Has the Bible been changed? This is a serious question any person who trusts in the Bible must investigate.
In this section:
3 common arguments that the Bible has been changed
When you do a search on the internet, you will find lots of ‘evidence’ that the Bible has been changed. These claims usually fall into three categories:
Some stories are recorded in some manuscripts but missing from others!
There are thousands of very different translations of the Bible, and they are constantly being updated!
Some stories contradict each other!
1. Some stories are recorded in some manuscripts but missing from others!
Critics’ favourite examples: Mark 16 and John 8.
The Bible has thousands more manuscripts than any other historical text does. Thanks to the vast amount of manuscripts we have kept today, scholars are able to cross-check and see where the discrepancy arose. This is called ‘textual criticism’.
These discrepancies are actually a good thing! Here’s why:
They confirm how widely and independently the manuscripts had been reproduced and passed down among generations in different regions of the world.
Because their differences are all very minor, we know each of these independent chains of copying manuscripts was highly accurate.
They also show how a human conspiracy to ‘change’ the Bible would be virtually impossible, because it would require all generations of Jews and Christians all over the world to conspire together, reproduce all the manuscripts and destroy all existing evidence in secret simultaneously. We know this did not happen, because of all the thousands of manuscripts from different regions of the world preserved today from different periods of history.
Indeed some stories are missing in some of the manuscripts (the ending of Mark 16). But with or without these missing stories, our understanding of God, His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, and the core messages of God’s character and promises, remains exactly the same. These stories do not contradict the rest of the Bible. And they also do not add to or challenge any of our understanding of who Jesus is.
2. There are thousands of very different translations of the Bible, and they are constantly being updated!
Critics’ favourite examples: The word ‘virgin’ can be translated as ‘a young girl’
When we can agree that God is perfect and His Word is perfect, we also know that no human language can be perfect. So when we try to know an infinite God via a finite human language, our own human limitations come into play.
No two human languages are identical. So no human translation can ever be perfect. This is why scholars keep reassessing the translations. Ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek are so drastically different from our modern languages that all modern translations are full of limitations.
The Bible was written in ancient Hebrew and Greek (small parts were in Aramaic). But many ancient Hebrew or Greek words also have multiple meanings, which in turn can be expressed in modern languages in many possible ways.
Translations can also be done either literally or contextually. For texts written centuries ago, this distinction in approach will surely produce all sorts of results!
It is therefore very healthy to question modern translations of any ancient text. Questioning the accuracy of Bible translations is not the same thing as questioning the Bible. Critics are welcome to be proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek in order to go back to the original texts if they are dissatisfied with modern translations.
3. Some stories contradict each other!
Critics’ favourite examples: two accounts of creation, Books of Samuel and Books of Chronicles, and the four different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection among the four Gospels
Pretty much all 'contradictions' can be easily explained by context when you study the entire book.
Most narratives in the Bible are not a direct dictation of a specific speech from God. John chapter 1 teaches us God’s Word is living and is everlasting. The Word was with God even before creation. So the physical book called “The Bible” is not itself the Word, but a human witness and testimony of it as history is unfolded by God.
So the narratives in the Bible are human witnesses of God’s speaking, guiding and working in their lives, and written down as the Holy Spirit inspired.
For example, in the book of Revelation, God showed John a series of visions about the end of the world and the Day of Judgement, and John wrote down what he saw. We learn about these visions through John’s eyes and hands, which God has used to reveal His message.
This is the same with the historical narratives in the Bible. All historical texts have an angle and a purpose or message which the author chose to highlight. Therefore when a contradiction is spotted, it is important to examine the context in which the text was written, and the angle from which the author chose to view the event, and the overarching message the author intended to convey.
God guides and interacts with His people. In human history, you cannot find two identical witness accounts of any historical event, unless they have conspired with each other to produce identical narratives. The discrepancies actually help prove the accounts were given independently.
If you ask each of your friends to independently give a witness account of their encounter with you, each will give a unique story because of their different perspectives, personal experiences and timing. But when put together, their stories will give a much fuller picture of who you really are. This is the same with dozens of authors of the Bible on their encounter with God throughout different centuries.
