Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Bible

Pen & Paper

A fellow-preacher and friend of mine is currently vacationing in Ireland. While in Dublin, he visited the Chester Beatty, a library and museum which houses a document called “p46,” the oldest known manuscript of the apostle Paul’s letters. It’s a collection of most of Paul’s letters dating to the middle of the second century, discovered in Cairo Egypt in the 1930s. 

The earliest reference to a collection of the apostle Paul’s letters is in the New Testament itself in 2 Peter 3.15-16. There, Peter says to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 

Peter was writing to an audience in Asia Minor (what we call Turkey) that was already acquainted with Paul’s writings. Peter equated Paul’s letters with “Scripture” (v. 16). So then, by about AD 64, Paul’s letters were already being collected and circulated in Asia Minor. The existence of manuscript p46 means that within a century, Paul’s letters were being published and distributed across the Roman Empire at least as far away as Egypt.

One interesting feature of manuscript p46 is the presence of reader’s marks – strokes and dots – written with a different ink than in the original text. Apparently, whoever owned this document made notations in it. They appear to be efforts to divide the text into smaller units (much like our chapter and verse divisions). Marking in your Bible is not a modern invention, it appears to be a long-held tradition for serious Bible students.

One of my great fears about modern publishing is the disappearance of physical documents. These days, everything is “virtual” – real documents, but only in electronic form. Much of what we know about ancient Christianity and Judaism comes in the form of physically written documents preserved over time. Once an electronic document is destroyed, they’re almost impossible to recover. At least with pen and ink, fragments are often left behind for us.

I’m thankful that God in his providence used pen and ink to preserve His Word in a permanent form. I’m thankful that ancient brothers and sisters in Christ loved their Bibles enough to mark in them. I’m thankful that something as simple as a stick with some ink at one end can be such a powerful instrument in God’s eternal plans.

I encourage you to do two things. First, don’t be afraid to write in your Bibles. It’s a great memory and study tool. Many electronic Bibles allow you to do this. Second, the next time you’re in your Bible, take a moment to thank God for preserving it for us to read today.

Which Way?

I’ve always had a fascination with maps. My dad was a land surveyor for a power company. He frequently drew maps and would sometimes bring home old ones that had been changed and were no longer accurate. Early on I discovered a kind of pleasure in looking at and reading maps.

Maps are representations of reality. They’re designed to help you find your way in the reality that we call the world. Maps can tell you about all kinds of things: Distances, directions, locations, climate, precipitation, crops, economics, elevations, businesses, etc.

For most of us, we use maps to tell us how to get from one point to the next. They give us an idea of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about printed maps, hand drawn maps, or digital maps, they function in the same way.

In the moral sphere, we also need maps to help us get from one point to the next. Like their physical counterparts, moral maps are representations of spiritual realities. To that end, one of the best ways to think about the Bible is to view it as a map of the spiritual world. 

In many of its historical narratives, the Bible refers to geographical features of the land, including highways and streets: “The way of the wilderness” (Joshua 8.15) or “the way of the Red Sea” (Numbers 21.4) or “the street called Straight” in ancient Damascus (Acts 9.11). These were roadways used by travelers in ancient times.

The Bible also uses the same kind of terminology to describe the moral road that God’s people should travel. Psalm 1 says (verses 1 & 6), “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers… For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Notice the terminology: “walk… the path of sinners… the way of the righteous… the way of the wicked.”

The psalmist is saying that the difference between the wicked and the righteous is the map that each one follows. The righteous man follows God’s map while the wicked man follows his own map. Consequently, their destinations couldn’t be more divergent.

But we need to remember that a map is good only to the extent that it accurately represents reality. A road map that tells you that Nashville is west of Memphis isn’t reliable. But that’s why the Bible is the ultimate spiritual road map: It represents things as they really are.

So, make sure you’ve got a copy of God’s road map, make sure you examine it regularly and carefully, and above all else, make sure you’re following it.

