Posts Tagged ‘scribes’

Part 2: The Old Testament

With the New Testament addressed, what about the Old Testament? How do we know there were no errors in the massive amount of copying that was undertaken by the Israelites to preserve them? Unlike the NT manuscripts which are found in massive numbers and are more recent, the OT manuscripts are found in much smaller numbers[1] and are incredibly old.[2] To address skepticism of the authenticity of OT manuscripts we have to understand how these manuscripts were copied.

The Jews in biblical times preserved texts in a way no other culture had, by designating scribes and lawyers to meticulously count words and syllables to ensure accuracy when copying texts.

From 500-300 BC, the Sopherium, scribes preserved the OT manuscripts.

From 200-100 BC, the Zugoth textual scholars preserved the text.

From 100 BC to AS 200 the Tanniaim rabbinic teachers preserved the text.

From AD 100 to AD 500 the Talmudist scribes preserved the text.

AD 500 to AD 950 the Massorite scribes preserved the text.[3]

For a long time the oldest OT manuscript known was a Massoretic text dated to AD 980.[4] So the problem was obvious. If the last OT manuscript (Book of Malacai) was written in 400 BC, and the oldest manuscript we had was dated to AD 980, that meant there was a 1,300 year gap at the very least. Who knows what was changed in that 1,300 year gap!

Then one day in 1947 a shepherd boy came across some caves in the Dead Sea region. Inside these caves were clay jars. Inside these clay jars remained the most important biblical discovery yet to be made. OT manuscripts as old as 125 BC to 68 AD,[5] that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (AKA Qumran Texts). For 1900 years these scrolls remained hidden within the caves, but now unearthed they contained the answer to the problem mentioned above. If the Dead Sea scrolls were different from the Massoretic text from AD 980, then we’d know they were not preserved accurately. But if they did match, then we could rest assured that the OT was preserved accurately.

After extensive review by scholars world wide of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contained all OT books except for Ester, it was determined that scribes had done an incredibly amazing job at preserving the text word for word. When comparing the AD 980 Massoretic OT manuscripts to the Dead Sea Scrolls it was discovered that the Massoretic manuscripts retained a 95% word for word accuracy. The other 5% consisting of spelling errors and “slips of the pen.”[6] None of these “errors” created any doctoral differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Massoretic text. Over the course of 1,900 years… that is amazing to say the least! It just further proves the great lengths these ancient scribes took in preserving these manuscripts, and further defends the authenticity of the text in the Bible we read today.

[1] Old Testament Manuscripts were copied for preservation only, hence the small number when compared to the NT manuscripts that were being copied in a persecuted evangelical period.

[2] Old Testament Manuscripts can be anywhere from 3,000 to 2,000 years old.

[3] -Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981)

[4] Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M. Div “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical Integrity.”

[5] Dr. Will Varner “What is the Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls?”, Associates for Biblical Research

[6] Archer, Gleason, Jr. (1974), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody). P. 25