How the Bible Came to Be: Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scroll caves
Qumram Caves

In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information at one’s fingertips, many philosophies, ideologies, ways of thinking and opposing points of view, as well as an increasing amount of misinformation, for knowledge about the purpose of life and the future of the earth, there is one book that we can rely on. The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God and a book that you can trust. For example, the Bible says of itself,

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him”(Psalms 30:5, ESV)

“For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (Psalms 33:4, ESV)

But how can a book as old as the Bible, having been written by over 40 different writers in three different languages and over a 1,600-year time span, make such claims? Well, the Bible also claims that the LORD God, Creator of all things, is its author (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that while there are many human authors, there is ultimately a single author who is eternal. God ensures that the message of the Bible is right, flawless and trustworthy.

One way to assure ourselves of the accuracy of the Bible is to compare it with ancient copies of the text. This was made possible with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 by young Bedouin shepherds in the desert of Judea. While searching for a stray goat in a cave a shepherd boy discovered clay jars filled with ancient scrolls. This began a search that eventually resulted in the discovery of thousands of scroll fragments. Using a number of techniques to identify the age of the scrolls, it was determined that the dates of the scrolls ranged from the third century B.C.E. to 68 C.E. Coming from the late Second Temple Period, a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived, they are older than any other surviving biblical manuscripts by almost one thousand years.

“The most important ancient witnesses to the Hebrew Bible are the texts discovered at Wadi Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s…The greatest importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls lies in the discovery of biblical manuscripts dating back to only about 300 years after the close of the Old Testament canon. That makes them 1000 years earlier than the oldest manuscripts previously known to biblical scholars. The texts found at Wadi Qumran were all completed before the Roman conquest of Palestine in A.D. 70, and many predate this event by quite some time. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Isaiah scroll has received the most publicity, although the collection contains fragments of all the books in the Hebrew Bible with the exception of Esther” (Comfort, pp. 155-56).

Not only so, but the texts are extremely close to the wording of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible from roughly 1000 years later.

The scrolls demonstrate the precision of those who copied it and the desire to have such important information preserved for future generations. Knowing that the Old Testament we read today is virtually the same as the texts written centuries before Jesus, means that for over 2,000 years, Bible readers have been reading the same information. Now that is consistency! For a book that claims to be from the eternal Creator whose word is right, true, flawless and can be trusted, the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls helps immensely in verifying that there is a God and His word can be trusted and relied upon yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  • References: World of the Scrolls; Comfort, Philip Wesley, The Origin of the Bible: Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament (1992).
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