10 questions to ask when someone claims ‘the Bible has been changed’
If you care about the preservation of God's Word, how much do you think God cares?
If someone accuses God of failing to preserve His own word, what is this person saying about God's power and trustworthiness?
If God really could not even protect His word, do you trust God can protect you?
Which of 66 books of the Bible were changed and what was changed? How do you know it was changed?
If the evidence simply stems from a comparison of thousands of manuscripts available, then do the changes involve the core messages of God’s salvation and who Jesus is?
If we know the variations among the thousands of manuscripts are all trivial, then what does it tell us about the manuscripts?
If someone tells you God had to present a new version of His word which is completely different from the thousands of the preserved Bible manuscripts, and says it’s because it had been changed by man, then should you trust God or this person more? Who is changing God's Word here?
If Satan’s strategy to tempt both Adam and Jesus in the most critical time involved twisting God's word, what does it say about the importance of God's preservation of His Word?
Throughout ancient times, people who believed in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel accounts of Jesus had many public enemies who opposed them for political, religious, and social reasons. Why did none of these contemporary enemies of the Scriptures ever said the Scriptures had been changed? Wouldn’t it be the most obvious argument they could use?
When we have doubts, do we believe God is willing to reveal to us clearly when we pray for His divine guidance?
How much does God value His Word?
God has made it clear He places supreme importance upon His word. He elevates its importance even above that of His name, and condemns people who would tamper with it.
"Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you." (Deuteronomy 4:2)
“If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God— the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses." (Deuteronomy 28:58-59)
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6)
"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll." (Rev. 22:18-19)
God promised He would not tolerate any attempt to alter His word. Worse, He promised to expunge Those who would take away from His words would be excluded from the Book of Life!
Satan’s strategy of changing God’s Word
From the time of Adam, Satan has been engaging in deceiving people. His very first attack as recorded was on God's word.
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1)
Satan’s attack was not to hurt or threaten us, but rather to make us doubt God's word has been changed. Another example of Satan's tactics can be seen in his temptation of Jesus.
Each time, Satan tried to tempt Jesus by slightly twisting God’s word, but Jesus answered him by referring back to God’s original word:
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
Next Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus, boldly altering His words by omitting a key phrase, "to keep thee in all your ways,"
Satan’s methods are very much the same today. We resist by knowing Scriptures, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us, and praying to God to reveal His truth clearly to us when we have doubt. As we see in the story of Prophet Elijah, God is more than willing to reveal Himself and expose false beliefs when we pray.
God's promises for the preservation of His Word
If you care about the preservation of God’s Word, imagine how much God cares. The Bible has much to say on the extent and mode of it's own preservation.
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which lives and endures forever." (1 Peter 1:23)
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35)
"Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens." (Psalm 119:89)
God's word has been preserved for all time and for every generation. We know that God's word has not been hidden or lost. Indeed, a God who allows the corruption of His Word is not worth our worship. You can’t entrust your life to God if He can’t keep His own Word. God spelled out to what degree He would keep the Scriptures pure. We don't have to wonder.
Read Jesus’ teachings on people’s responses to God’s Word here (Luke 8:1-18)
1. What do you notice about Jesus' parable?
How do different people respond to God's Word after hearing it?
2. Do you notice these four types of 'soil' among people around you?
3. Which type of 'soil' best describes you?
4. What do you learn about God and His Kingdom from the parable?
So how should I study God’s Word?
1. Ask God to open your eyes to see His Word, ears to hear His voice, and heart to accept His teaching
- “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
- “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)
2. Don’t just read and recite, but understand it. Ask lots of questions
- “Do you understand what you’re reading?” (Acts 8:30) Acts chapter 8 shows understanding Scriptures is crucial to the understanding of God’s salvation.
3. Meditate day and night
- “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (Joshua 1:8)
4. Let it challenge the core foundation of your mind
- “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
5. Let it transform every part of your life
- “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
6. Let it change your heart and experience the joy!
- “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8)
7. Don’t just hear it, but do it
- “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22)
8. Let it change your identity
- “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16)
9. Let your life depend on it
- “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
10. Let it heal you
- “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” (Psalm 107:20)
11. Let it set you free
- “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
12. Share it with others
- “And this Good News of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)