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The Miracle of the Bible:
The Word of God in Print
The Bible is accepted as one of the greatest masterpieces of the world's literature. The grandeur of the opening chapters of Genesis and of John's Gospel, the moving poetry of the Psalms, the fiery denunciations of the Hebrew prophets, the compelling records of the life and work of Jesus, and the apocalyptic mysteries of the Book of Revelation-all these serve together to set the Bible in a class of its own. It is quite unrivalled by any other work, in any language or from any age. But it is more than this: the Bible claims to be the written Word of God.
The World's most Remarkable Book
The Bible's influence on the history of civilisation has been enormous. As the text-book of two of the great religions of the world (Judaism and Christianity) it has been a source of morality and enlightenment to countless millions down the centuries. Translated into almost 1,500 different languages, it has also been. produced in braille, shorthand and, in recent times, in machine-readable format for use on computers. In an age of rationalism and materialism, when disrespect for ancient traditions has almost become a fashion, the Bible has still managed to preserve something of an aura of uniqueness. It stands head and shoulders above all the very greatest in the literature of the world and has strong claims on our attention and respect.
"The most valuable thing that this world affords"
There is, in all these ceremonies, a recognition that the Bible is something special, something sacred, something more than just a work of purely human literature. It is, if only in a faintly superstitious way, an acknowledgement that the Bible has an authority greater than that of any man, of the law of the land, and even of the crown itself. But what a different place the world would be if every ruler (and every resident) of each so-called 'Christian' country were to obey truly the "royal Law" of God which the Bible contains! Sadly, these token recognitions of respect for the Bible do not generally lead individuals to commit their lives fully to its demands. We need to give the Bible a much more central place in everyday life if we are to demonstrate the truth of the above quotation.
There are many reasons for this general decline in the reading of the Bible; but three principal causes may be identified for consideration here: the growth of certain popular misconceptions, the advent of scientific materialism, and the desire to exclude the miraculous element from religion. Rationalistic criticism of the Bible has succeeded over the last hundred years or so in persuading popular opinion that the Bible has been largely discredited.
It is commonly thought that the Bible contains many errors and internal contradictions which stamp it as the work of fallible men. This view is now the 'received wisdom' and, sad to say, very few of each rising generation even bother to check it out for themselves, for surely the experts and majority opinion cannot both be wrong?
An Age of Materialism
But saddest of all, perhaps, is the growing desire on the part of some, in the wake of this general desertion of Bible-based religion and morality, to make Christianity more 'acceptable', by removing from it all trace of the miraculous. It is hoped that this new religion of convenience will satisfy the popular scientific belief that miracles simply 'cannot' happen, in spite of what the Bible so clearly teaches.
A "Divine Library"
It was Jerome in the fourth century who described the completed Bible as the "Divine library", thus recognising that its multiple parts had a single, Divine source. Even earlier, Origen is on record as having this @to say also: "There are many sacred writings, yet there is but one Book. All the writings breathe the spirit of fulness, and there is nothing, whether in the Law or in the Prophets, in the Evangelists or the apostles, which does not descend from the fulness of the Divine Majesty."
Many of the individual books of the Bible claim for themselves this Divine origin which these early Christian 'fathers' so rightly recognised; and this internal hallmark is one of the many elements which have to be taken into account in assessing each separate book's relation to the Bible as a whole. Referred to together, subsequently, by the plural Greek word Biblia ('the Books'), the intrinsic unity of the different parts of the Bible was ultimately acknowledged when the same word was later read as a Latin singular, meaning 'the Book' and from which our English word 'Bible' has come. In this way, even the term by which we now refer to Jerome's "Divine library" recognises the indivisibility of the Word of God.
The Golden Thread
The Bible claims to be God's Book. In its themes and structure, in its purpose and direction, it shows a unity consistent only with an omniscient designer. Coincidence would be a quite inadequate explanation of the beauty and intricacy of the Bible's texture. Such wonderful design does not happen by chance. Seen under the microscope of the closest examination, the consistency of Bible themes reveals the evidence of God at work. As an earlier writer so aptly put it: "Here is a book written by forty authors, living in different ages, without possible concert or collusion, producing a book which in all its parts is pervaded by one spirit, one doctrine, one design, and by an air of sublime authority which is its peculiar characteristic. Such a book is a literary miracle. It is impossible to account for its existence upon ordinary principles."
