manuscripts relates to the tests used to
determine the reliability of the extant manuscript copies of the original
documents penned by the Scripture writers (we do not possess these
originals). In determining manuscript reliability, we deal with the
question: How can we test to see that the text we possess in the
manuscript copies is an accurate rendition of the original?
There are three main manuscript tests: the Bibliographic,
Eyewitness, and External
(a second acronym – BEE – will help you
The bibliographic test considers the
quantity of manuscripts and manuscript fragments, and also the time span
between the original documents and our earliest copies. The more copies,
the better able we are to work back to the original. The closer the time
span between the copies and the original, the less likely it is that
serious textual error would creep in. The Bible has stronger
bibliographic support than any classical literature – including Homer,
Tacitus, Pliny, and Aristotle.
We have more than 14,000 manuscripts and fragments of the Old
Testament of three main types:
- approximately 10,000 from the Cairo Geniza (storeroom) find of
1897, dating back as far as about AD. 800;
- about 190 from the Dead Sea Scrolls find of 1947-1955, the oldest
dating back to 250-200 B.C.; and
- at least 4,314 assorted other copies.
The short time between the original Old Testament manuscripts
(completed around 400 B.C.) and the first extensive copies (about 250
B.C.) – coupled with the more than 14,000 copies that have been
discovered – ensures the trustworthiness of the Old Testament text.
The earliest quoted verses (Numbers
6:24-26) date from 800-700 B.C.
The same is true of the New Testament text. The abundance of textual
witnesses is amazing. We possess over 5,300 manuscripts or portions of
the (Greek) New Testament – almost 800 copied before A.D. 1000. The
time between the original composition and our earliest copies is an
unbelievably short 60 years or so. The overwhelming bibliographic
reliability of the Bible is clearly evident.
The eyewitness document test ("E"),
sometimes referred to as the internal test,
focuses on the eyewitness credentials of the authors. The Old and New
Testament authors were eyewitnesses of – or interviewed
eyewitnesses of – the majority of the events they described. Moses
participated in and was an eyewitness of the remarkable events of the
Egyptian captivity, the Exodus, the forty years in the desert, and
Israel's final encampment before entering the Promised Land. These
events he chronicled in the first five books of the Old Testament.
The New Testament writers had the same eyewitness authenticity. Luke,
who wrote the Books of Luke and Acts, says that he gathered eyewitness
testimony and "carefully investigated everything" (Luke
1:1-3). Peter reminded his readers that the disciples "were
eyewitnesses of [Jesus'] majesty" and "did not follow cleverly
invented stories" (2
Peter 1:16). Truly, the Bible affirms the eyewitness
credibility of its writers.
The external evidence test looks outside
the texts themselves to ascertain the historical reliability of the
historical events, geographical locations, and cultural consistency of
the biblical texts. Unlike writings from other world religions which
make no historical references or which fabricate histories, the Bible
refers to historical events and assumes its historical accuracy. The
Bible is not only the inspired Word of God, it
is also a history book – and the historical assertions it makes have
been proven time and again.
Many of the events, people, places, and customs in the New Testament
are confirmed by secular historians who were almost contemporaries with
New Testament writers. Secular historians like the Jewish Josephus
(before A.D. 100), the Roman Tacitus (around A.D. 120), the Roman
Suetonius (A.D. 110), and the Roman governor Pliny Secundus (A.D.
100-110) make direct reference to Jesus or affirm one or more historical
New Testament references. Early church leaders such as Irenaeus,
Tertullian, Julius Africanus, and Clement of Rome – all writing before
A.D. 250 – shed light on New Testament historical accuracy. Even
skeptical historians agree that the New Testament is a remarkable
historical document. Hence, it is clear that there is strong external
evidence to support the Bible's manuscript reliability.
