With this issue, we conclude our year-long series of tributes to the Word of God. What, then, have we gathered? We’ve talked a lot about the greatness of the Bible as it has been delivered to us in the English versions, and our souls have been encouraged by the study. What we have in this “Book of books” is really a remarkable treasure. It’s worthy of our entire trust and our anchored faith.
But as we finish, I want to emphasize the Main Thing. In the inspiration of the Spirit, the apostle John identifies the Word with Christ Himself. “In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God, and The Word was God.” Our reverence for Scripture is ultimately our reverence for our Creator God, our Redeemer and Savior. We don’t worship a book, of course, nor do we consider it magical or treat it with the almost superstitious awe that some false religions extend toward their governing documents. But we read it and study it and pattern our lives by it, because ultimately we find Jesus there. Some, in fact, have claimed they can find Jesus on every page! He is most certainly, then, the Word of God, and in His kindness He has allowed His character and truth to be written out for us with paper and ink. What a gift!
To wrap up our studies, let’s look at the background of Scripture, and then move on to its impact.
The first thing to note is that the original documents of the various books of the Bible, documents known as the “Autographs,” are no longer extant. No one has ever seen Moses’ handwriting, for example, nor that even of Paul. So what we have are ancient manuscripts which have been copied from still more ancient ones. Lest this immediately reduce our trust in what we’re reading, we should also note that by putting all the sources together, we can confidently arrive at an authoritative “text” of the original languages, a text which is inarguably reliable. So-called “copyists’ errors” can safely be reduced to a tiny fraction of the whole, and more importantly, in no instance do such variations contradict the doctrinal truths of Scripture. We’re on safe ground as we read.
The Old Testament manuscripts were so faithfully copied by Jewish scribes that one source records the process this way: When the copy was finished, its accuracy was measured by counting the number of words, determining the middle word (and even letter!), and comparing that to the original. If it wasn’t the same, they would have to start all over again.
Why such pains? Because they knew they were working with the actual Word of God, and errors just were not acceptable. And such painstakingly created manuscripts were practically priceless. During the Middle Ages, the monasteries were the chief purveyors of knowledge, both Biblical and secular. And since all books were handwritten before the invention of printing, they were extremely valuable. For example, in 1312, somewhere in Europe, here’s one instance of what a mere five pieces of silver were able to purchase:
• A whole farm of 30 acres and a 2-acre wood lot
• 2 farmhouses
• A second section of woods
• And 60 more acres of land.
But it is also recorded that in 1309, a single copy of the Bible sold for sixteen pieces of silver!
Under such conditions, people were not treating these things carelessly. Bibles, in fact, along with other books, were considered so valuable that they were actually chained to the reading desks in monasteries or libraries. To sum up, it has often been stated that with the literally thousands of Bible manuscripts available to translators, the Word of God, as we know it today, is substantiated by far more actual evidence than any other text of antiquity.
But what is its spiritual value? Does it offer us anything in our pursuit of God? In the late 20th century, conservative Bible scholars, in direct opposition to skeptical critics, laid increasing emphasis on the “sufficiency” of Scripture. It has everything we need. Echoing Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, these teachers affirmed that “All Scripture is inspired of God” and that it is also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction … that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In other words, the Bible is all we need. By taking time with it and exploring its riches, we find answers to life’s major (and even minor) questions. Its teachings offer reliable principles for life and godliness.
When we consider the ills of modern society, we must ask ourselves how long they’d last if people decided to do it the Bible way. If “the way of the transgressor is hard,” as it certainly is, the contrasting “path of the righteous is as the dawning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). That “path” is carefully described from Genesis to Revelation: obedient attention to the Book will open it up to any believer.
With its accuracy and sufficiency established, what can be said about its authority? Plenty, as it turns out. It would be tedious to rehearse all it says about itself, but we will note some pretty powerful statements by Jesus. When disputing with the Pharisees He declared, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and in His great prayer before Gethsemane, He asked that His disciples be sanctified in the truth, adding, “Thy Word is truth.” That’s all the authority we need.
But it’s also interesting to trace what has been called “The Golden Chain”—a series of seven passages in which each segment of Scripture is stamped with divine endorsement, so to speak. Taken all together, we find the Bible authenticating its own authority.
The Golden Chain
1. John 10:35 (quoted above) is the first, the Lord’s sweeping endorsement of the entire Old Testament.
2. Matthew 5:17 makes it even stronger: “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I came not to destroy but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” That establishes the books of Moses.
3. Matthew 24:35 authenticates the words of Jesus: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” That covers the Gospels.
