What works compare the accuracy of the reconstruction of the Bible with other religious texts?


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #1

Hi @Nathan_Rittenhouse. Just curious if you are familiar with any work which compares the accuracy of the reconstruction of the Bible with other religious texts. I read in “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” that the New Testament is 99.5% accurate. Compared with the Mahabharata of Hinduism which is 90%. I’m just curious with other religious texts (like the Quran, Tao Te Ching, etc.) since it seems to me that the Bible is normally compared with other ancient documents for reliability.

Ask Nathan Rittenhouse (March 5-9, 2018)
(Nathan Rittenhouse) #2

Hello Omar,
Thanks for a great question. First things first: I tracked down the quote you mentioned in (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Crossway 2004, p229) and it gives another book by Geisler (Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics) as the source. Apparently, there was some miscommunication or misattribution about Metzger’s connection to these numbers. You can read Geisler’s comments here https://www.jashow.org/articles/bible/new-testament/a-note-on-the-percent-of-accuracy-of-the-new-testament-text/ This doesn’t change the argument at all, it is just good for us to operate with the utmost integrity in our citations. The truth is powerful by itself, so we don’t need to try to make it ‘more’ true.
I don’t have additional percentages from other texts, but it is possible that we can’t compare all religious texts in the same way on this. You mentioned Tao Te Ching and as I hunted around for the oldest manuscripts I came across a really really great source (Wikipedia ) that says of the earliest written copies “The Guodian Chu Slips comprise about 800 slips of bamboo with a total of over 13,000 characters, about 2,000 of which correspond with the Tao Te Ching [which is 5,000 characters], including 14 previously unknown verses.” Here’s the thing though, what the Tao Te Ching is setting out to do isn’t exactly the same thing that the Bible or the Quran is trying to do as it relates to real historical events. There seems to have been great fluidity in its transmission attempting to convey the ideas. So I’m not sure that it was even aiming for consistency in transmission. Just a thought.
As far as the Quran goes, anything by Keith Small is really helpful. Here is a very careful and respectful look at variations in the Quran https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hou4JcHo67o. The thing is that Christians have been a bit more up front about saying, ‘Hey look at our variants, let’s try to figure out the best reading.’ Islam has not taken that same approach, and in fact has tried historically to suppress variation. All that to say, that there aren’t widely available hard numbers to crunch. Within some branches of Islam the theological claim is that it is 100% accurate, but as more modern scholarship presses into that (like the video above) that claim is difficult to hold historically.
And finally, transmission accuracy is very important for determining the authenticity of eyewitness and early accounts, but just because a claim is accurately transmitted, doesn’t make it true. Here is an example.
Nathan Rittenhouse’s middle name is Michael.
Nathan Rittenhouse’s middle name is Michael.
That truth statement is repeated and transmitted with 100% accuracy (I used copy & paste to be sure), but it isn’t true. That’s not my middle name.
I am super grateful that the high level of precision in the transmission of the Bible points us to the fact that what we have is an extremely reliable account of what those who wrote it intended for us to be able to read. However, even if there was another religious tradition that had a higher level (statistically) of transmission, that number wouldn’t necessarily make it true. That is where it is extremely important that the internal (the content of what is transmitted) be shown to be true. All that to say, I believe the numbers that you were pointing to are only in reference to the transmission. That is an important part of discussing the truth of the Bible, but that is just one fraction of the argument for its reliability. The best case for the Bible is the cumulative case from all the angles from which it has been analyzed. This transmission accuracy is certainly one of those and I appreciate you drawing our attention to it. Hope this helps! Many thanks ~ Nathan

(Kay Kalra) #3