When we read the Bible today can we be assured that we are reading in our language the same word of God that was contained in the original manuscripts? It is often claimed by skeptics and agnostics that we cannot be sure of this. They point out that the common English Bible, the King James Version, is based upon late medieval manuscripts and that in these manuscripts there are thousands of variations or differences. They point to the later English translations that differ from the King James, not only in the rendering of the language, but often in whole verses, sentences, or even paragraphs being left out. They say here is confusion, and since we don't have the original autographs, we don't really know that we have the Bible.
In the face of these doubts the informed Christian and student of the Bible affirms his complete confidence in the fact that we have God's inspired word today. Modern studies and discoveries make this even more certain now than ever before. In the first place, it must be admitted that the early English translations were based upon Greek manuscripts which were the results of hundreds of years of hand copying. But even so, the variations do not in any substantial way affect the message of the Bible. When all corrections are made upon the basis of better and earlier evidences, no doctrine, no substantial fact of Christian history is affected.
Modern versions of the New Testament are no longer made from Erasmus' Greek Testament of 1516. Our scientifically edited Greek Testaments of today, such as Westcott-Hort, Nesley, or the American Bible Society's new edition, are based upon the earliest and most concrete evidence. Anyone who would argue that these New Testaments do not contain the original text would thereby confess his ignorance of the history of the transmission of the Bible and the science of textual criticism.
The evidence behind such a modern edition of the Greek New Testament, is threefold. First, manuscript evidence. Second, the evidence from early versions. Third, the evidence from the quotations of the Greek scriptures by the Greek fathers. Any one of these types of evidence is enough to confirm the authenticity of the original text. Therefore, they form a tripod of evidence which is overwhelming. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established" II Corinthians 13:1.
A whole book could be written on each type of evidence, but it is enough to note, for example, that practically every verse of the New Testament in Greek can be recovered from quotations of the New Testament by the Greek fathers (or scholars) in their writings. Again, versions or translations of the New Testament into Syriac, Old Latin, the Egyptian dialects, etc. were made beginning from three or four decades after the completion of the canon of the New Testament. Scholars with knowledge in these languages can verify the Greek text and the way these translations read. Most important is the overwhelming evidence from the Green manuscripts, the English and American Revised Versions of 1880 and 1901 were based primarily on the great Greek manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries. And so abundant have been the discoveries in the past sixty-five years that we can now go nearly two hundred years farther back with the evidence. Such great textual discoveries as the papyrus manuscripts of Chester Batey; the Bodlar manuscript of John and Luke, enrich our knowledge beyond the fondest dreams of textual critics of the last century, and still the sands of Egypt and the Middle East continue to yield treasures. Surely, in God's providence, such discoveries are being brought forth in the modern dark ages of doubt to light the way to faith in God's Holy Word. With such firm confidence in the original text we stand upon the fi m rock of God's immutable truth. Our Lord himself said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). Surely the God who made this world with all its complexities is capable of preserving his word for all generations.