The Preservation of the Bible

As one travels far and wide over the earth, he finds that things which he may consider important in his own life are unknown or unimportant in the lives of others. He also discovers that import­ant men are important only in certain parts of the country.

However, there is one book which the traveler finds in the farthest comers of the earth. That book is the Bible. This does not mean that every African hut has its Bible as every American home might have. But it means that the many translations of the Bible have been widely distributed over the globe. Almost every­one in the world can find at least parts of the Bible written in his own language. The Bible has been the world’s “best seller” for many years. Hundreds of thousands of copies are given away yearly. But the Bible still sells by the millions. In one year enough copies were distributed to average forty-seven for every minute of every hour, night and day.

Let us notice how the Bible was brought to us so that we are able to sell it by the millions today.

We know that the Holy Spirit, the primary author of the Bible, employed human authors as secondary instruments for the production of the original manu­scripts of the Bible. So far as we know all these original manuscripts are lost. What we have now are only copies of earlier copies. The question then is, how sure can we be that our present Bible is an accurate reproduction of the original?

Let us begin by observing that no book in the whole world has the reverent, care­ful treatment which has been given the Bible throughout the centuries; while at the same time no other book has been more abused or criticized than the Bible. The early monasteries were the great homes of Bible copying. Every new copy of the Scriptures had to be copied out by hand. Our King James Version has rough­ly 693,000 words in it. What a tremen­dous task these copyists had!

Every monastery had its writing room in which the monks toiled over their pre­cious manuscripts. They knew the holi­ness of their task. The monks labored with love and kept the Bible alive. The Bible has been copied by scribes who regarded errors of transcription with al­most superstitious terror. Its translators thought it not an extravagance to devote a lifetime to their labors. Now, may I ask how many today would be willing to spend their whole life copying the Bible? The ancient Greek copyists counted the number of verses written. The Hebrew scribes counted each word and letter. Discovery of the slightest error, even the mis-writing of a single letter, meant the re-writing of the entire page upon which the error appeared. They spoke aloud each word before writing it. This rever­ent regard for the work of transcription characterized the Christian copyists as well as the Hebrew scribes.

These Bible copyists could not always labor undisturbed. Often during times of persecution the Emperors would order that all Bibles be delivered up. More than one martyr was discovered while reading the Scriptures and being brought to account for it. This indicates the ex­tent to which early Christians honoured and defended the Bible as their sacred possession and dearest treasure. Would you or I today be willing to give our life in an effort to preserve a copy of the Holy Word of God? Besides the attacks upon the Bible by the heathen State or by ecclesiastical or political hierarchy of the Middle Ages, there was other opposi­tion characterized by modernism and socialism.

One of the chief enemies of the Bible is ignorance of it. Doubts and suspicions do not arise from Bible reading, but they are communicated from outside to those who are not acquainted with the Bible. They hold it in contempt and even detest it as a hindrance to education and cul­ture. Had they ever experienced any of the comfort and gladness which the pious reader can draw from its pages, they would be of a different opinion.

With the collapse of the ancient civiliz­ation and decay of learning, the follow­ing centuries, naturally brought a decline in the reading of the Bible.

The revival of learning affected the Bible in three ways. In the first place it led to a multiplication of copies of the Bible. Later the invention of the printing press of course made it much easier to reproduce copies of the Bible. The first Bible was printed in 1456 by Johannes Gutenberg. The Bible was the first book ever printed.

Secondly, it produced the study of the original manuscripts which corrected many errors which had come into the Bible by this time. And finally, it pro­moted a desire to make the Scriptures known to all classes of men directly. This could be done by having the Bible translated in each country into the com­mon language of the people.

The translation of the Bible played an important part at the outbreak of the Reformation. The reformers held that the best method of overthrowing the power of the monasteries and of the Roman Church was to enable the com­mon people to read the Bible for them­selves and learn how much of the teach­ings of the priest had no basis in the words of Scripture. The leaders of the Roman Church, on the other hand, doubt­ed the advisability of allowing the Scrip­tures to be read by uneducated and half ­educated folk. The struggle of the Re­formation period was largely concerned with the question, of the translation of the Bible.

Besides the preservation of the Bible, its circulation was also necessary and this involved the task of translation. When the Jews began to settle in the various countries of the Greek world they adopted the Greek language and translated certain books of the Bible into Greek. Later as Christianity became the religion of the Roman world, Latin­ speaking Christians soon put the Bible into their own language. The popular German version was made by the great, reformer, Luther. The first complete English Bible was published in 1535. The King James and Revised Standard Ver­sions are based on this first translation.

We know that the translations of the Bible are not inspired. The Bible no­where claims that they will be. On the other hand, we believe that because God intended the Scriptures to be known thor­oughly, His Spirit has exercised sover­eignty in the preservation of the canon­ical books and has guided the church in canonization.

In spite of the careful work done by the copyists and translators, errors did creep in. But, what about these errors? Are they such as to disturb our faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible? Not at all! They are insignificant.

Sir Frederick Kenyon writes: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God faithfully handed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”