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

Tag: Scripture

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.

Seven Words

“Teach her as many of the 700,000 words of the English language as you have time to but be sure she knows that the greatest word is God; the longest word eternity; the swiftest word time; the nearest word now; the darkest word sin; the meanest word hypocrisy; and the deepest word soul.”

To Lt. Cdr. J. P. Carr, from his father, on the birth of the younger Carr’s daughter.

God. Eternity. Time. Now. Sin. Hypocrisy. Soul. 

These are more than words, they’re realities. They attempt to encapsulate the most profound and important concepts that we humans face during our earthly existence. They’re small words that describe great ideas.

The infinite God has communicated with finite humanity through the medium of language, by means of words. Jesus himself was “THE WORD”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1.1). He was God’s ultimate communication to us. 

In a similar way, the Bible is God’s word to man. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17.17). By means of these words, God has conveyed what’s truly important and valuable. Wrap your head around that. Eternal truth expressed in finite, human language. 

I’d like to challenge you to do two things. First, think about the seven words from our starting quotation: God, eternity, time, now, sin, hypocrisy, and soul. How have these words shaped your life? How do you use them as motivation for spiritual living? 

Second, make out a list of seven other words that challenge you, define you, inspire you, or even terrify you. What are the significant words in your life? Make your list and for the next week, think about one word each day. Consider how this word affects you. Look at how the Bible treats the word or concept. Think about what you can do with that word to change your life for the better.

George Herbert said, “Good words are worth much, and cost little.” For today, and every day, take time to think about the important words that shape your life.

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?