a scribe is born

Today I was put into history quite by accident.  I received an email from a friend who had told me that Zondervan Publishing Co. was going to be on the campus of Mississippi College today.  They are doing a special program called Bible Across America, and making pit stops all over the nation. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version, they are compiling an edition that is completely handwritten.  I wrote 1 Kings 21:18, and I felt this strange sense of something bigger.  There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when all copies of God's Word were handwritten.  There was no other way of reproducing them.  Scribes were honored for the opportunity to be a part of it.  

In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. The Temple was looted and then destroyed by fire. The Jews were exiled. About 70 years later, the Jewish captives returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. According to the Bible, Ezra recovered a copy of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and read it aloud to the whole nation.

From then on, the Jewish scribes solidified the following process for creating copies of the Torah and eventually other books in the Old Testament.

1. They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
2. Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
3. The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.
4. They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
5. They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word "Jehovah," every time they wrote it.
6. There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
7. The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
8. The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).
9. As no document containing God's Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah - a Hebrew term meaning "hiding place." These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.
From Wikipedia.

Zondervan saw it as an opportunity to let the everyday man be a part of a new Bible promotion. But I felt something much more.  I've taught many times that we are unworthy of God, but in that moment I truly felt that way.  That God was speaking in my feeble hand.  Even as I breathed heavy from the experience, I saw others around me light-hearted and unnoticing.  

But perhaps I read too much into it.  It's only a Bible, right?



So I was doing research for our youth's Hunger Project last weekend, and I had stumbled upon a web video that reminded me how lucky I am.

You can view it at its original source here, but I like the Youtube version and its background music better. We all need active reminders of the world outside our little bubble. I'd love to hear your reaction.



Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, from June 25, (emphasis mine):

You cannot find yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot find yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial. The fact is that it is true in the Scriptures and in human experience.

In John 12:27-28, Jesus said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."

We make a really big deal about troubles and sorrows. I know why -- they are troublesome and sad! But when we feel that way, we are in no position to question God's wisdom. During those times, our judgment is clouded with anger and/or pain. Clear head or not, though, why God should allow pain and suffering is a major mental hurdle for both believers and non-believers alike (it's also known as the theodicy or the problem of evil in the world of philosophy and theology).

If I were to oversimplify things, the answer to that dilemma would be as follows: in tough times, you can find out what you're made of.

There are many analogies that speak to this point:
Those who own fruit trees beat the base of the trunk when they are still saplings until some of the bark comes off. Why? Because the tree responds by growing taller and straighter than it otherwise would have.

How do you get impurities out of iron? You burn them out at very, very high temperatures.

And the last bit of wisdom about this topic comes from a homeless man who had lost everything. He told the evangelist who was talking with him these words about God: "The teacher doesn't talk to the student during the test."

Hmmm. God, may we listen to your guidance before and after our tests. And may we pass those tests according to your standards. Thank you for loving us enough to test us and push us to be better. Amen.


We will do what we will do, won't we?

Today's Handbook For Solving Bible Difficulties, pp. 107-108
David E. O'Brien

I can't help thinking of a scene in the seventh book of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Last Battle pictures Narnia wracked by the evil of the Beast and his prophet, a donkey dressed in lion skins, and a chattering ape.

After what seemed to be the defeat of Narnia at the hands of the armies of the false god, King Tirian was thrust into the door of a stable that ushered him and his party into an Edenic world. It was a place where the fruit was so sweet that "all the nicest things in the world would taste like medicines after that."

In that wonderful world, they found a band of dwards who had shouted the time-honored cry of sinners everywhere: "The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!"

Thrust through the same door, into the same Eden, these sinful creatures sat huddled together, cursing the darkness and filth of the stable they believed they were in.

Lucy, one of the queens of Narnia, was moved by the sadness of their plight. She tried to convince them they were sitting in a beautiful grove of trees, but they insisted, in the pride of their ignorance, that they were all shut up in a stable. They accused her of trying to trick them.

She moved to show them the truth of what she could see and they could not. She stooped and picked some wild violets. "Listen, Dwarf," she said. "Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that?"" She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle's ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.

"None of that!" he shouted. "How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable litter in my face? There was a thistle in it, too."

In spite of Lucy's good intentions and best effort, the dwarfs clung to their belief that they'd been battered and imprisoned and were sitting in darkness and filth awaiting their doom.

When Aslan came back from the land of his Father, the Emperor-Over-the-Sea, Lucy went to him. Grieved that the dwarfs would not see, she asked him to do something for them.

Aslan growled close to the dwarfs, but they cautioned one another not to believe in the sound because it was a hoax. He set a feast before them.

The ate and drank, but they could only taste things found in a satble. For them Aslan's feast was hay, an old turnip, raw cabbage leaves, and "dirty water out of a trough that a donkey's been at!"

Their feast ended in a brawl, as each fought the other to get what little he had. When it was all over, they who had been in the presence of the Lion and could have had everything were left with nothing more than their boastful cry, "The dwarfs are for the dwarfs."

"You see," said Aslan, "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afriad of being taken in that they can not be taken out."

So this pretty much sums up our ability to think what we will no matter what we might be told differently. You ever notice this happening in politics? Folks pick a candidate and become die-hard fans. And especially in the church. We believe a certain way, and BAM!, there's no turning back. Most of the time we don't realize we've begun to think that way, either.

The big question is: What do we hold on to and what are we willing to let go of? Are we willing to be wrong? What about the big stuff? Shouldn't we hold on to that and never let it go? These questions are difficult to answer, that's for sure.

Just pay attention to the next time you hear something and think, "They're crazy. They're way wrong. I know it's not like that!" Are you being a dwarf?

