A week of work had gone into the preparation of my Sunday sermon. More than twenty hours of study, research and alliteration that preachers do, had been poured into that message. Then, in a flash the computer monitor flickered and it was all gone. The entire sermon disappeared into cyberspace, never to be seen again. The worst part of this loss was that it occurred early on a Sunday morning as I was putting the finishing touches to it, before preaching it at 11:00. So, I sat down, for I had stood up when it passed, and wrote out as much as I could remember, while I prayed hard for recall of the rest. God saw my desperation and blessed with most of what I remembered as I wrote out that sermon.
Written words are so fragile. In a heartbeat the work of a week, or the accumulation of a lifetime, can be gone. In 47 B.C., Julius Caesar burned his ships in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. He did not realize it, but the fire quickly spread to the docks, the naval arsenal, then to the great library of Alexandria. In a short while he had destroyed more than 400,000 ancient scrolls of the largest library of its time.
This fact makes the preservation of our Bible an amazing truth. God’s Word has survived floods, fires, riots, book burnings, persecutions and catastrophes. The Bible has been inerrantly preserved through three and a half millennia. Isaiah revealed this great promise around 700 B.C., “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). It stood then. It stands now. It will stand forever!
Archeological finds constantly reinforce the truth of Isaiah’s words. One of the greatest discoveries of recent history occurred in 1947 among eleven caves by Wadi Qumran, that came to be called, the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the Roman army’s advance in the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), the Essene community hid thousands of ancient scrolls and manuscripts among the caves of Qumran. These caves were 1300 feet below sea level, on the western shores of the Dead Sea. Because of the extremely arid conditions, darkness and low humidity, the caves became the perfect environment for storing velum (animal skin) and papyrus scrolls.
The scrolls of Qumran were hand copied between 250 BC and AD 68. Archaeologists have discovered 972 manuscripts and over 15,000 fragments. Included with some non-biblical books, are scrolls and fragments of thirty-eight of the thirty-nine Old Testament books. The only Old Testament book not discovered in Qumran is Esther. Among the scrolls and fragments, scholars found 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms.
Another amazing fact is that there are only minimal variations in the manuscript texts compared to the Bible versions we have today. One Isaiah scroll, almost intact, is 1,000 years older than any existing manuscript, but when translated, reads almost identically to the book of Isaiah in our Bibles today. They are incredibly accurate, even after 1,000 years of hand copying. This verifies the accuracy of Bible manuscripts that were handed down over centuries and millennia of time. It is more remarkable when you consider the scrolls were hidden in Qumran almost two thousand years ago.
These archaeological facts make the words of Scripture about itself ring ever more true. The psalmist wrote, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89), and “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160). Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18), and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The Apostle Peter wrote, “But the Word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).
This Word that is eternal, inspired and inerrant is alive, active, and able to reach within the thoughts and intents of your heart and mind if you will read it. Listen to this description of what God’s Word can do: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
God’s Word is also applicable. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). God’s Word does not reach its full purpose and power to impact life until its truths are applied to the human heart. This Word of God can make you “adequate” and “equipped for every good work.” If you will read and study the Bible, it can equip you for all the good works He calls you to do.
As you open your Bible to hear from God, stop a moment to reflect on how precious it is. Ask God to speak to your heart through its words. Will you also pray for those who still do not have a Bible in their native tongue? Pray for dedicated Christian linguists who are translating Scripture into the heart language of these people. Then, pray also for those who cannot own Bibles of their own, or who are persecuted for doing so. They, as well as we, need to enjoy the wonder of the Word.