When you open your Bible, do you believe you’re reading the “Word of God?” Most Christians and Jews admit that God didn’t write these words into our English Bibles, and most also admit that God didn’t whisper into the ears of the original Hebrew and Greek writers, either. Instead, we talk about “inspiration.” We say God inspired the original writers.
But did God inspire all those hundreds of men (no women) who copied those words by hand before the printing press in 1440 and all the printed copies after that? My wife tells me that most people aren’t interested in this, and she’s probably right. She usually is. But it fascinates me. I’ll tell you why.
In 1958, my Dead Sea Scroll professor was Dr. Pat Skeehan. Just a few years before this, he had discovered the Isaiah Scroll in cave one at Qumran. (You can Google that.) He came to our class with two documents in his hand. One was a copy of Isaiah chapter 42, published in 1955; the other was the same chapter that had been deposited in cave one in the year 70. The differences in both documents blew my mind. Both were in Hebrew, but they were not the same at all. Many changes had been made all down through the centuries; some by mistake; some on purpose. I said: “Dr. Skeehan, at least, can we assume that the Dead Sea Scroll is the original?” He smiled and said: “The original was written (400) or 500 years before this scroll. What do you think?”
One of my favorite authors is Bart D. Ehrman. He wrote a New York Times best-seller called Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.
Ehrman tells us that although we know that our New Testament was written down in Greek between the years 50 and 110, we don’t have any of the original documents. We have plenty of copies, however; 5,700 of them -- all handmade. Ehrman tried to read as many as he could, and he states there are at least 400,000 variations. Can we ever find the original words? What do you think?
Wait a minute! How about 2 Timothy 3:16? All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. That proves that Paul was telling Timothy that every word in our Bible is inspired by God, doesn’t it? Well, we have two problems with this text. First of all, nearly all scripture scholars today tell us that Paul probably never wrote this letter. In fact, only seven out of the 13 “Pauline epistles” came from him. But secondly, even if Paul did write it, “scripture” for him was the Old Testament. The New Testament would not be written for another 30 or 40 years.
So let me repeat my first question: When you open your Bible, do you believe you’re reading the “word of God?” I do. Let me tell you why.
When I open my eyes on a bright red and yellow sunrise, I believe I’m seeing the word of God. When I watch a child born into this world with all his fingers and toes, I believe I’m privileged to participate in the word of God. When I sit around a monthly discussion table with six other men of distinction, all of them “heretical reprobates,” and no topic is taboo, I believe I have tapped into the well of wisdom we call the word of God.
Really, if I can see and hear the word of God all around me and feel its warmth and follow its sound advice, I can certainly wade through some of the obvious errors and mistakes in my Bible and find many things that are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training.” I think I feel inspired.
That’s what I think. What do you think?