George Bowers Sr.: Can we trust the Bible?
I recently had the privilege of attending a seminar in which I got to touch a nearly 600-year-old scroll consisting of the first five books of the Bible. This particular text was made of several calf skins sewn together to form a 72-foot-long manuscript. It was a fascinating experience to see a document that had been the spiritual centerpiece of a Jewish community in Poland for many, many years.
The scroll’s owner, Josh McDowell, explained the painstaking process by which scribes reproduced these texts down through the centuries. Long before photocopying was invented, God took special precautions to make sure his word was accurately written and rewritten, even over thousands of years. It was no accident that he chose the Jews to safeguard his word for he knew that they alone had the discipline, the respect, and the procedures to pass it down accurately from one generation to the next.
For starters, each scribe had to memorize 4,000 transcription rules before being allowed the privilege of copying the sacred text. That’s enough to make even our strictest penmanship teachers look like rank amateurs. Each Hebrew letter had its own prescribed formula for construction that had to be precisely followed with no cursive shortcuts. As they wrote with goose quills, none of the ink letters could touch and if they made a mistake, they had to rewrite the entire word. If the mistake was made on God’s name, they had to rewrite the entire scroll.
In addition, even though the scribes knew all five books entirely from memory, they had to say each word aloud before they copied it, and then say it aloud again to make sure they had copied it correctly. Reproducing manuscripts by this meticulous process usually took two to three years and was often done by candlelight.
Once a scroll was finally completed, other scribes carefully checked it to certify there were no mistakes. They counted each letter to make sure that all 304,805 of them were included and that the center letter occurred in Leviticus 11:45. In addition, each Hebrew letter was assigned a numerical value, similar to Roman numerals, and the mathematical sum of each line was also checked with the original to make sure they matched. Such an exacting process ensured that the holy word of God would be transmitted and preserved down through the ages for each generation to read and obey.
Until 1946, many skeptics had claimed that the Bible contained so many copying errors that it was no longer reliable. Then the Bedouin shepherds discovered the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars were amazed to learn that what we have today is virtually identical to the ancient texts even though they had been recopied so many times. The manuscripts we have today vary ever so slightly with only minor differences in punctuation and grammar, none of which affect any doctrine. In a similar fashion, the New Testament books have also proven remarkably accurate to their earliest copies as well.
No other book in history has been so carefully preserved nor so thoroughly scrutinized. Even a photocopy of a copy of a copy begins to get unreadable, so God used other means to preserve his word. Why would he do this? So that we could know of his great love for us and so that we could have a completely accurate owner’s manual for our lives. He specifically wanted to make sure we would recognize his son when he came and receive him as our savior.
The next time you pick up a Bible and begin to read it, think of the time and effort that went into it and thank God for the faithfulness of all those scribes that have delivered this incredibly unique and special gift to us. Because of them, we can trust the Bible. And may this assurance motivate us to read it, study it and obey it, for these are the reasons God’s preserved it for us so well. Blessed reading, George
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his latest book of poetry, “Holy Verses.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.