A Study in
the Preservation of
the Bible

A study of the history of the text of the Bible is a study of the preservation of the Bible. The text, in
the original languages of the Bible {Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), is what was originally written
by the holy men of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we study about the text through
the ages, we are studying how God in his providence has preserved his word.


"For ever, 0 LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89). For ever the word of the Lord
shall endure. "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The
grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: but the word of the Lord endures for ever. And
this is the word which by the gospel is preach­ed unto you" (1 Peter 1:24,25). Jesus said,
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:
31; Luke 21:33). The word of God, the Holy Bible, "liveth and abides for ever" (I Peter 1:23).


The preservation of God's word is providential, not miraculous. By providential, it is meant God
uses a natural process rather than a supernatural process. Inspiration is a supernatural
process; the process of scribal transcription is a natural process. An example of providential
preservation is seen in the book of Esther. Every event which takes place has the hand and
guidance of God, yet the name of God is not mentioned in the entire book. There is not a single
supernatural even within the book. Through natural processes God raises up Esther to be in a
place to preserve the nation of Israel. The end result is almost miraculous. It is this same type of
providential preservation which God has exercised on his word.


God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He has promised to preserve his word, and history chronicles the
wonderful story of the care God has exercised in preserving and perpetuating his holy book, the

The evidence for the preservation of the Bible is the most impressive of all ancient documents.
There can really be no doubt to the honest inquirer of the validity and authenticity of the Biblical
record, in either the Old or the New Testaments.


Questions     had    been    raised    about    the    validity    of    the Old Testament text by many in
the 19th and 20th centuries, since the Hebrew manuscripts of the Massoretes that we had
dated from well into the Christian era, about 900 a.d. How­ever,- these questions were raised by
liberal scholars influenced by the Rationalistic (Liberal, Modernistic) school of
Germany who denied the inspiration of the scriptures. Those who were counted believers, never
doubted the validity of the Old Testament text; they believed the promise of God.

There    was    reason    to    believe    in    God's    promise.    Great care   had   been    taken    
by   the   scribes   in   the   transmission   of the    Hebrew   text.    Samuel   Davidson,    in   his   
book   Hebrew   Text of   the   Old   Testament   (Samuel   Bagster   &   Sons:   London;    1859),
relates  the  rules   followed  by  the  Talmudists   (100-500  a.d.): "A   synagogue   roll  must  be  
written  on  the  skins of  clean   animals,   prepared  for  the  particular use  of the   synagogue  
by  a  Jew.   These  must  be fastened  together with  strings  taken  from  clean animals.   Every   
skin  must  contain   a  certain  number  of columns,   equal  throughout   the  entire  codex.    
The    length    of   each    column    must    not extend  over  less  than  48 or  more  than  60  
lines; and  the  breadth  must  consist  of  thirty  letters. The  whole  copy  must  be  first-lined;   
and  if three words  be  written without  a  line,   it  is  worthless. The  ink   should  be  black,   
neither  red,   green, nor  any  other  colour,   and  be  prepared  according  to  a   definite  
recipe.   An  authentic  copy  must be the  exemplar,   from which the transcriber ought not   in   
the   least  deviate.   No word  or  letter,   not even   a   yod,   must  be  written  from  memory,   the
scribe not having looked at the codex before him...   Between  every  consonant  the   space  of  a
hair or  thread must  intervene;   between  every paragraph,   or  section,   the breadth of nine
consonants;   between  every  book,   three  lines.   The fifth  book  of  Moses  must  terminate  
exactly  with a   line;   but  the  rest  need  not   do  so.   Besides  this, the  copyist  must  sit   in  
full  Jewish  dress,   wash his  whole  body,   not  begin  to  write  the  name  of God  with   a   
pen  newly  dipped   in   ink,   and  should a  king   address  him  while  writing  that  name  he
must  take  no  notice  of  him."

This insured that copies were exact copies of the manuscript being copied.