The Miracle of Revelation
Even the Bible's strongest critics will admit that the Old Testament was in existence long before the birth of Christ. Yet the writings of Moses, of the Psalmists and of the prophets contain the most detailed predictions of the life and work of Jesus. Just look, for example, at Genesis 3:15 and, especially, at Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, and ask yourself honestly how you can explain away the fact that such clear prophecies about Jesus came to be in the sacred Scriptures of the Jews, who do not even yet recognise him as their Saviour. Similarly, it is possible to show that the unfolding misfortunes of the Jews, as well as the fate of the leading nations of the world, were outlined long before they happened, in prophecies of quite extraordinary detail (Deuteronomy 28, Ezekiel 26 and Daniel 2 are just three examples out of many). Yet such predictions are precisely what we should expect from the omniscient mind of a God Who sees the whole of human history in a moment of time. They are clear evidence of the truly miraculous, revelatory character of the Bible.
We need to be clear also about this important point: revelation, if it is properly understood as meaningful communication from God to man, is by its very nature miraculous. Like any miracle, revelation involves the exercise of God's power, His Spirit; it does not merely 'happen' in the ordinary course of events, and it is not achievable by men without the aid of God. The Bible exhibits all these characteristics of a miracle: its writers are continually reminding us that they were the instruments of revelation, not the originators of the message. "Holy men of God spake as they were originators of the message. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit", explains the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:21); and even the Lord Jesus himself, "the Word made flesh", admitted that he too had been the subject of this miraculous work of God: "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49).
This miraculous work, most often referred to as inspiration, can be seen in operation throughout the pages of the Bible. For whether through dreams, visions, prophets, apostles, or angelic messengers, the Spirit of God is presented as the moving force behind the message. It is this, above all, that explains why the Bible has so much to tell us which, as human beings, we simply would not otherwise know. It is the miracle of revelation which brings the things of God into the arena of human understanding. The Bible is the Word of God made print.
The Miracle of Providence
Instead, there is clear evidence to show that it was the character of each Bible book, as inspired and revealed, which ensured its more or less immediate inclusion in the growing body of Divine Scriptures, which were committed as they grew first to the Jewish nation and ultimately to the early Christians (see Romans 3:2 and 2 Timothy 3:15). There is much internal Bible evidence to indicate that this process went on steadily in both Old and New Testament times alike (see 2 Chronicles 34:14 and 2 Peter 3:15-16 for just two examples). The councils of the Jewish and, later, of the Christian churches did not so much choose what was to be included or excluded from the Bible as confirm what had already been long accepted as the Word of God.
We can rest assured in all this that the contents of the Bible have not been left merely to the fallible choice of men. It is, after all, not unreasonable to expect that an all-powerful God should safeguard through the centuries, by providential means, that which He had already brought into existence by miraculous revelation. "My Word", said God, "shall not return unto me void." (Isaiah 55:11).
God's continuing care for the preservation of His Word has clearly extended also to the manner in which it has been transmitted from age to age. We do not now possess so much as a single original Bible manuscript; and yet the centuries of scrupulously devoted copying which have preserved the text of the Bible as we know it today have done far more than simply safeguard the overall integrity of the Divine message. For God has ensured, through the labours of generations of gifted and painstaking men, from the early Jewish scribes to the later Massoretes and the monastic copyists of the Christian era, that the text of His Word has remained remarkably free from substantial change or corruption. In this respect too the Bible is without parallel in ancient literature.
The discovery in 1947 of the Dead Sea Scrolls has illustrated in particularly spectacular fashion just how accurately the manuscripts on which our English Bible is based correspond with copies from a much earlier date. The miracle of providence enables us to say with confidence that we have a Bible text "so near to the original as makes no difference in any vital respect".
