The Word of God Endures Forever
“As for the word of our God, it will last to time indefinite.”—ISAIAH 40:8.
1. (a) What is meant here by “the word of our God”? (b) How do the promises of humans compare with the word of God?
HUMANS are prone to put their trust in the promises of prominent men and women. But no matter how desirable these promises may seem to people who long for improvement in their lot in life, they are like wilting flowers when compared with the word of our God. (Psalm 146:3, 4) Over 2,700 years ago, Jehovah God inspired the prophet Isaiah to write: “All flesh is green grass, and all their loving-kindness is like the blossom of the field. . . . The green grass has dried up, the blossom has withered; but as for the word of our God, it will last to time indefinite.” (Isaiah 40:6, 8) What is that enduring “word”? It is God’s statement of his purpose. Today we have that “word” in written form in the Bible.—1 Peter 1:24, 25.
2. In the face of what attitudes and actions did Jehovah fulfill his word regarding ancient Israel and Judah?
2 People living in the days of ancient Israel experienced the truthfulness of what Isaiah recorded. Through his prophets Jehovah foretold that, because of gross unfaithfulness to him, first the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and then the two-tribe kingdom of Judah would be taken into exile. (Jeremiah 20:4; Amos 5:2, 27) Though they persecuted, even killed, Jehovah’s prophets, burned a scroll that contained God’s message of warning, and appealed to Egypt for military help to prevent its fulfillment, Jehovah’s word did not fail. (Jeremiah 36:1, 2, 21-24; 37:5-10; Luke 13:34) Further, God’s promise to restore a repentant Jewish remnant to their land had a remarkable fulfillment.—Isaiah, chapter 35.
3. (a) What promises recorded by Isaiah are of special interest to us? (b) Why are you convinced that these things will really come to pass?
3 Through Isaiah, Jehovah also foretold righteous rulership over mankind by means of the Messiah, deliverance from sin and death, and the transforming of the earth into a paradise. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:1-9; 25:6-8; 35:5-7; 65:17-25) Will these things also come to pass? Without a shadow of doubt! “God . . . cannot lie.” He had his prophetic word recorded for our benefit, and he has made sure that it has been preserved.—Titus 1:2; Romans 15:4.
4. Even though original Bible manuscripts were not preserved, how is it true that God’s word is “alive”?
4 Jehovah did not preserve the original manuscripts in which his ancient penmen wrote those prophecies. But his “word,” his declared purpose, has proved to be a living word. That purpose moves irresistibly forward, and as it does, the inner thoughts and motivations of people whose lives are touched by it become manifest. (Hebrews 4:12) Furthermore, the historical record shows that the preservation and the translation of the inspired Scriptures themselves have been by divine providence.
When Faced With Attempts to Suppress It
5. (a) What effort was made by a Syrian king to destroy the inspired Hebrew Scriptures? (b) Why did he fail?
5 On more than one occasion, rulers have endeavored to destroy the inspired writings. In 168 B.C.E., Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes (depicted on page 10) erected an altar to Zeus in the temple that was dedicated to Jehovah. He also sought out ‘the books of the Law,’ burned them, and declared that anyone possessing such Scriptures would be put to death. Regardless of how many copies he burned in Jerusalem and Judea, he could not entirely suppress the Scriptures. Colonies of Jews were at that time scattered in many lands, and each synagogue had its collection of scrolls.—Compare Acts 13:14, 15.
6. (a) What intense effort was made to destroy the Scriptures used by the early Christians? (b) What was the outcome?
6 In 303 C.E., Roman Emperor Diocletian similarly decreed that Christian meeting places be razed and that their ‘Scriptures be consumed with fire.’ Such destruction continued for a decade. Terrible though the persecution was, Diocletian did not succeed in stamping out Christianity, nor did God permit the agents of the emperor to destroy all the copies of even one portion of His inspired Word. But by their reaction to the distribution and preaching of God’s Word, the opposers manifested what was in their hearts. They identified themselves as men blinded by Satan and carrying out his will.—John 8:44; 1 John 3:10-12.
7. (a) What efforts were made to stifle the spread of Bible knowledge in western Europe? (b) What was accomplished in the translating and publishing of the Bible?
7 Efforts to stifle the spread of Bible knowledge also took other forms. When Latin died out as an everyday language, it was not pagan rulers but professed Christians—Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) and Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)—who actively opposed translation of the Bible into languages used by the common people. In an effort to crush dissent against the authority of the church, the Roman Catholic Council of Toulouse, France, in 1229, decreed that a layman could not possess books of the Bible in the common language. The Inquisition was used aggressively to enforce the decree. Yet, after 400 years of the Inquisition, lovers of God’s Word had translated the complete Bible and were circulating printed editions of it in some 20 languages, plus additional dialects, and major portions of it in another 16 tongues.
