Recently Sam the Steamroller argued the Bible was not reliable for the following reasons:
“The KJV of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England. There were no original texts to translate. There still aren't. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The King James translators used none of these manuscripts. None. Instead, they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve. 21st century Christians (you...), believe the "word of God" is a book edited in the 17th century from 16th century translations from 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century..”
Surprisingly this statement against the reliability of textual transmission of the Bible is made up of a number of intertwined arguments and misrepresentations. To get at the heart of this we will need to untangle the intermixed arguments and assess them separately and determine if as a whole they make a compelling case against the reliability of the transmission of the Bible.
Overall this statement can be simplified in the following conditional syllogism:
- Major premise: “The King James Version is not reliable.”
- Minor premise: “The King James Version the Word of God (Bible).”
- Conclusion: “Therefore the Word of God (Bible) is not reliable.”
First the argument is logically invalid and is a strong defeater for the whole argument. Just because the KJV is not reliable does not mean that Word of God is not reliable. There are a multitude of translations of the word of God and it is a fallacy of composition to assume that because one translation is unreliable that they all are.
Separate from the invalid argument the major premise is falsifiable.
Yes there are known errors in the KJV translation of the Bible. We know there are minor errors because today we have over 5824 Greek manuscripts we can compare (New Testament alone). However, none of the errors effect any major Christian doctrine. Therefore the translation is reliable for Christian doctrine.
Argument 2 (implied and unstated)
- Major premise: “The King James Version is not reliable.”
- Minor premise: “New English translations are based on the King James Version.”
- Conclusion: “Therefore, new English translation are not reliable.”
While this syllogism is logically valid the premises are both false making the argument false.
I have shown in a previous statement why the major premise is false.
The minor premise is false because new translations are not based on the KJV they are based on the oldest most reliable manuscripts. For example the English Standard Version is based upon an entirely different Greek texts than the King James Version which is based primarily on the Textus Receptus.
“There were no original texts to translate.” In this statement there is the unstated presupposition that you have to have the original documents in order to have an accurate translation. We can turn this statement into the following conditional syllogism:
- Major premise: If you don’t have the original documents, you can’t make an accurate translation.
- Minor premise: We don’t have the original documents.
- Conclusion: Therefore, we don’t have an accurate translation.
It should be clear that just because we don’t have the original documents does not mean that we cannot have a reliable translation based on copies, provided that the copies are reliable.
1.) “There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike.”
At last count there are over 5824 Greek New Testament manuscripts. There are over 10,000 New Testament manuscripts in other languages such as Coptic, Syriac, Latin and Arabic and an additional 10,000 manuscripts quoting passages from the New Testament. Many of the earliest Church fathers (such as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp) quoted portions of the New Testament and we have their writings. From those writing we can reconstruct the entire New Testament. In fact only 2 books Jude and 2 John were not quoted before 100 AD after 100AD they are all quoted. These manuscripts equate to millions of pages of text. It is because we have so many manuscripts and sources that we can determine the differences and reconstruct the originals with a high degree of accuracy. In fact, the more manuscripts we have the more we can compare and contrast these manuscripts and the higher degree of accuracy.
2.) “…they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve.”
This statement is a circumstantial ad hominem. Attacking the translators by claiming they had vested interests is fallacious unless it can be showed that they had the bias and that that bias resulted in material mistranslations.
3.) “21st century Christians (you...), believe the "word of God" is a book edited in the 17th century from 16th century translations from 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.”
A minority of Christians, those in the King James only camp, believe that the perfect “Word of God' is a book edited in the 17th century and that the KJV is innerrant (true and without error). Overwhelmingly, Christians believe the Word of God was faithfully written by the original authors and reliably transmitted to us.
4.) "8,000 contradictory copies"
The textual differences (variants) are often cited as being in the hundreds of thousands of differences. 99% of the textual differences can be spotted easily because we have so many manuscripts and most of them are differences are in word order, grammar and spelling. These are all minor textual variants don’t amount to material errors that would change the meaning of the text. In fact 200,000 variants, over half, are spelling errors. Of the estimated 396,000 variants we can still reconstruct the original with a high degree of accuracy and confidence.
5.) "4th century scrolls"
There are plenty of other manuscripts that date before the 4th century. Recently we have discovered the earliest manuscripts ever, it is a portion of Mark that dates from the 1st century, and previously the earliest was from the early second century and was from the book of John known as the John Rylands Papyri.
From the second century alone we have 18 manuscripts that include 40% of the New Testament. There are over 60 manuscripts from the 3rd century. In addition, as previously stated we have second generation Church leaders form the 1st century quoting from all but two books of the New Testament in over 10,000 separate manuscripts.
6.) The translators were "8 members of the Church of England"
In truth 54 scholars were approved for the translation but 47 actually undertook the task of translating. The translators were divided into 6 committees translating different portions of the Bible. The names of the translators are publicly accessible. See: Daniell, David (2003). The Bible in English: its history and influence. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.
One of the unstated claims is that copyists made so many errors that we cannot consider the text we have as being reliable. They point to thousands minor textual variants as proof that the Bible we have is unreliable. However, even the hyper-skeptical Bart Erhman agrees that most of these variants are minor.
“…Most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort of another.” - Bart Ehrman 
Greg Koukl sums it up this way:
“…Our New Testament is over 99% pure. In the entire text of 20,000 lines, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine.” - Gerg Koukl 
Most of this information has about the New Testament. Well what about the Old Testament? According to Peter Flint PhD, excluding spelling, word order and grammar errors, we can determine that even over 2000 years of coping, the Old Testament is 99% accurate. This is due in large part to the discovery of the Dead Seas scrolls which had been lost for the last 2000 years. This is strong evidence that suggests we can determine a statistical error rate for the scribes that copied the Bible over the years. For the Old Testament we are talking about a material error rate of less than 1%. This is in line with our current estimates of 0.2% material error rate for the New Testament.
I think I have done a good job in untangle the intermixed arguments and assess them separately and determined as a whole they do not make a compelling case against the reliability of the transmission of the Bible. As you can see almost all of the assertions are wrong and the logic does not follow from those facts.
Much more could be said but it should be apparent that Sam failed to make the case the Bible is unreliable. In fact, a good case can be made that the transmission of the Biblical text is free from material errors.
 Ehrman, Bart D. ‘’Misquoting Jesus.’’ Kindle Edition. HarperOne. 2009 Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 884-886).
 Koukl, Greg. Stand To Reason Solid Ground Newsletter “Misquoting” Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman September/October 2010 by Gerg Koukl
For further information see: ReasonWiki.org's List of Resources on the Reliability of the Bible