How can you be assured that the scriptures you read in your English bibles are really the word of God? What do a young Bedouin shepherd, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the book of Isaiah show us about the preservation of God’s Word?
These are not idle questions textual academics and bible students ask one another. When they are, without bias, truthfully answered, they will show that God do sovereignly preserve His Word for us. So much so, we can be assured that the Bible we read today is the word of God and we can confidently and fully rely on it.
Let me first say, without getting academic and dogmatic about it, what “preservation” means with regards to Scripture. Very simply, the doctrine of preservation means that the Lord has kept His Word intact as to its original meaning. Preservation simply means that we can trust the Scriptures because God has sovereignly overseen the process of its transmission to us over the centuries. One major material evidence for this comes from the book of Isaiah.
In 1947 a young Bedouin shepherd wondered into some caves in Qumran, north of the Dead Sea in Israel and discovered in several caves, many clay jars containing ancient Hebrew scrolls and other texts. Among the discoveries was what later came to be called “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”
This scroll is written in Hebrew and contains the entire Book of Isaiah from beginning to end, apart from a few small damaged portions. It is the oldest complete copy of the Book of Isaiah known, and is about 1100 years older than the Leningrad Codex. Pieces of the parchment it was written on are estimated to be as old as about 300 to 100 BC.
This scroll presented a marvellous opportunity for textual experts to study and compare it with, for example, the Masoretic text (the text which forms the basis of the modern translation of the Old Testament).
The amazing finding is: the texts were almost identical, except for some minor differences – what we would call “typos” today. For example, spelling certain words with an extra letter and things like that.
The early scribes, whose jobs were to make exact copies of Scripture, were very meticulous. And they had developed time-consuming methods to ensure accuracy in the copying and transmission process.
Further, we can take note of what Jesus says in Matthew 5:18 that until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law (word of God) until all is accomplished. He would not make that promise unless He was sure that God would preserve His Word. Jesus also says that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away.
God’s Word will remain and accomplish that which God has planned. It is wise for us to know it and keep and obey it.
Pastor Robert Chew