"Every man in his own tongue"
An inspired text does not, of course, require an inspired translator for its meaning to be accurately conveyed into another language. And once the text of the Bible had been completed and the Spirit-gifted apostles had passed off the first-century scene, it was necessary only that this collection of Divine revelations be preserved for subsequent generations to read or to translate for others to read also. The knowledge of languages and the ability to translate them are skills which can be learned over a period of time and without direct miraculous aid. Yet the history of Bible translations, from the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Old Testament in the third century B.C. to the many English translations of our own twentieth century, is a testimony to the providence of God in helping men to learn and practise their human skills so well.
The life stories of great scholars like John Wycliffe (1320-1384) and William Tyndale (1494-1536) in particular bear all the hallmarks of Divine oversight. By their dedication and scholarship they were able to translate into English the very thoughts of God, which had hitherto been jealously hidden from the common people in the Latin of the Romish priesthood. Privations, persecution and even torture were unable to prevent the diligent labours of such men from spreading the understanding of the Word of God more widely than ever before.
The advent of printing with movable type (1454) -- perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most far-reaching technological innovation of all time -- was also the spur to many others who followed them. It made the Bible available on a scale previously unimagined, and helped to realise Tyndale's ambition to make even the humble ploughboy familiar with the text of Scripture.
The sudden growth in the number of copies of the Bible in existence was quite phenomenal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And when the translation commissioned by King James I (the so-called Authorised Version) was published in 1611, the Early Printing Press printer's craft and the translator's skill were brought together in such a providential way as to give the English-speaking world a Bible version which has never yet been surpassed for style and quality. In presenting the A.V. to their readers, too, the translators provided a fitting summary of that combination of human diligence and providential care by which the Word of God has been broadcast to the masses. For, they explained, "having and using as great helps as were needful ... we have at length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see".
The Revised Version of 1885 may reflect a fuller knowledge of ancient Hebrew vocabulary and of earlier Greek manuscripts; the Revised Standard Version of 1952, the New English Bible of 1970 and the New International Version, of 1979 may put the Word of God into language more comprehensible to the man in the street. But the fact remains that the Authorised Version, along with all genuine translations,* is a monument to Divine providence; through all such versions, even with all the problems inherent in the transfer of meaning from one language and idiom to another, the Word of God still sounds clear and true. Through the translator's expertise, the inspired word of apostles and prophets "has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the earth". "There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard" (Psalm 19:4, quoted in Romans 10:18).
*Paraphrase versions, such as the Living Bible and, in part, the Good News Bible and the versions by J. B. Phillips, cannot be classed as genuine translations, since their concern is not so much to transfer the sense of the actual words used in the Hebrew and Greek texts as to expound the meaning in an 'easy-to-read' style, with a consequent loss of accuracy.
A Challenging Claim
Significantly too, the Lord Jesus claimed no less of an inspired authority for his own words (see John 17:8); he promised his apostles that they too would be supernaturally guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26;15:26-27; 16:1 3-15); and the early Bible Christians took it as a foundation doctrine that "all Scripture (both Old and New Testaments by then) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable ... " (2 Timothy 3:16).
Such a challenging claim by the Bible about itself leaves no middle way for our personal reaction to its message. We must either accept or reject it. For if the claim is false, then the Bible's message is of no real value, and the Gospel of salvation it contains is but a figment of man's imagination. But if the claim is true, then the Bible's message commands obedience and its Gospel offers the true hope of life beyond the grave. The Bible's claim is no academic exercise: it is a matter of life and death.
The Critics Confounded
And the Bible has survived not just in the sense of having been preserved as a physical object: it has also retained its remarkable integrity as the text-book of a saving faith. Each new generation of critics has raised or, more often, re-used, alleged Bible difficulties or discrepancies. Yet all such 'problems' are capable of perfectly reasonable solutions which commend themselves to men and women of good will. More frequently too, in recent times, the discoveries of archaeology have shown many criticisms of the Bible to be wrong. "Moses", we were once confidently told, "could not have written the Pentateuch because he lived before the art of writing was developed"; Belshazzar, Sargon and the Hittites were all said to have been fictitious Bible figures; and the census of Caesar Augustus at the time of the birth of Jesus, mentioned by Luke, was dismissed as inaccurate. Yet in all these examples, as in countless others, the Bible has been corroborated by further scholarly research.
