The Durability of Scripture

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV)

One of the world’s leading sellers of fine jewelry is well known for their slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”. But long before De Beers coined that phrase, God assured us through the prophet Isaiah that the same is true for God’s Word.

This week I read an article in The Guardian online about the oldest surviving complete Latin Bible, the Codex Amiatinus, which was produced by monks in Northumbria in 716 A.D. and taken to Italy as a gift for Pope Gregory II. It is being returned on loan to the British Library in 2018 for an exhibition on the history, art, literature, and culture of Anglo-Saxon England.

This Bible is almost 18” thick and weighs more than 75 pounds. It is reported that over a thousand animal skins were needed to make its parchment. I can only imagine the number of hours those monks spent producing that single volume of the Holy Scriptures.

When Johannes Gutenberg produced the first book on a printing press around 1439 (a Latin Bible), there were only 30,000 books of any kind in all of Europe. This works out to about one book for every 2,500 people.

Nearly eighty years later, when Martin Luther launched the Reformation in 1517, twenty million books had been printed. More of those books were Bibles than anything else. Obviously, there was a great hunger for personal access to God’s written word.

We are blessed to live in a time when the Holy Scriptures are more widely accessible than ever before in the history of mankind. Here in my small office, there are seven Bibles, not counting four digital versions that are downloaded on my iPad.

Unfortunately, man’s hunger for God’s Word has not seemed to keep pace with increased access. I wonder sometimes if the Lord was speaking of the days in which we live when he moved the prophet Amos to write, “The days are coming, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11 NIV)

Never take for granted the privilege of owning your own personal copy of the Word of God, translated into language you can easily understand and apply in your life. Never read it nonchalantly – you are hearing the words of the Lord.

Take the advice of the psalmist and begin each day with it. “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:147 NIV) Reflect on its promises as you prepare for bed. “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psalm 119:148 NIV)

More than all the worldly distractions clamoring for your attention each day, it has the power to transform your life. And it will endure forever as a lamp to your feet and a light for your path. (Psalm 119:105)

“The soul can do without everything except the word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for.” – Martin Luther

The Centrality of Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. … Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:2 NLT)

The most disappointing words I’ve ever heard spoken from a pulpit still resound with me today. I was sitting with my mother listening to her pastor’s Mother’s Day message.

With my Bible open and ready to turn to the focal passage of the sermon, I listened as the pastor went on and on about the role and influence of a Godly mother.

I’m sure it all was very interesting and eloquent. But the only thing I remember from his message that day are the words he spoke at the end. Realizing that he had failed to cite any passages of Scripture, he declared, “Oh well. That message was good enough that it didn’t need any Scripture.” I almost fell out of my pew!

In contrast, sitting with my wife years later, the most memorable Mother’s Day message I’ve ever heard was delivered by our oldest son. It was titled “I Hate My Mother”. Now that will make a mother sit up and take notice when her son is preaching! While the title made it memorable, it was the multiple Scriptures he cited that made it effective.

It began with “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 KJV) He then proceeded to lead us on a Scriptural journey to impress the point that, as much as we all might love our mothers, our devotion to Christ must be paramount.

Two very different messages. One tickled the ears of many who were listening that day but lacked Scriptural authority and was soon forgotten. The other might easily have offended some mothers in the congregation, but it was rooted in the truths of God’s Word and likely remembered still today by all who heard it.

This weekend, Protestant churches all across the world will be remembering the Reformation, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the publishing of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, which condemned the Catholic practices of indulgences. But the Reformation was about so much more than that.

The Reformation did not happen because of the passion of Martin Luther or his actions on October 31, 1517. It happened because of the power of God’s written Word. It became inevitable when people like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale devoted their lives to ensuring that each of us has access to a Bible we can read for ourselves, absorb into our minds, and apply in our lives.

Martin Luther said,

“From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”

The Reformation did not begin or end with Luther. It continues today as Christian speakers, teachers, and writers build their messages around the Scriptures, rather than using the Scriptures to supplement human wisdom. As Luther himself said, “The authority of Scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason.”

It continues as those of us who follow Christ recognize the blessing and privilege of unfettered access to God’s Word and make individual Bible study a daily priority. It advances as we live out Biblical principles in our lives and hold those tasked with the responsibility of preaching and teaching accountable for remaining true to the Scriptures.

We have no greater model for that than the Bereans Paul encountered in Acts 17:11. May we take their actions to heart and follow in their footsteps.

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11 NIV)