Returning to our MAPS acronym, we have
established ,the first principle, manuscript reliability. Let us
consider our second principle, archaeological evidence. Over and over
again, comprehensive field work (archaeology) and careful biblical
interpretation affirms the reliability of the Bible. It is telling when
a secular scholar must revise his biblical criticism in light of solid
For years critics dismissed the Book of Daniel, partly because there
was no evidence that a king named Belshazzar ruled in Babylon during
that time period. However, later archaeological research confirmed that
the reigning monarch, Nabonidus, appointed Belshazzar as his co-regent
whi1e he was away from Babylon.
One of the most well-known New Testament examples concerns the Books
of Luke and Acts. A biblical skeptic, Sir William Ramsay, trained as an
archaeologist and then set out to disprove the historical reliability of
this portion of the New Testament. However, through his painstaking
Mediterranean archaeological trips, he became converted as – one after
another – of the historical statements of Luke were proved accurate.
Archaeological evidence thus confirms the trustworthiness of the Bible.
The third principle of Bible reliability is Prophecy, or predictive
ability. The Bible records predictions of events that could not be known
or predicted by chance or common sense. Surprisingly, the predictive
nature of many Bible passages was once a popular argument (by liberals)
against the reliability of the Bible. Critics argued that the prophecies
actually were written after the events and that editors had merely
dressed up the Bible text to look like they contained predictions made
before the events. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The
many predictions of Christ's birth, life and death (see below) were
indisputably rendered more than a century before they occurred as proven
by the Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah and other prophetic books as well as
by the Septuagint translation, all dating from earlier than 100 B.C.
Old Testament prophecies concerning the Phoenician city of Tyre were
fulfilled in ancient times, including prophecies that the city would be
opposed by many nations (Ezekiel
26:3); its walls would be destroyed and towers broken down (Ezekiel
26:4); and its stones, timbers, and debris would be thrown into the
26:12). Similar prophecies were fulfilled concerning Sidon (Ezekiel
47:4) and Babylon (Jeremiah
50:13, 39; Jeremiah
51:26, 42-43, 58; Isaiah
Since Christ is the culminating theme of the Old Testament and the
Living Word of the New Testament, it should not surprise us that
prophecies regarding Him outnumber any others. Many of these prophecies
would have been impossible for Jesus to deliberately conspire to fulfill
- such as His descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis
24:21-24); His birth in Bethlehem (Micah
5:2); His crucifixion with criminals (Isaiah
53:12); the piercing of His hands and feet at the crucifixion (Psalm
22:16); the soldiers' gambling for His clothes (Psalm
22:18); the piercing of His side and the fact that His bones were
not broken at His death (Zechariah
34:20); and His burial among the rich (Isaiah
53:9). Jesus also predicted His own death and resurrection (John
2:19-22). Predictive Prophecy is a
principle of Bible reliability that often reaches even the hard-boiled
Our fourth MAPS principle works well with
predictive prophecy, because it concerns the Statistical
probability that any or all of the Bible's very specific, detailed
prophecies could have been fulfilled through chance, good guessing, or
deliberate deceit. When you look at some of the improbable prophecies of
the Old and New Testaments, it seems incredible that skeptics –
knowing the authenticity and historicity of the texts – could reject
the statistical verdict: the Bible is the Word of God, and Jesus Christ
is the Son of God, just as Scripture predicted many times and in many
The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years by forty different
human authors in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek),
on hundreds of subjects. And yet there is one consistent,
non-contradictory theme that runs through it all: God's
redemption of humankind. Clearly, Statistical probability is a
powerful indicator of the trustworthiness of Scripture.
The next time someone denies the reliability of Scripture, just
remember the acronym MAPS, and you will be
equipped to give an answer and a reason for the hope that lies within
Peter 3:15). Manuscripts,
and Statistics not
only chart a secure course on the turnpikes of skepticism but also
demonstrate definitively that the Bible is indeed divine rather than
human in origin.
To learn more and become better equipped to defend the faith, go to www.equip.org.