Has the Bible been Altered?

by Joe Bayless

by Joe Bayless

Has the Bible been Altered? – Audio – mp3 [Min 26 – Summary and Q&A Begins]

THE FIRST CLAIM: “The manuscripts of the Bible contain so many errors that it cannot be trusted.”

The Evidence:

  • The Bible we have today came to us through a long process.
  • The Bible began by God inspiring the authors to write down His word without error. The original manuscripts of the Bible were flawless.
  • As Christianity grew, more and more Christians wanted to read these inspired words, so copies had to be made. But, at this time, the printing press had not been invented. Copies had to be made by hand.
  • Scribes could make copies by themselves by looking at a manuscript and then copying what they saw onto a new sheet.
  • Or, a group of scribes could come together and have someone read the manuscript to them while the wrote down what they heard.
  • Sometimes these scribes would misspell or mishear a word or a phrase and write it down wrong. (It’s inevitable that human error would come into play).These small changes would go unnoticed sometimes, but sometimes they would be corrected by the scribe himself or an editor.


Growing up, one of the ways my mom would punish me was by making me write down huge portions of scripture. I had to copy the Gospel of John one time. So I would look at my Bible, and then write down a section of what I just read. I had so many copying errors. I had misspelled words. I wrote down words twice. Luckily, I did it in pencil, so I could correct a lot of the errors I had. Scribes struggled with the same thing when copying manuscripts of the Bible.

  • Let’s pretend we’re a group of scribes. Copy down what I say. You’re not allowed to ask for clarification on the word. Just write down the word you think I’m saying.
  • Say the word “pen.” If this experiment works, some will think I said “pin” and write that down.
  • There are scholars who dedicate their lives to studying manuscripts of the New Testament, comparing them to one another, trying to figure out what the original writers wrote.
  • They have developed a science to help them determine what was originally written. A lot of this “science” is common sense.

For instance:

Let’s say you read a note from your parents. Let’s say in the note your parents tell you that they’re going to eat at a restaurant for dinner. Let’s say that your parents misspell the word “restaurant.” When you’re reading that letter, will you be able to figure out what they’re saying even though they misspelled the word? They are able to piece together the various manuscripts to figure out what Paul, Luke, and John wrote. We don’t have a copy of the original manuscripts that Paul, Luke, and John wrote. But because we have so many manuscripts and are able to compare them with one another, we can have confidence that we know what the biblical authors wrote.

  • Their studies have shown that NT manuscripts are in 99% agreement as to what words should be there. The other 1% doesn’t affect any doctrine of Christianity.
  • More and more manuscripts are being discovered all the time.
  • 2007 – 5500 manuscripts, 2011 – 5700 manuscripts.
  • Each new manuscript is studied and compared with other manuscripts. So far no manuscript has been discovered that undermines other previously discovered manuscripts. In other words, there’s no silver bullet manuscript that shoots down the claims of Christianity. In fact, new manuscript discoveries have proven time and time again the validity of the Bible as the word of God.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 40s, early 50s.
  • Before their discovery, the earliest OT manuscripts we had were from the 10th century A.D. People said, “Well, how can we trust the OT without old manuscripts?”
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and dated to around 100 BC to 300 BC. It is in agreement with the 10th century manuscripts.



1. All evidence points to the fact that the manuscripts of the Bible can be trusted.

  • A lot of these so-called “errors” are spelling errors and word order errors. But because scholars can use common sense and science to figure out these errors, and because they can compare manuscripts to each other, we can know with confidence what the original NT writers wrote.
  • A lot of these manuscripts are very high quality with no copying errors.


  • The Bible can be trusted as the word of God.
  • Manuscripts prove the trustworthiness of the Bible time and time again.
  • The Bible you hold in your hand faithfully represents what the New Testament authors wrote down in the Greek Manuscripts.
  • Be thankful for those who have labored to get the Bible from the Apostle John, the Apostle Paul, Luke, Peter, and others down to you.
  • Many of these scribes labored in difficult conditions. (Bad lighting, poor equipment, persecution)
  • They labored so hard and so faithfully because people wanted to hear God’s words. The reason why there are so many manuscripts is because there’s something special about the words that are on the manuscripts; and that something special is the fact that these words are the very words of God.

THE SECOND CLAIM: “The early church altered the manuscripts to create a lot of doctrines.”

The Evidence:

  • A little church history will help us assess this claim.
  • The early church experienced off and on persecution from the Roman Empire.
  • Some early church leaders wrote to Rome to defend Christianity (Justin Martyr and Tertullian).

1) Justin Martyr ca. A.D. 165

2) Tertullian A.D. 220

  • Persecution officially stopped with Constantine the Great when he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D.
  • Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire in 381 A.D.
  • The early church held universal councils in 325, 381, 431, and 451 A.D.

1) The purpose of these debates was to work out doctrinal issues.

2) They didn’t convene together to “create” a Bible.

  • A man by the name of Athanasius wrote a letter in 367 A.D. that contains a list of all 27 books of the New Testament.

Why is church history important in helping us assess this?

  • We see that the early church isn’t creating a conspiracy.
  • They’re genuine believers who have a genuine desire to see people believe in the gospel.
  • When they meet together in councils, they’re talking about issues that affect believers in their churches.
  • We see that the church didn’t “create” or “alter” the Bible during the early church councils.

a) They affirmed what had already been used in churches.

b) Churches had been using letters of Paul and John to edify the church.

c) When church fathers were writing letters and books, they quote the letters of Paul, the Gospel of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and other writings. If we were to take all of their biblical quotations and put them together, we would be able to construct the entire New Testament from their quotations alone. When we compare their quotations to actual manuscripts we have, they have no major disagreement with the manuscripts.

  • Studying the 5700+ manuscripts really helps us in assessing this claim.
  • Let’s say hypothetically that we have only manuscripts that date from 1000 A.D. Let’s also say hypothetically that we discover some manuscripts dating from around 300 A.D.
  • If the early church altered manuscripts to create doctrine, it would show itself somewhere in all of our manuscripts. It would also show itself when we study the biblical quotations of the early church fathers.

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