The sad fact is that most criticism of the Bible goes hand in hand with an unwillingness to respond to the demands of its message, and is often based on preconceived theories which are themselves unproven or unprovable. Such 'willing ignorance' is a personal tragedy for those involved as well as for those who are taken in by it. The Bible can certainly stand the most searching examination but, as has been so rightly said before, "it does not yield its treasures to its critics".
"The voice of God to every man"
In this age, when the printed Bible, available in a multitude of tongues, is the unique source of revelation about the mind and will of God, the daily prayerful reading of His Word is the only way men can now hear His voice. The rich rewards that flow from such a regular audience with God need to be experienced to be believed; but there are examples enough in Scripture to make it worth trying for ourselves (see for instance, Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2-3).
"Converting the soul"
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7).
Conversion -- from the natural,sinful ways of man, to the spiritual, righteous ways of God -- is the first essential step on the road to salvation. As Jesus himself said:
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
The all-important task of the Word of God is to bring men's hearts, through humility, back to God. When that process has begun, a man can be spoken of, in the words of the apostle Peter, as "being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of,God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).
A Word of Power
The Bible reveals to the enquiring reader "the knowledge of God"; and the truth contained in it is sometimes referred to as the "power of God" or "Spirit", because it came by the Holy Spirit and is itself therefore "quickening", or able to make alive that which was dead (see John 6:63; Ephesians 6:17; 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:7, R.V.). Though we are now required to manage without the direct, personal ministry of apostles like Paul, we are still commended, as the Ephesian elders were, "to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build (us) up, and to give (us) an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). The "lively oracles" of God (Acts 7:38) are in no sense a dead letter. God's Word "has still its ancient power".
A Sense of Purpose
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105).
And for those who, through their understanding of that Word, come to follow the example of the "Word made flesh", the aim and object of existence becomes, as his was, to do God's will, as it is written "in the volume of the book" (Hebrews 10:7).
"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope".
So wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 15:4. In such a troubled world as ours, Paul's words have an even more apt significance than the apostle may have known. The Bible not only opens up for us, as it has done down the centuries for generations of its readers, some of the otherwise disturbing mysteries of life and death; it also brings that most necessary commodity in times of distress: peace of mind. That peace which Jesus promised his disciples can be ours to the full through the pages of God's Word (John 14:27). No personal problem is without its solution in the Word of "the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3); and beyond all the difficulties and concerns of personal life, the Bible holds out the reassurance of that most certain antidote for all the world's greatest ills: the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11; 3:20-21). When we read of that great promise in the Bible and are convinced of its imminent fulfilment, we can "comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:1 8).
"The words of eternal life"
Today, as always, it is possible, like the shallower disciples of Jesus in John 6:67, to "go away" from God by neglecting, ignoring, or rejecting that eternal life which is contained in the Bible, the Word of God in print. Towards the end of his long prayer for his disciples in the Upper Room, recorded in John 17, the Lord Jesus prayed specifically for those who would later come to believe in him through the words of his disciples (v. 20). The Bible is God's answer to that prayer. Will you open your ears to the saving words of God's Book? Or are you going to deny the miracle of the Bible?
"Will ye also go away?"
"The Bible is more than a historical document to be preserved. And it is more than a classic of English literature to be cherished and admired. it is a record of God's dealing with men, of God's revelation of Himself and His will. It records the life and work of him in whom the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among men. The Bible carries its full message, not to those who regard it simply as a heritage of the past or praise its literary style, but to those who read it that they may discern and understand God's Word to men."
Bible Reading Tables are available. If followed daily, they will take the reader twice through the New Testament and once through the Old Testament in the course of a year.
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK), by whom all rights are reserved.