What was God thinking?

So a good friend of mine asked me a great question the other day. He said, "I noticed that there are seeming inconsistencies with who was present at the tomb for the resurrection. I don't necessarily have a problem with the differences. What I don't understand is this: when God was transmitting His holy word to us (that is, inspiring the authors and guiding its being copied and its being canonized), why would he include such things knowing they would cause us struggles? Why would God do that?"

Here's the discrepancies he's referencing.
Matt 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24, and John 20:1-4.

I think his question is a very, very good one. It goes past the basic questions straight to the heart of the issue: What was God thinking?

We must tread lightly here. Anytime we try to plumb the depths of the mind of God, we're doomed to an incorrect conclusion. 1 Cor 2:11 says, "[N]o one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God." But that doesn't make the journey fruitless. It's a question worth asking.

Let me paint a scenario. Let's say some guy is sipping coffee at the watercooler at work, and his co-worker walks up to get himself a glass of water. The first man says hey, but his co-worker doesn't even look up at him. He merely nods absentmindedly, gets his water, and walks away. If you were to ask ten observers what they thought happened, you would get several variations. If you asked what the co-worker was thinking when he ignored the first man, you'd get as many unique answers as the number of observers you asked. Why? Because whether or not the co-worker was a jerk or absentminded or having a bad day is interpreted based on the personality and perspectives of the observers themselves. In a more basic scenario, if four folks witness a traffic accident on the four corners of an intersection, they will not give the same report to the police officer interviewing them.

What does that mean? The human hands that penned the four gospels had different motives for their story, different sources of information, and different methods of storytelling. Differences are no surprise. Let me quote a fellow minister and put it this way. If the stories were identical, they would be suspect! Being the same would suggest tampering and changes!

But on to the original question. God is smarter than all of us. Should it bother us that there is no miracle that makes the differences disappear? But wouldn't that deprive us of the miracle we may not be seeing? The Good Book took nearly 1,000 years to be written over multiple continents with multiple authors in multiple languages. And we don't even have one of the original manuscripts! Not one! The "originals" that we have were hand-copies, probably made from other hand-copies. And yet textual critics who deal with these old manuscripts find so very little variations. Even liberal (as in the-Bible-is-not-inspired-by-God kind of liberal) textual critics proclaim them reliable enough for a reasonable person. It astonishes me that even today more copies are made of the Holy Bible (in many, many different languages) than any other book on the planet. God has revealed and is revealing Himself to us all in His word.

"To us all." There are over 6 billion people on the planet by some estimations, and that's only today. Man has been around for thousands of years. The Old Testament has been God's Word since at least 100 B.C. or so. Mathematically speaking, there could have been billions upon billions of people who have found God revealed in the Word.

We are all as unique as snowflakes. I count it a miracle that one book is flexible enough to show the same God to all. He has been controlling what He said and what others were hearing and has shown Himself to lots and lots and lots of people! In my mind, there is enough information to find God, and yet only enough information about God to show the tip of the iceberg.

But let's be honest here. If this weren't a stumbling block, there would be another one. Jesus was called a stone that was rejected but became the cornerstone. It was also said that He was a stumbling block, and the Word is no different. Knowledge is not the path to God. Even with much knowledge, you arrive at a canyon that requires a leap of faith.

What am I saying in all of this? There are minor variances in the Bible, but none of them are major doctrines of the faith. And the story of the formation of the Bible we have today is a miraculous story. I'm not sure what God was thinking, but I at least know He's said what He wanted to say to billions of people throughout history. And most of them heard from Him from the Bible. Without a satisfactory answer to this question (which happens often when trying to understand the mind of God), I fall back on faith, not doubt. Ultimately, this unsolved mystery is only a small one.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV, emphasis mine)


spiritual, carnal, intellectual

So I found an amazing quote the other day. Here it is in its entirety. I highlighted the phrases that caught my attention.

The intellectual and physical parts are in and of themselves sinless, and
natural to us; but the man who has been shaped by the intellectual, or even worse, by the carnal, is not sinless. He is guilty of granting supremacy within himself to something that was not meant for supremacy, and that is supposed to be in a subordinate position. It turns out that although the intellectual is natural, for a man to be intellectual is unnatural; in the same way carnality is natural, but for a man to be carnal is unnatural. The error here is in the exclusive predominance of that which is supposed to be subordinate.

When the spiritual reigns supreme in someone, then although this is his exclusive character and attitude, he does not err. This is because, in the first place, spirituality is the norm of human life, and so as a result, being spiritual, he is a real person, whereas the intellectual or carnal man is not a real person.

Secondly, no matter how spiritual someone is, he cannot help but give the intellectual and carnal their rightful place; he maintains just a little of them, in subordination to the spirit. Let intellectuality be not too broad within him (in scientific knowledge, arts and other subjects), and let carnality be firmly restrained. The connoisseur, the shrewd man - and even more so the carnal man - is not a real person, no matter how appealing he seems outwardly. He is foolish. Hence the simple man who fears God is superior to the man who is diverse and elegant, but who does not have among his goals and yearnings the pleasing of God....

From this you see that acccording to natural purpose, man must live in the spirit, subordinate everything to the spirit, be penetrated by the spirit in all that is of the soul, and even more so in all that is physical - and beyond these, in the outward things too, that is, family and social life. This is the norm!

-- Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), Russian Orthodox monk and saint

To me, the point seems to be emphasis. What consumes our focus? If we could record each thought, and categorize them, what would we find is our focus? Do we squeeze God in, or does the relationship we have with Him define or alter the other things we do? Do we look at Him sometimes during the day, or do we have a pair of "Jesus glasses" that we never take off, that we use to interact with the world around us?