Is the Original Bible Still in Existence?

Is it still in existence? Yes and no. The original papyrus and vellum pages wore out and have been replaced untold times, but more than 6 billion Bibles and Scripture portions containing the original writings exist in 3,384 languages worldwide. Contributing Writer
Apr 27, 2020
Is the Original Bible Still in Existence?

It took 35 years, three months, and two weeks before my wife, Renée, lost her original wedding ring. Were we still married? Yes. I should know! I lost my wedding ring five years earlier. What if Renée and I ended up losing our original marriage license? Would we still be married? Again, yes. The originals are treasured but not essential.

The same principle applies to the original Bible. Is it still in existence? Yes and no. The original papyrus and vellum pages wore out and have been replaced untold times, but more than 6 billion Bibles, New Testaments, and Scripture portions containing the original writings exist in 3,384 languages worldwide.

God Himself Inspired the Writings

The prophet Jeremiah offers us seven important insights.

1. Inspiration begins the moment God reveals any portion of his truth to his prophets for his people (Jeremiah 36:1). The prophet knew immediately that he had received a new revelation from God. He didn’t have to think twice about it!

2. Inspiration often begins as an oral message that the prophet or apostle dictates or pens. It’s inspired whether it’s written immediately or after an extended period of time (Jeremiah 36:1-2; Jeremiah 36:32).

3. Inspired messages communicate God’s words to humanity in an exact form. They become inspired scriptures (writings) the moment they are penned. Their value as God’s Word does not increase, but their effectiveness does. People can reconsider recorded messages and read them along with other messages from other times (Jeremiah 36:3).

4. Inspiration is not dependent on the written scriptures. When we share portions of Scripture orally, we are transmitting God’s Word to others (Jeremiah 36:9-16).

5. Inspiration does not depend on the actual existence of the originals today (Jeremiah 36:32). Jeremiah dictated “all the former words that were in the first scroll” he had just written — a scroll of newly inspired Scripture that a wicked king promptly destroyed (Jeremiah 36:22-23; Jeremiah 36:28).

6. Inspiration is always dependent on the Lord. Even though Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord, he couldn’t prophesy whenever he felt like it. Sometimes the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, compelling him to prophesy (Jeremiah 37:6).

Sometimes the Lord gave Jeremiah a message as he spoke (Jeremiah 37:17) that was essentially a message Jeremiah had delivered often before. Sometimes Jeremiah had to wait a long time until the Lord gave him a new message (Jeremiah 42:7).

7. Inspiration applies to the very choice of words. Jeremiah felt strongly that he had to deliver the whole message of the Lord, without omitting a word (Jeremiah 42:4; Jeremiah 43:1). Jeremiah also wrote down his own thoughts and the remarks of others, but the Holy Spirit directed every word he wrote.

God Preserved the Writings

The Bible was carefully preserved from Genesis to Revelation.

The Old Testament: This canon was started about 1400 BC (the books of Moses) and completed about 450 BC (Malachi). According to Josephus, the Jewish people divided the Hebrew scriptures into the following sections:

  • The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • The 13 Prophets: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth (considered one book); Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations (one book); Ezekiel, the 12 Minor Prophets (one book); Daniel, Job, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah (one book); and Chronicles.
  • The Four Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. Sometimes Job, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and Chronicles were added to this third section of writings.

The New Testament: Soon after the church began, the need for a second canon of accepted Scripture writings developed.

The New Testament canon formed much more quickly than that of the Old Testament because of the loss of the apostles and other witnesses, the expansion of Christianity beyond Palestine, the need to protect the message from false teachings, the persecution of believers (they needed to know which books they would die for), and the missionary enterprise (they needed to know which books to translate and use in preaching).

The early church went through several steps to finalize the New Testament canon. Most of the books were widely recognized as canonical in the second and third centuries. Some seriously questioned only a few of the later books in the New Testament. By AD 397, two official church councils had confirmed the canonical nature of the 27 books of the New Testament.

Scribes Copied the Writings Meticulously

We can confirm the accuracy of the transmission of the original Bible to copies in four important ways.

First, after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra and other scribes carefully went to work to ensure that plenty of copies of God’s Word would always exist. These scribes became known as “lawyers” because of their knowledge of the Old Testament law.

Second, the Talmudists (AD 100-450), the Masoretes (AD 450-900), and other such groups who copied under the strictest of rules reproduced the Old Testament. Their high standards reflect the accuracy of their copying. Here are some of the rules they followed:

  • They could not copy from memory.
  • They could not correct the original if they felt it was wrong (they could only add notations in the margins).
  • On each line they copied, they counted the number of letters and words, compared middle words, checked the frequency of each letter, and the like.
  • They used the space of a hair between each letter. (Talk about precise!
  • They reverently burned or buried worn-out copies (to avoid profaning the Lord’s name).

Third, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for the New Testament. Its 27 books were written between AD 40 and 100. The earliest known copy of part of the New Testament is dated only a few short decades after the completion of the original.

Also, there are 5,400 ancient copies of the New Testament in Greek alone, 10,000 more in Latin, and 9,300 in other languages. From this wealth of sources, scholars have made comparisons to accurately determine the original.

Sir Frederic George Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, said, “Thanks to these manuscripts, the ordinary reader of the Bible may feel comfortable about the soundness of the text. Apart from a few unimportant verbal alterations, natural in books transcribed by hand, the New Testament, we now feel assured, has come down intact.”

Finally, almost the entire New Testament can be reproduced from the writings of the second- and third-century church fathers. All but 11 verses can be reconstructed from the verses they cited. Incredible!

The Marvel of AD 325 Still Exists Today

Thanks to Dr. Philip Barton Payne in Edmonds, Washington, I’ve seen an exact replica of the oldest extant copy of the Bible, the Codex Vaticanus. It includes small symbols to indicate where ancient scribes knew that variants existed in some of the biblical manuscripts within their scriptorium’s library. These match up with what scholars know today, even though the meanings of the small symbols weren’t deciphered until 1995.

Are the original Bible’s writings still in existence? Yes!

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headshot of David Sanford new 2020The late David Sanford’s book and Bible projects were published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His latest book was Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s book, Life Map Devotional for Women.

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