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

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Bible Reading Plans

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. … I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. … Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:11,15,105 NIV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. Fittingly, it is focused on the blessings of knowing and applying the commands and principles of God’s Word. 

Perhaps some of you resolved to read your Bible cover-to cover in 2017. Countless reading plans are available to keep you on pace toward accomplishing that goal.

Through the years, my personal Bible reading plan has grown increasingly ambitious until it now looks like this:

  • One Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) each month
  • Remainder of New Testament: Every six months
  • Psalms and Proverbs: Every six months
  • Remainder of Old Testament: Once each year

Bible reading plans designed to cover the entirety of God’s Word in a year are not without benefits, especially if you’ve never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Following them will certainly help ingrain the discipline of reading God’s Word into your daily routine.

But annual Bible reading plans are not without their pitfalls either. They can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While you might accomplish your reading goal, God’s greater goal of molding you into the image of his Son often suffers.

Recently, I downloaded a devotional Bible to my iPad. Described as a “cover-to-cover journey through the Bible”, it is organized into chapter readings covering six days a week for a full year, with each reading followed by a devotion. One of those daily readings covers chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, which detail the events and the compelling teachings of our Lord as he gathered with the disciples in Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.

Given their importance, I spent two months on those five chapters when I taught the Gospel of John several years ago. While I can certainly read John’s account of the Upper Room Discourse in one sitting, I can’t imagine adequately grasping its content and application for my life in one morning Bible study. A 500-word devotion cannot scratch the surface of the important lessons Christ conveys to his disciples that night.

The written Word is God’s primary means of communication with us. It is too important to rush through in order to accomplish a New Year’s resolution while ignoring its application for our lives. I encourage you to read your Bible daily, but do so prayerfully, patiently, attentively, and systematically. 

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and comprehend the wonderful things contained within the Scriptures. (Psalm 119:18) Read with the expectation that God will answer that prayer and respond appropriately when he does. Highlight or underline those passages that particularly pierce your heart. Make notes in the margins or in a separate journal. A marked-up Bible, like the one shown above, is one that has been digested rather than merely read.

As for that Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, I can’t think of a better place to spend some quality time over the next couple of weeks as we prepare our hearts for Easter, reflecting on the final teachings of our Lord before he went to the cross. I hope you will join me on that journey.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. … Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130,133 NIV)

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