How We Got the Bible

A page from an ancient manuscript

In my efforts to better understand how the text of the Bible came to be as it is today, I’m currently reading a book entitled ‘How We Got the Bible’ by Neil R. Lightfoot. A passage I was reading today stood out, and I would like to share it, as I think it highlights a flaw in the thought of many Christians concerning God’s relationship with human beings.

In the ninth chapter of the book (p95), Lightfoot writes the following:

It is a fact that the New Testament text has been transmitted to us through the hands of copyists. It is also a fact that, since these hands were human, they were susceptible to the slips and faults of all human hands. It is not true, therefore, that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying the Sacred Scriptures. The Scriptures, although divine, have been handed down through the centuries by means of copies, just like any other ancient book. [emphasis added]

I find this reasoning to be problematic. If God was not involved in the process of scribes copying manuscripts, it is illogical to say that it is by God’s providence that we have the Bible in the form(s) it takes today. To take God out of the lives of the scribes is to remove God from the history of human activity and deny His ability to unfold the events of history in the way He chooses.

It would make much more sense to say that God is in sovereign control of His creation, and that He was in control of the copying process embarked upon by the scribes. That way, we can say with full confidence that when we are reading the Bible the words on the page are as God intended them to be. The fact that there are errors and contested readings is a part of God’s plan, as He doesn’t like humans to be perfect in every way all the time.

Theologians have a clear choice to consider. Either God is sovereign over creation and we can read the Bible knowing that we are reading the words God intended for us to read, or if we maintain that God was not guiding the scribes, as Lightfoot suggests, our confidence in reading evaporates and chance and circumstance necessarily come into the equation, depriving God of His sovereignty and depriving our modern Bibles of their authority.

Related post: God’s Grand Game
Related essay: An Almighty Predicament

41 Comments on “How We Got the Bible

  1. Thank you for a straightforward statement of a truth we are more comfortable forgetting. One of the most pivotal questions Christians face today is whether, and to what extent, the Bible has authority. Odd, isn’t it, that those who draw their salaries from the teaching of the book are frequently the first and the loudest in denouncing its role among us? We walk by faith. Weaken the faith, weaken the walk.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Steven, you truly have a talent in provoking thought! I truly agree with the sovereignty of God over His word – there are even scathing judgments to those who would add, subtract or change it. In a world so rebellious to God, the Bible is scrutinized like no other book…yet stands with authority. I would recommend anyone to read books like those by Lee Strobel. Highly educated, he sought to examine and discredit the Bible yet had to surrender to its divine inerrancy.
    Thank you for provoking my mind! “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword…” Wow, no other book compares!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree 100% with your argument. Men like Bart Ehrman go around stating half facts, like there are 400,000 errors in the Bible made by the different scribes (this is very true), but then he leaves it there. What Ehrman does not state is that only 1% of those errors have any theological impact on the the Bible. The other 99% are grammatical and spelling errors. We have sure confidence that throughout the whole process God has been in control.

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    • Thank you Bearded Scholar. I’ve been thinking about reading one or two books by Bart Ehrman as seeing him in YouTube debates has piqued my interest. It’s likely I would have little agreement with him but am keen to understand his arguments nonetheless. God bless!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Regarding Bart Ehrman – I once unknowingly purchased a New testament “study” of his, only to discover that he totally rejects much of the historicity of the New Testament based on his own subjective brand of textual criticism. His theories about Jesus and the gospels rely heavily on his own biased presuppositions, and this becomes glaringly obvious when you read or listen to his work. His conclusions are rarely if ever based on any actual evidence that he can present or refer to, but rather they reat on his beliefs or feelings that the New Testament authors must have had many ulterior motives, or that quite a bit of the NT “must” have been simply made up to further a religious agenda. The sad thing is that any baby Christian could be seriously led away from faith by listening to him, due to his status as a “scholar” and the fact that he sounds very convincing in the absence of any knowledge to the contrary.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Don,

          That’s interesting, thank you. I appreciate the note of caution. I may read one or two of his books to get a better understanding of his arguments, but at the same time will continue to read scholarly writings arguing in support of the reliability of our Bibles.

          Best wishes,

          Steven

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  4. I don’t believe there’s a problem here, though I’m with you in your thinking, Steven. In other words, why would God not see to it that no clerical errors made it into His Word. Having said that, however, it has been shown that though there are definitely clerical errors in both testaments, none has affected theology and doctrine. We can speculate as to why God would allow human error into His Word, but knowing that none of these errors affects God’s message is reassuring to me. I have complete confidence in the Bible as we have it today.

    Good post, Steven, and certainly thought-provoking.

    Liked by 2 people

    • @dettinger47, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity provided by your comment that, “there are definitely clerical errors in both testaments,”. Because you also go on to explain that none has affected theology. That makes a point of mine I repeatedly have to defend with my believing brothers and sisters. I reject a statement of “inerrancy” that relies on “original manuscripts”. In my mind, it’s ridiculous. If the One inspiring Scripture had thought them important, we’d have them We don’t. He must not consider them necessary. It’s not rocket surgery. I see no need to accommodate the desire of 21st Century human reason and its definition of “error”. Because it seems to me, my Master doesn’t feel the need. If it’s not a problem for Him, why should it be a problem for us? The message and intent of my Master comes through. What He wants us to know about Himself is there. I believe focus on “errors”, as defined by the limited intellects that can’t even escape the limits of the gravity well of a single planet is comical, bordering on the imbecilic. People may want to cling to their definition of “perfection”, but, as we seem to discover all the time, we have no idea what defines the imperfections of this universe. How could we possibly understand, and, therefore judge, perfection? Silly people. Scripture is inspired, and infallible. Study it to know your Creator and Savior. Why is getting to know the Creator and Savior of the universe less of a challenge than “discovering” supposed errors? Who made that rule? Someone should point out that the “emperor has no clothes”. There has to be an honest child around here somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

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