It is even because of their extreme care that the manuscripts we have come from such a late
date. Sir Frederic Kenyon, in his book Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, explains:
The  same  extreme  care which  was   devoted  to the  transcription  of  manuscripts   is   also  
at  the bottom  of  the   disappearance  of the  earlier  copies. When   a  manuscript  had  been  
copied with  the  exactitude  prescribed by the Talmud,   and  had been  duly  verified,   it  was  
accepted  as  authentic and  regarded  as  being  of  equal  value  with   any other  copy.   If  all  
were  equally  correct,   age  gave no  advantage  to  a  manuscript;   on  the  contrary, age  was   
a  positive  disadvantage,   since   a  manuscript  was  liable  to become  defaced  or   damaged
in  the  lapse  of time.   A  damaged or   imperfect copy  was  at  once  condemned  as   unfit  for  

Attached  to  each   synagogue  was  a  "Gheniza,"  or  lumber  cupboard,   in  which   defective
manuscripts  were  laid   aside;   and  from  these  receptacles  some  of the  oldest  
manuscripts  now  extant   have   in   modern   times  been   recovered.   Thus, far  from  
regarding  an  older  copy  of the  Scripture   as   more  valuable,   the  Jewish  habit  has been  
to  prefer  the  newer,   as  being  the  most perfect   and  free   from  damage.   The  oldest  
copies, once  consigned to  the  "Gheniza,"  naturally  perished,   either  from  neglect  or  from  
being   deliberately  burned  when  the  "Gheniza"   became  over­crowded.

The  absence of very old copies of the  Hebrew  Bible  need  not,   therefore,   either  surprise or   
disquiet  us.   If,   to the  causes  already  enumerated,   we  add the repeated persecutions   
(involving  much  destruction of property)  to which the  Jews  have  been  subject,   the  
disappearance of  the  ancient  manuscripts   is   adequately   accounted  for,   and  those  
which   remain   may  be   accepted as  preserving  that  which   alone  they profess to preserve  
—  namely,   the  Massoretic  text. The   same   type   of  care   was   taken  by  the  Massoretes   
(500-900    a.d.),     who    prepared    the    manuscripts    from    which    our text  is  taken.   Sir  
Frederic  Kenyon  says  of the  Massoretes: Besides  recording  varieties  of  reading,   tradition,
or  conjecture,   the  Massoretes  undertook  a   number  of calculations  which  do  not  enter   
into the ordinary   sphere  of textual  criticism.   They  numbered  the  verses,   words,   and  
letters  of  every book.   They  calculated  the  middle  word  and  the middle  letter  of each.   
They  enumerated verses which  contained  all  the  letters  of  the  alphabet, or  a  certain  
number  of them;   and  so on.   These trivialities,   as  we  may  rightly  consider  them, had yet  
the  effect of  securing  minute  attention to the  precise  transmission  of  the  text;   and they are  
but  an  excessive  manifestation  of a   respect for  the  sacred  Scriptures  which   in  itself  
deserves nothing  but praise.   The Massoretes were  indeed anxious  that   not  one  jot  nor  
tittle,   not  one  smallest  letter  nor  one  tiny  part  of  a   letter,   of  the Law  should  pass  away  
or  be  lost.

The    discovery    of   the    Dead    Sea    scrolls    verify    that    the text   of   the   Old   
Testament   transcribed   by   the   Massoretes   from the Talmudlsts is the same text found in
manuscripts a thousand years before. The Dead Sea scrolls consist of approximately 40,000
fragments from which in excess of 500 books have been reconstructed.

The scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy searching for a lost goat. He
threw a stone in a cave, heard something break, and discovered pottery jars filled with leather
scrolls. They had been placed in this cave, west of the Dead Sea, about eight miles south of
Jericho, around 68 a.d. The sealed jars had wonderfully preserved the manuscripts.

An example of the great care taken in the preservation of the Old Testament is seen in the book
of Isaiah. A complete scroll of Isaiah, dating from 125 b.c. was found by the Dead Sea: 1,000
years older than any other manuscript of the book. Geisler and Nix note:

Of  the   166  words  in   Isaiah  53,   there  are  only seventeen  letters   in  question.   Ten  of  
these  letters are   simply  a  matter  of  spelling,   which  does  not affect  the  sense.   Four  
more  letters  are  minor  stylistic  changes,   such  as  conjunctions.   The  remaining  three  
letters  comprise  the  word "light,"  which is   added  in  verse   11,   and  does  not  affect  the
meaning   greatly.   Furthermore,   this  word  is   supported  by  the  LXX and   IQ  Is.   Thus,   in  
one  chapter  of  166  words,   there  is  only  one  word   (three letters)   in  question  after  a  
thousand years  of transmission  —  and  this  word  does   not   significantly  change   the  
meaning  of  the  passage. (A General  Introduction to the Bible;   Moody Press: Chicago;   1968)

Another partial manuscript of Isaiah, agrees even more closely with the Masoretic manuscripts.
After 1,000 years more than ninety-five percent of the text of Isaiah was exact­ly the same. Most
of the variance were obvious slips of the pen.

God, in his wondrous mercy and grace, has preserved to us the words of Moses and the


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