Getting the Bible was a painstaking process of copying. Long before the printing press of the 15th century not to mention computers, copies of Scripture had to be preserved by painstaking copying, one letter at a time. Some copies were made individually. Others were made in scriptoriums where someone read the text. In these locations, many copies were made at once as several scribes listened and wrote. I often tell people the Bible they hold in their hands is possible because many people faithfully over several centuries copied the text to replace worn out copies. Those copies were not perfect, but the fact we have many manuscripts of these texts allows us to reproduce the text with a high level of certainty. Where we are not sure, we do know what the likely options are. Good Bible translations signal the options to you by having a note int eh margin that reads “or” with the variant noted. We have over 5800 Greek manuscripts. The best ancient texts of other works have 100-200 copies. In most cases we are confident what the text should read. In no case do these differences impact the overall teaching of the faith. What they impact is which verses teach and idea and so how many relate to a specific theme.
This copying process can be tested in terms of its accuracy by the many manuscripts we have. Some of the examples of this are amazing. When the Dead Sea scrolls were found we discovered a manuscript of Isaiah 1000 years older than any other version of Isaiah we possessed. The discovered text was virtually identical to its 1000 year older descendant. Although some issues remain in particular spots, the text we have today is a solid reproduction of what was produced.
(5 min read; 1,228 words)