Reliability of the New Testament, Mobile Comms and Bitcoins – Blog #1

It is commonplace nowadays to claim that the Bible is an unreliable book and that the New Testament has been changed and tempered with. “Has it not been corrupted through the millennia? Has not Chinese whispers irreparably altered its message?” These are certainly good questions to ask.

In answer to this we could pose a rather interesting question in return: What has the reliability of the New Testament got to do with modern mobile communications and bitcoin (crypto-currency) technology? Much, as we shall see …

Mobile Comms

Click. You take a picture on your mobile phone.  You send it to your friend’s mobile, and by some amazing technological feat, that photo arrives at your friend’s phone. It’s not fuzzy, it’s not got splodges or chunks missing.  In fact, it’s that same lovely picture.

If you knew what happens to that signal along the way you would be astonished that your friend gets any image at all.  The signal bounces all over the place, there’s interference from other signals, some of it is absorbed by trees and leaves, other parts are zapped by static in the air, and it fades over distance, and so on (the picture on the left show such a faded signal).  So how on earth does it arrive at your friend’s phone self-evidently unscathed? The same question applies to the transmission of the New Testament.

99% Reliable

You may be surprised, but the 20th Century techniques we think we’ve only just invented to guarantee reliable mobile transmission, these same kind of techniques God had already used in the 1st Century to ensure reliable transmission of the New Testament – so much so, that, contrary to popular opinion, biblical scholars are confident that the Bible has been 99% reliably transmitted (incidentally, this is not true of any other book of antiquity, as the chart below clearly shows). How so? What are these techniques?

Take the very latest technology used in your mobile phone and WiFi gadgets, OFDMA and OFDM respectively. Don’t worry about these fancy acronyms for now (look them up if you want), but basically, reliability is enhanced by spreading the information over many carriers.  You can think of it as lots of little lorries carrying individual bunches of bananas instead of one great big lorry carrying the whole lot – so if one lorry breaks down you’ve not lost all your bananas!

The New Testament equivalent of little lorries is manuscripts, i.e. from small pieces of text to complete books. Some ancient documents from the same era have fewer than ten manuscripts (e.g. Aristophanes, Euripides and Suetonius), and most others have fewer than 350 manuscripts. The New Testament, however, boasts of nearly 6,000 Greek manuscripts.  As you can see from the chart, this is far more than any other similarly ancient document.  Furthermore, there are around a million quotations from the New Testament in early church writings! The same simply cannot be said of any other book in antiquity.

Pesky Attacks

What about all that mobile signal interference, and pesky static, bouncing and fading?  How does one overcome such corruptions?  Well, engineers use various techniques that would be too complicated to explain here.  However, many of their equivalents are easy for us to understand.  For example, we use dictionaries, grammar and semantic (meaning) analysis to correct errors.

We know that when we see “a apple” what is meant is “an apple”; when we see “I has win the race”, we realise what is most probably meant is “I have won the race” – especially when we find other manuscripts that say “an apple” and “I have won the race”.  This accounts for about 75% of the variations (alleged corruption) in the biblical manuscripts.

Or take another type of variance, when we see “you have won 10 million dollars”, “10 million dollars thou hast won” and “y’all have won $10,000,000” we see them as variations of the same thing.  In each case there is an agreement as far as the meaning (semantics) that has been transmitted.

MIMO

No, not a fish, that’s Nemo!  MIMO (Multiple Inputs Multiple Outputs) is a technique that sends and receives information encoded in different ways over different aerials – essentially, this is sending and receiving the same message but in multiple different ways. It’s another means of ensuring successful transmission. And there is a New Testament equivalent.  The New Testament was translated into different languages, such as Syriac, Latin, Coptic and Aramaic (in all, there are upwards of 19,000 such manuscripts). So, if they all say pretty much the same as the original Greek, we can be confident that the transmission method is very reliable indeed.

Summary

There is a way to visualize all this. Given a typical text from that same era or thereabouts, if we represent the number of copies of manuscripts of that text as a 1.3 metre (4 ft) boy, then to represent the same for the New Testament we would need a building 1.5 km (1 mile) high, i.e. taller than the tallest building in the world. Simply put, the New Testament is without parallel.

We also see that, despite imperfections of the transmission medium and process, whether radio signals over the air or text on pieces of material, it is perfectly possible to transmit information reliably to its destination. This is very counter-intuitive and very contrary to common perception! But we have incontrovertible evidence that mobile phones work, therefore we can also have the same confidence that the New Testament is very reliable.

Next blog is about the connection between reliability of the New Testament and bitcoins and crypto-currency …

 

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