4. Luke 10:16 is a little less direct, but it addresses the rest of the New Testament, except Paul, whom we’ll look at in a moment. “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth Me; and he that rejecteth Me rejecteth Him that sent Me.” Jesus was addressing the Twelve at this point, telling them, in effect, that the teachings found in their then-future written ministry (the books of Peter, James, and John) would carry the same weight as the words of Jesus Himself—or Moses and the prophets.
5. 1 Corinthians 14:37 provides us with the testimony of Paul in his own characteristically forthright statement of authority: “If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.” Paul’s writings, too, are thus totally authoritative.
6. 2 Peter 3:16 substantiates Paul’s claim. Speaking of Paul’s letters, Peter regards them, despite their difficulty, as on the level of Scripture. “The ignorant and unsteadfast wrest [them] as they do the other Scriptures.”
7. And Revelation 22:18-19 is the well-known warning against tampering with the final words of the Bible: “If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book,” and a similar fate awaits anyone who omits any part of it.
Thus it’s all valid, Genesis to Revelation. With such testimony laid out in “black and white,” we need look no further. The Bible is accurate, it is sufficient for our life-needs, and it resonates with divine authority from cover to cover. End of discussion. Q.E.D.
Now what about its impact? How does it affect our lives from day to day? There are ample testimonials from great men over the centuries as to what they thought about it, and they carry a lot of weight. For example, take New Hampshire statesman Daniel Webster, whose words sound sadly prophetic:
If we abide by the principles taught in the
Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.
Or President John Quincy Adams:
So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society.
Or back to New Hampshire: Horace Greeley put it this way:
It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.
It would be hard to outdo such voices, but let’s conclude by returning once more to the “Tribute to the Bible” we have printed in every issue this year. Its simple language is powerfully eloquent in honoring the Word of God:
This Book contains
The mind of God,
The way of salvation,
The doom of sinners,
And the happiness of believers.
Its doctrine is holy,
Its precepts are binding
Its histories are true,
And its decisions immutable.
These first two sections are like windows opening on a great vista of Truth. Yes, it does explain the mind of God, which includes His gracious provision of Salvation. And yes, its histories are true. We can rely on its accounts even of such things as the world-wide Flood, or the bizarre little story of Jonah. As one God-fearing woman told me some time ago when submitting an article for these pages, she had decided simply to accept everything the Bible teaches, regardless of its apparent obscurity. She was a brilliant, well-educated individual, quite capable of carnal reasoning if she chose. But she chose faith instead, and she found that this commendable decision had, unsurprisingly, brought her peace of heart. As well it should: an attitude like that will not lead us astray. The Bible is true, and its decisions cannot be altered to fit the breezes of modern culture. What God calls sin is sin today, and the door of Salvation remains open today: “Whosoever will” may still “come.”
Read it to be wise,
Believe it to be safe,
Practice it to be holy.
It contains light to direct you,
Food to support you,
And comfort to cheer you.
Believing its truth leads inevitably to practicing its teachings—which in turn leads to a wise and holy lifestyle. This kind of living will bring no shame, and it will bring no harm—to oneself or one’s neighbor. A society like that would be world-changing! And praise God, one day we’ll see that very society prevailing to the ends of the earth.
It is the traveler’s map,
The pilgrim’s staff,
The pilot’s compass,
The soldier’s sword,
And the Christian’s charter.
Here, heaven is opened,
The gates of hell disclosed.
In short, it is sufficient—in every walk of life: support for the pilgrim, direction for the voyager, and a matchless weapon for spiritual warfare. More, we find it’s also sufficient to speak with authority about the life to come: Heaven opened! But then comes the crowning accolade:
Christ is its subject,
Our good its design,
The glory of God its end.
Praise God for this indescribable treasure! We should certainly,
Read it slowly, Frequently, and Carefully – every single day.
It is a mine of wealth, and a river of pleasure.
And the unknown writer closes this remarkable “Tribute” with promises, warnings, and a challenge:
It is given to you here in this life,
Will be opened at the Judgment,
And is established forever!
It involves the highest responsibility,
Will reward the greatest labor,
And condemns all who trifle with its sacred contents.
So as this year concludes and 2023 looms, let’s renew our attention to the Book of Books. We don’t need something different, we just need the Word—on Christ the solid rock we stand.
Of course there is a seemingly endless stream of new English versions in the publishing pipeline, and we need to be cautious about which we depend on. But find one that’s trustworthy, and read it every day! Then treat it with the respect it deserves by simply living it. Remember, as someone said, “You are going to be the only Bible some people will ever see,” so let’s make it a good one!
All honor to the immutable and life-changing Word of God. ■