Case-Making 101: A Case for the Bible–How was the Bible transmitted over time?


When I began to look into the reliability of the Bible I first wanted to know how we got the Bible we have today. Was the means of transmission trustworthy enough to ensure that what we have today is the same as what the original writings had? I was very surprised at the amount of evidence available that allows us to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that what we have today is what was intended by the original authors.

Let’s start at the beginning:

How do we really know that the stories in Genesis are true? Moses wasn’t there to witness it, although he is the one that records it along with the other four books of the Torah. Humans did not always have the ability to write things down, but there was oral transmission of information and the ability to memorize. 

So there are basically two ways humans transmit information, oral and written. But before we look at those two we must first consider one more element if we are to be truly honest to the intent of Scripture:

Transmission over time: God’s assurance of inspiration and transmission

If the Bible is truly the Word of God, then He would surely guarantee that what we are reading is what He intended for us to get. In an earlier post we looked at evidence for the premise that if God exists then miracles are possible, and if miracles are possible then God can use miracles to communicate His message. Jesus also used miracles to communicate God’s message during His time here on earth.

We find in Exodus that God Himself wrote what He gave to Moses and also directed Moses in his own writings:

When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.  Exodus 31:18

When Moses destroyed the tablets after God gave them to him the first time (see story in Exodus) he then went back up the mountain and God re-gave him what we find in the Torah (first five books of the Bible) today:

Now the Lord said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain.”  Exodus 34:1-2

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”  Exodus 34:27

Oral Transmission:

Oral transmission from Adam to Moses was only about five generations and this is a remarkably short transmission line to get to the written Word. In ancient cultures it was not like the “telephone game” we think of today where information gets changed by the time it reaches the end of a line of people. In ancient cultures they did not have the technology we have today and information was memorized and past along in groups.

Students of the Scriptures could commit the Torah to memory, even at the time of Christ. Oral cultures were self-correcting because it was community oriented and it would have been impossible to falsify or wrongly transmit information. Historians consider oral transmission very reliable even up through the time of the printing press in the 15th-century AD.

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Written Transmission:

From Moses’ time on the written Word was considered sacred. The job of transmission through copying went to the tribe of Levi and the Scribes (along with the continuation of oral transmission).

Skeptics will claim that since the Scriptures were copied over and over so many times they cannot be accurate. Let’s put that to the test:

Following Moses, the Scribes were required to protect and preserve the writings through the generations. Copying of the Scripture had extremely strict rules:

Examples of just a few of the rules for copying Scripture:

  1. Each scroll must contain a specific number of columns, all equal throughout the entire book.
  2. Each column’s length must not be less than 48 lines or more than 60.
  3. Each column’s breadth must be exactly 30 letters.
  4. The copyist must use a specially prepared black ink.
  5. The space between every consonant must be the size of a thread.
  6. The copyist must sit in full Jewish dress.
  7. The copyist must use a fresh quill to pen the sacred name of God.
  8. The copyist could copy only letter by letter not word by word.
  9. The copyist counted the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurred in each book.
  10. The copyist knew the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the entire Old Testament.
  11. After copying the copyist counted forward and backward from the middle letter.
  12. The copyist must count all letters and spaces.
  13. The copyist must not be interrupted, even if the King walked in, they could not stop.
  14. Each manuscript would be compared and read out-loud before the people.
  15. Any mistake in any area would require the copyist to burn the copy, or tear it up, and start over.

The Scribes believed with all their hearts, souls and minds that this was the Word of God they were responsible for and they had a reverent fear for what they were doing. These Scribes taught and lived by the highest ethical standards. They were willing to die for what they were doing and there were very harsh warnings for disobedience (Deut. 28:56-69).

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Watch this 37 minute video by one of the top Christian Apologists of our time, Josh McDowell on “How Scribes copied the ancient texts:”

Canonization of the Old Testament:

Old Testament scroll

How were the books decided?

The books of the Christian Old Testament are the same as the Hebrew Bible (the order and combination of the books differ but not the writings). The books of the Old Testament were the same ones used and accepted by the Jews as Scripture from Moses up until the time of Jesus. Jesus quoted from these books and thereby validated their authenticity.

The Old Testament in our Christian Bibles today mainly come from the Massoretic text (c. 900 AD). This canon was further validated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (c. 250 BC to 100 AD) in 1947. The DSS matched the Massoretic text (with the exception of Esther) closing a thousand year gap and quieting the skeptics.These scrolls also confirm the prophecies in the Old Testament in that it proves that they were not written after the time of Christ but in fact centuries before.

We also have the Samaritan pentateuch (c. 350 BC). This contains the first five books of the Old Testament and differs from the Massoretic text in about 6000 instances, most of which are merely differences in spelling. And we have the Septuagint. This is the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (c. 300-200 BC) and would have been the Scriptures Jesus used in the first century AD.

What is so exciting is that we can see some of these ancient scrolls in museums around the world. Josh McDowell has even purchased artifacts that include an ancient scroll. Watch this short video clip of his testimony and experience writing one of his latest books called, God-Breathed, The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture:


Join us next week as we focus on the transmission of the New Testament.


You will not find this material in the public school curriculum even though it is based on solid evidence and grounded in research. It is ironic that following the evidence to where it leads stops at the door of our public schools as they will not let a “Divine footprint” in!

Join us this year as we examine evidence for Christianity and learn how to become a thoughtful defender and ambassador of your faith.

Click into the resource page of this website to view many of the top Christian thinkers and apologists along with some of their work; connecting to these types of resources is essential in your Christian growth.

Please let me know what you think: Give feedback, ask questions or send concerns in the comment section of the blog.

Teri Dugan

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