God gave His Word
Among other things God's goodness is manifested in the provision of Scripture. Scripture is God speaking to us; God communicating to His creatures. And what is the greatest proof of goodness if not communication of one's self to another?
God has given us the Bible to be our guide and rule for whatever needs to be believed and done. The writing and publication of this blessed Book forms a solid argument in favour of God's goodness: it is designed to win the affection of beggarly man, to be joined by faith to a God of eternal blessedness and immense riches.
The Bible speaks to our deepest needs; it does not offer pat answers, or artificial solutions. The remedy it shows is radical and genuine; it is effective, and its power is transforming to the soul. Man's doubts are resolved in front of the Scripture; his distempers are cured; no adverse condition is beyond the comfort and balm of Scripture.
In its writing, the Bible is generally written in such a style that's understood if all the proper means of language are employed. God condescends to us, to speak to us about His salvation which finally appeared in His Son, Jesus.
Scripture is always and will remain relevant to us, in every generation: "Now they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). It was given to the Israelites, but divine goodness intended it for the future Gentiles too. The old writings of the prophets were thus intended, much more the later writings of the apostles.
Thus God, in His goodness, thought of us, and prepared His records for us, before we were born. He wrote everything we need for instruction, for us to be reproved and corrected, and trained in the ways of righteousness. He gave us a light to our path; a lamp unto our feet.
He has, by His goodness, sealed the truth in it, by His effective working on multitudes of men. He made it the "word of regeneration" (James 1:18), that we might have life through it.
And His goodness is further revealed in the preservation of Scripture. He not only gave it but also guarded it against corruptions, so that it still sounds a clear sound, preparing us for battle against our spiritual foes, and making us all the more ready to walk with our God in humility and meekness.
The custodians of God’s Word
Since ancient times, ever since the Scripture began to be given to the church, the Jewish nation (among whom true Israel was to be found) was committed to take care of Scripture, preserving it and disseminating it further. According to the Bible, the Hebrews were given charge to keep and copy God’s Word.
It is significant that of the many privileges that could be enumerated in favour of the Jews, Paul mentioned just one in Romans 3:2: “What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there in circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Many others are highlighted later in Romans 9:4,5 (chiefly that the Messiah was an Israelite!), but historically, when the covenant people of God were anticipating their Messiah, the great and awesome advantage they had was the reception of the inspired prophetical Word.
The Jews knew this and celebrated the fact: “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statues and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord” (Psalms 147:19,20).
Considering the great responsibility they had, the Jews were instructed not to add to or take away from the Word of God. “Ye shall not add the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2; cf. Proverbs 30:5,6).
Even the New Testament was authored by Jewish men! And the Christian church has received this rich heritage from them, implying that we today need to be exceedingly attentive to maintain the purity of God’s Word.
Rules that dictated the Scribes’ work
The Scribe approached his task of copying Scripture with due attention, fully conscious of his calling. The following steps were taken in preparing the parchment and himself in order to copy the Word. From the Talmud we learn of the following rules:
1. The parchments had to be made ready and dedicated to God. They had to be clean and fit to receive God’s written words.
2. The ink used was always black (the darkest and most distinctive colour). It was made in accordance to a special recipe and (unbelievably) used only for copying Scripture. The consciousness of doing something quite unique and far-reaching in consequence can always be detected.
3. As the scribe took his place for the work, the words written could not be duplicated by memory even though many times the scribe knew many passages of Scripture by heart. He had to copy them from an authentic copy which he had before him. As he wrote he had to pronounce every word aloud.
4. He was obliged to wipe his pen clean every time he had to write to Hebrew word for God. This ensured the distinctiveness and clarity of his writing; also, the reverence these men had for God and His Word is impressive.
5. If just one mistake was committed, the whole sheet was condemned. If there were three mistakes found on any page, the whole manuscript was condemned. Upon completion, the scroll had to be checked for accuracy within thirty days.
6. Every word and every letter was counted and jotted down. This ensured constancy in writing, not adding or skipping any word/s.
7. A column on a parchment had to include at least forty-eight lines and no more than sixty. Both letters and words had to be spaced at a certain distance and no word could touch another (to avoid confusion in reading and therefore possible errors in future copying from the fresh manuscript).
All in all, some of these rules may sound exaggerated and extreme. For the Bible student they only manifest with what sacred duty the scribes undertook the task. We have every reason to believe that the Word originally given to Moses and subsequent prophets was kept pure by the superintending providence of God in using the Jews to preserve His infallible Word.
What should this teach us today?
As we learn from history, we ought to become more and more responsible and accountable for the way we are passing on the Scripture to future generations. We today are just one link in the chain. As the Jews were faithful in this respect (even though they were sad failures in many other areas), we ought to cultivate this sense of awe towards the Word of God.
On no account and in no sense may the Word of God suffer violence. It must be kept pure. No changes in the text is to be tolerated; our voice must be raised in protest against any who in one way or another attempts to tamper with Scripture.
1. This is done when the Textus Receptus and the Massoretic text is challenged as being the preserved Word.
2. Again, when translations are done from corrupt texts, we must show the gravity and irresponsibility of such work.
3. Paraphrases and “Reader’s Digest Bibles” (abridged) would be shocking to the Jews of ancient times. The fact that these proliferate among us today does not mean that they are accepted of the Lord. We must not keep silent.
4. The church should take care of cultivating scholarship, devout and believing, so that the original texts may be preserved and kept as the fountainhead of all translations. Such scholars must be equipped to respond to the attacks of infidelity upon the Word.
5. The Jews’ reverence towards God’s Word should teach us to be likewise reverent, upholding the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible, and making it available to all in its pure and undiluted form. We have no right to made amendments of any sort. As God gave it, so we must maintain it.
Does the Bible contain God’s Word?
Is the Bible the Word of God, or does it simply contain a message from God here and there, as the passage may strike us personally?
Neo-orthodoxy popularised such a banal idea that the Bible is not inerrant, thus strongly implying that God is a liar like man. The Neo-Orthodox insist that since it was penned by mere men, full of defects and faults, then necessarily the end result, the Bible, must contains errors. Still it is valuable for us, they say, for when you are reading it, if some concept or thought hits you, then that is the Word of God to you.
What is the main danger in such reasoning? Basically, it amounts to this: man is left free to pick and choose, to formulate his own religion, so to speak, to be lord over the Word of the Lord, to reject and accept according to his own whims. Those who uphold sound doctrine must contend for the fundamental truth that the Bible IS the Word of God, really, fully, verbally, and thus ALL of the Bible is profitable.
This is even exemplified by Christ himself: a quote from the Old Testament was for him the end of all controversy, whether he quoted from Genesis in defence of life-long monogamy, from Exodus to prove that there is an after-life and a resurrection, or from a relatively-unknown Psalm to argue in favour of his own deity ("I said, thou are gods," John 10).
The apostles and authors of the New Testament likewise, quoted from almost all books of the Old Testament, and never implied that some parts are of higher worth than others.
The Bible is to be rejected or upheld as a whole. If one part goes down, the rest goes down. It's an integral whole, one message from the one true and living God.
Man therefore cannot preside over the Bible and dictate what's fine for me and what not; rather the Bible is supreme and must shape our life, our beliefs and our conduct.