In the age of the Internet, it is hard to fathom what writing materials must have been like during the days the original documents were written. Various writing materials were used in ancient days including stone, clay, wood, leather, papyrus, and vellum. Paper was not widely used until 800 years after the life of Christ. It is also interesting to note that document preservation was a task in and of itself. Even in our lifetime we have seen document preservation change from paper, to cassette, to floppy disk, to diskette, and now to CD. Preservation of documents back during times of the Bible was achieved by re-copying the documents on new materials that would decay and have to be constantly replaced. This is one of the reasons some works have not been preserved—they simply became no longer worth the effort to preserve over time--a strong testimony to the value of the Bible over time.
This book deals with the process used to preserve the Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts. Several important textual finds are discussed including the thrilling story of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their significance in knowing the Old Testament has been faithfully preserved by the Jews through the ages. The book also discusses the types of mistakes made by copyists, which accounts for what are called textual variants and the process used to reconcile the variants—textual criticism. The writer also discusses what books were considered part of the canon and why. He also spends time discussing the Apocryphal books and why these are disputed and considered non-canonical.
The author then does a good job of tying all these factors together and turns to the subject of Bible translations. Having a good understanding of how the manuscripts have been preserved over the centuries is important to understand the challenges of Bible translators.
When one first discovers concepts such as textual variants, it can be rather alarming. We often talk about the Bible being inspired and without errors. That is correct when one discusses the original manuscripts. What we need to clarify is that the original manuscripts were perfect but the copies are not perfect. Today, there are no original manuscripts, only copies. But a study of this material will strengthen one’s confidence that we have the word of God in our possession. Sir Frederic Kenyon, respected Biblical scholar and archaeologist, states the results of a study such as this:
It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.
Neil Lightfoot attended Freed-Hardeman College, Florida Christian College, Baylor University, and Duke University. He has taught at Abilene Christian College and has served as evangelist for several congregations over the years. This book is a very informative and interesting work on the efforts made to preserve the word of God for all ages. This book will make a valuable introduction to the world of Biblical archaeology and its impact on the religious world today.
Reprinted by West Virginia Christian, Vol. 14, No. 10, October 2007, p. 2. Reprinted by permission.
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 13, No. 2, February 2006, p. 8. Reprinted by permission.