I have a question about the original Bible. I know that none of the original autographs (documents) exist, so how is the Bible dated? I know that fulfilled prophecy is a big proof for the Bible's truthfulness, but how do we know the prophecies and their fulfillment were written years (or more) apart?
This question is at the heart and soul of Christianity. Christianity is not a blind leap of faith into spiritual nothingness. Its truthfulness is based on objective, verifiable prophecy, history, and eye witnesses to a risen Savior.
On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter reminded his fellow Jewish brethren to remember that Jesus returned to life after being dead. He did not try to convince them. He called them witnesses. That is a strong testimony to the divine Jesus.
This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. (NASB) Acts 2:32
On another occasion when the apostle Paul spoke to the Gentiles , the apostle appealed to the fact that his listeners either knew Jesus or knew about Jesus. He gave them names of people they could talk to. The apostle John testifies that He touched Jesus. This is his personal testimony.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (NASB) 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life . . . (NASB) 1 John 1:1
The roots of Christianity are also based in historical testimony. Pontius Pilate, Josephus, Roman emperors (such as Ceasar Trajan), secular historians and secular scientists have provided written testimony to the existence and miracles of Jesus. Josephus comes the closest to implying that Jesus was more than a man – God. Even the Jews who rejected Jesus admit that He performed supernatural miracles, when they attempt to explain away His divinity by saying He used demonic powers. What they have in fact admitted is that Jesus did do these things. It is a strong proof that Jesus really did miracles when His enemies admit that He did them.
Eyewitnesses and historical evidence objectively point to Jesus and so does fulfilled prophecy. These are Old Testament prophecies that reach forward in time by at least some 500 years and predict that He is coming and when He is coming.
How Old Is The Bible?
In order for a prophecy to be a real prophecy, it must have been written before the event occurred. Before the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in a Qumran cave by a Bedouin boy in 1947, the oldest copies of the Bible were from 900 AD. Consequently, the Dead Sea Scrolls were a major discovery. Critics proceeded to date the manuscripts. The early results were incomplete and inconsistent. But recent radiocarbon findings have concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls are as old as 300 BC to AD 70 with the bulk of the documents dating to 100 BC (Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. The Penguin Press. 1997, p. 15). This means our oldest copy of the Old Testament existed before Jesus came. Gleason Archer comments that the two copies of Isaiah found at Qumran,
“proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations of spelling.” (Geisler, Norman and Nix, William. A General introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1973. p. 261.
That is the result of meticulous, accurate copying by the Jewish scribes down through time. This should give us great confidence in the message and accuracy of what we read.
Book of Daniel
The book of Daniel is one of the most significant books in the Old Testament since it predicts the rise and fall of four major historic empires: Babylon (605-539 BC), Media-Persia (539-331 BC), Greece (331-146 BC), Rome (146 BC-A.D. 476) and predicts the date of Jesus’ life and death (2 B.C.-AD 33). The study Prophecy of the Future provides a summary of the prophetic future. The time of the writing, or date, of Daniel is also the most controversial of the Old Testament books. Lets look at the evidence for the date of the writing of the book of Daniel. The issue before us is whether Daniel was written before these events occurred?
Dead Sea Scroll Date
When was Daniel written? The Dead Sea Scrolls provide the first proof that the book of Daniel existed before 165 BC since Daniel was found among the manuscripts at Qumran. This early date is the result of radiocarbon dating of the Dead Sea manuscripts of Daniel. They imply that earlier copies of the book with older dates already existed. This is important because Daniel predicted the fall of Babylon (605-539 B.C.), Media-Persia (539-331 B.C.), Greece (331-146 B.C.) and then Rome (331-146 B.C.). Daniel also predicts the time of Jesus’ death (33 A.D.). The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that at least one prophecy, the prophecy about Jesus’ existence on earth is real.
There is another proof that the book of Daniel existed before Jesus was alive on this earth. This proof involves the Septuagint, which is also known as the LXX. The LXX is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Jewish tradition says that seventy scribes translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek between 285 BC and 247 BC. Since the Septuagint contains the book of Daniel, we know the book of Daniel existed even earlier in time.
Book of Josephus
Josephus states the book of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great when he approached the city of Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, chap VIII, section 5). History says that Alexander the Great approached Jerusalem around 331 BC. This means the book of Daniel existed before this event. It predicted that Jerusalem would be conquered by Greece. Some critics will accept Josephus’ other accounts as being accurate yet dispute this fact.
The Jewish Tradition
Long standing Jewish tradition says the book of Daniel existed before 450 BC. While this is not solid proof, it is consistent with the next fact.
Most critics widely accept the book of Ezekiel as being written between 586 BC and 538 BC. What is fascinating is that the author, Ezekiel, refers to Daniel in Ezekiel 14:14, 20. This implies that Daniel was alive during his time. Daniel claims to be the author (Daniel 12:4) of the book which bears his name and to have lived during the life of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1-2) and Darius (Dan. 9:1). This implies that Daniel was a contemporary of Ezekiel and lived to see the fall of Babylon (Dan. 5:30-31).
For decades, the critics said the proof that Daniel was written near Christ’s time is found in the Greek names of musical instruments recorded in the book and the fact that a portion of Daniel was written in Aramaic. After excavations in Babylonia and Assyria, it has become clear that the musical instruments (lyre, sackbut, and trigon) mentioned in Daniel 3 do not have Greek names (which would argue for a later date for Daniel) but Babylonian names from the seventh century B.C. (600 B.C.). These instruments originated in Old Persia and were then assimilated by the Greeks. To the embarrassment of the critics, excavations have also proven that the Aramaic of Daniel was an Imperial Aramaic of the seventh century (600 B.C.) and not the Aramaic found later. The Babylonians did read and write in Aramaic (Dan. 2:4). With the Dead Sea scrolls and recent archaeological findings, the critics of Daniel are having to reconsider their objections. Future discoveries are proving the criticisms to be in error and not objective.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint are solid proof that Daniel’s predictions about the time of Jesus’ life on earth occurred before He came. The books had to already be in existence by at least one hundred and sixty years. There is not a good reason to doubt Josephus or the Jewish tradition unless we are looking for reasons to reject Daniel. Josephus is a trustworthy historian. The witness of Ezekiel and the claim of Daniel also argue that the books of Daniel and Ezekiel were written during the sixth century before Jesus Christ. This means that Daniel’s prophecies about Greece, Rome and Jesus’ presence on this earth occurred before they were fulfilled. The book of Ezekiel was written in advance of their fulfillment and the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah can also be shown to be true predictions and not after-the-fact writings.
The objective reasons for believing the Bible are true are fulfilled prophecies, predictions that point to the time of Jesus’ life and death, historical eye witnesses who admit that Jesus performed supernatural miracles and returned to life, and men and women who have changed lives. Now that is a reason to believe!
I would encourage each person reading this answer to ask God to help you see the truth. Ask Him to show you in some extraordinary way that He is real and that Daniel was a true prophet.