It is very difficult to get to the truth of some matters. One such matter is "the reliability of the Bible."
My eye chanced on a blogpost signalled on a blogroll here. Peter Head at Evangelical Textual Criticism takes on a "silly" article by Greg Gilbert at The Gospel Coalition (itself an adapted excerpt from a book written by Gilbert called Why Trust the Bible?). Some of the comments to Peter Head's article are in themselves illuminating as to ways in which evangelicalism can be, well, a bit precious.
Peter Head's underlying point, as one evangelical to a community of evangelicals is that evangelicals do no service to their advancement of the significance of the Bible as the authoritative written Word of God by underpinning arguments with sloppy logic and slippery use of available evidence.
I am with Peter Head. When we read the Old and New Testaments in their original languages we are reading documents with a complex and often difficult history. "Complex" because matching differences between manuscripts offers in many cases no simple argument which will clinch agreement on what the text of the "original" manuscript was (say, Paul as he or an amanuensis wrote the epistle which would then be circulated, or, then copied and those copies circulated to the churches. "Difficult" because there are often decades of uncertainty between the widely agreed date of composition of the original document and the manuscript copy of that document agreed (widely, or otherwise) to be the oldest available to us. And, even then, it is quite possible that that document is a poor copy compared with the putative original, and a later manuscript is actually more reliable as a representation of the original.
These are complex and difficult matters when considering the New Testament alone. They are much more complex and difficult when considering the Old Testament (for which we have manuscripts in Hebrew and Aramaic, but much uncertainty as to how reliable our manuscripts are, noting variations when compared to the Greek Old Testament manuscripts and to evidence from manuscripts in other ancient translations of the Old Testament).
Evangelicals should not oversimplify the issues or underestimate the difficulties we have when we try to deduce from the myriad evidence available to us, exactly what the original form of the Bible was. We would all like a reliable Bible in which we were confident that we had manuscripts in the relevant ancient languages which were "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." But it ain't possible (short of some really, really remarkable archaeological or antiquarian discoveries of manuscripts much older than those we currently have). Yes, I am aware that we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are truly ancient and terrifically helpful in the quest for a reliable Bible, but they are not a "whole Bible" treasure trove of manuscripts.
Nevertheless we should not despair of the quest for the reliability of the Bible, providing we look for the right kind of reliability. I hope to come back to this quest soon.