Reliable: Why the Original Text is Important by Abidan Shah, PhD

RELIABLE – WHY THE ORIGINAL TEXT IS IMPORTANT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  How many of you have seen the movie “National Treasure” with Nicholas Cage? The first one came out in 2004. It was like an Indiana Jones movie but set in the context of the American Colonial history about a huge treasure that had been hidden by the Knights Templars, the Freemasons, and the Founding Fathers. Supposedly, they had left the clues on the back of the original Declaration of Independence. Even though the plot was far-fetched, I liked it because of its emphasis on the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. Coming in a couple of weeks, we have a conference right here at Clearview on apologetics, and our topic is the original text of a document that is far more significant than the Declaration of Independence! It is the New Testament. Ever since we began publicizing the conference, people have been asking me all kinds of questions about the subject – “What do you mean by the ‘original text?’” “How does this impact my daily life and Bible study?” “Is my Bible good?” In this message, I want to answer the question – “Why the Original Text is Important?” Main Point: The Bible alone and in its entirety is given by inspiration of God. In other words, when the Bible speaks, God speaks, and since God cannot err, the Bible does not err. Unfortunately, the autographs are no longer available, but the text is well preserved in the thousands of copies. As much as 96% of the NT text is totally reliable; determining the rest of the original text is a task of utmost importance. Nonetheless, we can with total confidence hold this book up and proclaim without any hesitation that we are holding in our hands the inerrant, inspired, authoritative, sufficient, necessary, and clear Word of God.

2 Timothy 3       16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Context: It is not unusual for me to get a phone call or have a conversation with a parent or parents about their child who grew up in church, but then went off to college and returned with a skeptical and cynical attitude towards Christianity, church, and especially the Bible. What happened to them? At college, they sat under a professor of history or religion who piece by piece dismantled their faith, mocking the church and filling their mind with doubts and skepticism. So, they come home denying the virgin birth, the Trinity, Jesus being the only way, truth, and life, and especially the Bible being the inerrant word of God. How could this happen, ask the parents, especially if we raised our kids in church, Sunday school, youth group, sent them to Christian camps, and even raised them in a Bible believing home. The answer lies in the fact that we gave them a good Christian environment, but we failed to ground them in the truth. We failed to give them the armor to withstand the attacks of the secular world. As long as they were under our roof, they were okay. The moment they came out from under our roof, their faith could not stand the test, and it began to fizzle away. What they needed, and what we need as well, is not only the what and the how of faith but also the why of faith. In other words, they needed to know the why we believe what we believe. This series on apologetics is about the why, so also the conference.

The conference coming up, and this message, is put together to answer a question raised by Bart Ehrman (Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, agnostic, author, and outright challenger of biblical Christianity) in his book Misquoting Jesus – “[H]ow does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.”

How do we answer that? In the short time we have, I want to give the first part of the answer – “Why the Original Text is Important.”

1. INSPIRATION: 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” The word for “inspiration” is the adjective “theopneustos” lit., breathed by God. We hold to the verbal-plenary view of inspiration, i.e., words and the whole message. How did this actually happen? God directed the thoughts of the writers so that they were exactly his thoughts. He used the personalities, gifts, trainings, and experiences of the writers, but the final choice of the words was exactly what he wanted in his providential guidance in the writer’s life and his purposes in the world. 2 Peter 1:21 “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The word for “move” is “phero,” which means led, guided, and carried along. We also call it “concursive inspiration” (B. B. Warfield) and sometimes the “Incarnational Model of Scripture.” Just as Jesus was both divine and human natures, so also Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

There is no book in the world that can claim to be inspired in this sense, not the Hindu Religious Books or the Quran or any other “holy” book. I preached on this last year, some of you may remember. The other books may have some wisdom here and there, but only the Bible, gives us the truth about God. The other books may be able to point out the problem of humanity, but only the Bible gives us the solution, the way of atonement and redemption.

2. INERRANCY: “[Inerrancy] is a corollary (natural consequence) of the doctrine of full inspiration of the Bible. The view of the Bible held and taught by the writers of Scripture implies the full truthfulness of the Bible” (Millard Erickson). Here are just a few verses:

  • Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
  • Psalm 119:160 “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”
  • Matthew 5:18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
  • John 17:17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
  • Titus 1:2 “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.”

Here’s the best definition: “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” (Paul D. Feinberg) “It is not a doctrine derived from empirical investigation of certain written texts; it is a theological commitment rooted in the teaching of the Word of God itself. The nature of God (who is truth Himself) and the nature of the biblical books (as the very words of God) require that we view the original manuscripts, produced under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit of truth, as wholly true and without error.” (Greg Bahnsen) Note: Infallible – usually used by those who allow for the possibility that the Bible may not be fully free from error. They limit inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, especially salvation.

3. NO AUTOGRAPHS: This sometimes comes as a shock to people that we don’t have the original autographs on which Moses, David, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Paul wrote. This should be understandable, after all, it has been 2000 years, at least for the NT! Probably, the first ones were written on papyrus, which is a plant that was exclusively found in Egypt around the Nile delta. Furthermore, the humid climate around the Mediterranean Sea also made it worse for such a material. But thank goodness, they made copies of the autographs, which were copied and recopied through the centuries.

4. THOUSANDS OF COPIES: Unfortunately, the scribes would make a mistake in their copying. Usually, the mistakes were silly, sometimes their eyes would jump from one word to the next, sometimes they skipped lines, sometimes they wrote words twice, sometimes they changed the spelling by mistakes, sometimes they wrote a similar sounding word, etc. Yes, there are times that they made changes to change the meaning of the text, but such were few and far between. In fact, we know the manuscripts and the group of manuscripts that tend to do that, and we can be cautious with them. Overall, 96% of the text is reliable. We have to work carefully with the rest of the 4-5%. Given the multitude of the manuscripts and relative insignificance of the remaining variants, there is no problem in retrieving the original text. R. L. Harris’s illustration of losing the standard ruler at the Smithsonian. We have more than plenty to compare. There won’t be a massive shift. When Ehrman and others call into question the possibility of retrieving all the original text, they are making a bald-faced lie!

It is imperative that we determine the original words of the New Testament because those are the actual words of God.


When claims are made against the copies or against the doctrine of Inerrancy, it is really against Inspiration. They appear to be working backwards, when, in reality, they have already started wrong! This is where the whole Historical Jesus studies has focused on, at least with regards to the gospels. Here, we must take seriously the Christological argument of Norman Geisler:

  1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable. 
  2. These documents accurately present Christ as claiming to be God incarnate and proving it by fulfilled messianic prophecy, by a sinless and miraculous life, and by predicting and accomplishing his resurrection from the dead. 
  3. Whatever Christ (who is God) teaches is true. 
  4. Christ taught that the Old Testament is the written Word of God and promised that his disciples would write the New Testament. 
  5. Therefore, the Bible is the written Word of God

The challenge to scriptures has been since the beginning of time when Satan asked Eve – “Has God indeed said…?” It was Jesus who passed the test where Adam and Eve failed. He responded to Satan with “It is written…‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’…It is written…‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’…it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” In fact, Satan even tried to use the word against Jesus when he tempted him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, saying, – “For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

Invitation: What do you believe about the Word of God? This book tells us that 

  • “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” 
  • “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” 
  • “for there is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment,” 
  • “God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
  • “Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” 
  • “All who call upon the Lord shall be saved,”
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Where do you stand according to the Word of God?

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