What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Are new parts of the Bible still coming to light? How is this possible?

In 1947 in an obscure cave west of the Dead Sea, Bedouin shepherds discovered some scrolls carefully placed in ten tall jars. They did not know what they had come upon, but they sold the scrolls to a nearby dealer. This was the opening chapter to an astonishing archeological find; eventually some 800 different manuscripts would be found in eleven caves near the valley called Wadi Qumran. In all, some 60,000 fragments, portions, or complete scrolls of these 800 manuscripts were retrieved, covering many subjects.

Many of the documents contained biblical texts. Either fragments or complete copies were found of every book in the Old Testament except Esther. They had been placed in these caves around the middle of the first century AD, and the amazing fact is that they had lain there undisturbed for 1900 years! But why are these Dead Sea Scrolls so important for us? The reason is that before this discovery the earliest manuscripts of biblical texts dated from the ninth century after Christ. They were copies of earlier copies which were long lost.

But now, for example, we have a scroll of the complete book of Isaiah dating from the second century before Christ. It is a thousand years older than any previous Hebrew Scripture document that we had before 1947.

So as these scrolls were painstakingly unrolled and translated, biblical scholars and Christians everywhere wondered what the results would be. Would the new finds provide contradictory texts, quite different from the text of our Bibles? Would the Bible have to be altered or expanded?

Even though not all of the scrolls are unrolled and translated more than half a century later, the answers are coming clear. The texts are amazingly similar to the documents we already have. The variations are less than two percent, and not a single teaching or doctrine of the Bible we have is altered. Rather than posing a threat to the Christian faith, the Dead Sea Scrolls have, in fact, provided convincing support for the genuineness of God’s revelation as given to us in the Bible.

Nevertheless, Bible scholars are having intense debates about some of the texts. For example, some new Bible translations have added approximately 70 words to the end of 1 Samuel 10. The passage tells us that a certain king Nahash gouged out the eyes of the Israelites. While the text itself is of little consequence, it raises some very basic questions. Are new parts of the Bible still coming to light? Don’t we have God’s complete revelation? How is this possible?

Such questions need a forthright answer, and that answer is to trust in God’s provision. This trust embraces our faith in His plan for the universe, and in His sending of His son to our needy world. Therefore, it also certainly embraces our trust in His revelation. If we trust Him with our destiny, we can trust His provision of exactly what we need to know and receive from Him.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have provided enormous light for Bible translators. The Scripture text we have today is clearly reliable and substantiated from these ancient scrolls. The challenge we face in responding to this marvelous find is to place our faith in God’s Word and in His provision of light on our path for time and eternity.

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Biblica, the International Bible Society, is a worldwide ministry that has been helping people read and understand God’s Word for over 200 years. We are committed to providing the Bible in accurate, contemporary translations and formats so that more people around the world will have the opportunity to be transformed by Jesus Christ. We do this through translation and publishing, by making the Bible accessible, and with innovative Bible engagement programs like Community Bible Experience. To learn more about our ministry and how you can partner with us to share God’s Word with people around the world, go to our ministry page.