The Value of Scripture

How much do you treasure your Bible? How much is it worth to you? Not simply how much did it cost you to purchase; rather, among all your earthly possession how would you rank it? 

Two comments by the psalmist provide some perspective: 

  • Psalm 119.72 – The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
  • Psalm 119.127 – Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold.

Almost 500 years, on October 6, 1536, a man named William Tyndale was executed under Roman Catholic authority. His crime? He wanted to translate the Bible into English, so that anybody could read it. 

In about 1522, he heard a Roman Catholic priest say that men would be better off with the Pope’s laws rather than God’s laws. Tyndale responded, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, before too many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do!” The rest of his life was dedicated to that purpose.

Tyndale was Oxford educated and was fluent in English, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German, and Spanish. He had a remarkable grasp of the English language and an amazing ability to translate fluently, readably, and memorably. By the time of his death, he had translated the whole New Testament and at least half of the Old Testament. 

Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts; the first English Bible to take advantage of the printing press; among the earliest Reformation era English Bibles; and the first English translation to use “Jehovah” as God’s Old Testament name. His influence on the English Bible was so great that recent computer analysis shows that the King James Bible (published in 1611, 75 years after his death) used 83% of Tyndale’s words in the New Testament, and 76% in the Old Testament. 

How valuable was the Bible to Tyndale? So valuable that he spent the final years of his life translating it. So valuable that he traveled all over Europe to find places where his work would be unhindered. So valuable that he was executed for trying to make the Bible accessible to commoners. As he was executed, his final words were, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England!” Four years later, English translations of the Bible were published and distributed in England by Henry VIII’s order. They were based on Tyndale’s work. His prayer was answered.

Bibles today are plentiful and cheap. Most of us have multiple print copies. Most of us have Bible apps on our tablets, phones, and computers. But it’s valuable only if we read it and use it. 

How valuable is the Bible to you?

The Word of God

While sorting through some of my father’s old papers, I came across this poem. At first, I thought it was a poem that he wrote. However, I discovered it to be lyrics of an old song, with slight adaptation. In either case, the sentiments are wonderful.

This Book unfolds Jehovah’s mind,
This Voice salutes in accents kind,
This Fountain has its source on high*,
This Friend will all your need supply.
This Mine affords us boundless wealth,
This Good Physician gives us health,
This Sun renews and warms the soul,
This Sword both wounds and makes us whole.
This Letter shows our sins forgiven,
This Guide conducts us safe to heaven,
This Charter has been sealed with blood;
This Volume is the Word of God.

*Dad transposed the 3rd & 4th lines of verse 1 in the original (first “Friend”, then “Fountain”). He also reworded the line about the Fountain. The original text was, “This Fountain sends forth streams of joy.”

According, the original lyrics appeared in two hymnals — Crowning Joy and The Mission Band Hymnal.

I couldn’t find any information about Crowning Joy, but I did find a digital copy of The Mission Band Hymnal on This hymnal was published by Emilie S Coles in 1878, and printed in 1879. The song was #20 in the hymnal. also said that either the lyrics or the tune were attributed to J B Coats (who wrote “Where Could I Go?”). However, he was born in 1901, so he couldn’t have written the lyrics. He may have written a tune for it, but if he did, I couldn’t find it anywhere.

The Mission Band Hymnal gave two metric notations for the song — “Gratitude” and “LM” (Long Meter). Two hymnals listed “Gratitude” as the tune for the hymn “Purer in Heart.” It will work with these lyrics, but only by stretching the 4th syllable of each line.

A better fit was “LM” (Long Meter or — that is, lines or stanzas consisting of 8 syllables each. There are quite a few familiar songs that use this meter, a number of which work well with these lyrics. They include:

  • “Doxology (‘Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow’)”
  • “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee”
  • “Sun of My Soul”
  • “Awake My Tongue, Thy Tribute Bring”
  • “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
  • “Father of Mercies” — the fourth line of each stanza must be repeated
  • “Just as I Am” — the fourth verse of each stanza is a bit wobbly