8. During the 19th century, what was happening in the field of Bible translation and distribution in Russia?
8 It was not only the Roman Catholic Church that endeavored to keep the Bible from the common people. Early in the 19th century, Pavsky, a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Divinity, translated the Gospel of Matthew from Greek into Russian. Other books of the Christian Greek Scriptures were also translated into Russian, and Pavsky served as editor. These were extensively distributed until, by ecclesiastical maneuvering, in 1826 the czar was induced to have the Russian Bible Society placed under the management of the “Holy Synod” of the Russian Orthodox Church, which then effectively suppressed its operations. Later, Pavsky translated the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Russian. At about the same time, Makarios, an archimandrite of the Orthodox Church, also translated the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Russian. Both of them were punished for their efforts, and their translations were put into church archives. The church was determined to keep the Bible in the old Slavonic language, which at that time was not read or understood by the common people. Only when the people’s efforts to gain Bible knowledge could no longer be suppressed did the “Holy Synod,” in 1856, undertake its own synodal translation, doing so with guidelines that were carefully crafted to ensure that expressions used would conform to church views. Thus, in connection with dissemination of God’s Word, a division was being made manifest between the outward appearance of the religious leaders and their spirit, as revealed by their words and actions.—2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.
Safeguarding the Word Against Corruption
9. How did some Bible translators demonstrate their love for God’s Word?
9 Among those who translated and copied the Scriptures were men who truly loved God’s Word and put forth earnest efforts to make it available to everyone. William Tyndale was martyred (in 1536) for what he did to make the Bible available in English. Francisco de Enzinas was imprisoned by the Catholic Inquisition (after 1544) for translating and publishing the Christian Greek Scriptures in Spanish. At the risk of his life, Robert Morrison (from 1807 to 1818) translated the Bible into Chinese.
10. What examples show that there were translators who were motivated by influences other than love for God’s Word?
10 At times, however, considerations other than love for God’s Word influenced the work of copyists and translators. Consider four examples: (1) The Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim as a rival to the temple in Jerusalem. In support of that, an interpolation was made in the Samaritan Pentateuch at Exodus 20:17. The command was added, as if part of the Decalogue, to build an altar of stone on Mount Gerizim and to offer sacrifices there. (2) The person who first translated the book of Daniel for the Greek Septuagint took liberties in his renderings. He inserted statements that he thought would explain or enhance what was in the Hebrew text. He omitted details that he thought would be unacceptable to readers. When he translated the prophecy concerning the time of Messiah’s appearance, found at Daniel 9:24-27, he falsified the stated time period and added, altered, and transposed words, apparently with a view to making the prophecy seem to support the struggle of the Maccabees. (3) In the fourth century C.E., in a Latin treatise, an overzealous advocate of Trinitarianism evidently included the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the holy spirit; and these three are one” as if these were a quotation from 1 John 5:7. Later that passage was put right into the text of a Latin Bible manuscript. (4) Louis XIII (1610-43), in France, authorized Jacques Corbin to translate the Bible into French in order to offset the efforts of Protestants. With that objective in view, Corbin included some textual interpolations, including reference to “the holy sacrifice of the Mass” at Acts 13:2.
11. (a) How did the Word of God endure in spite of the dishonesty of some translators? (b) How much ancient manuscript evidence is there to prove what the Bible originally said? (See box.)
11 Jehovah did not prevent such tampering with his Word, nor did it change his purpose. What effects did it have? Adding references to Mount Gerizim did not cause the Samaritan religion to become God’s agency for blessing mankind. Rather, it gave evidence that, although the Samaritan religion claimed to believe the Pentateuch, it could not be counted on to teach the truth. (John 4:20-24) Distortion of wording in the Septuagint did not prevent the Messiah from coming at the time foretold through the prophet Daniel. Furthermore, even though the Septuagint was in use in the first century, the Jews were evidently accustomed to hearing the Scriptures read in Hebrew in their synagogues. As a result, “the people were in expectation” when the time for fulfillment of the prophecy drew near. (Luke 3:15) As for the interpolations at 1 John 5:7 to support the Trinity and at Acts 13:2 to justify the Mass, these did not change what is truth. And in time the frauds were fully exposed. The large reservoir of original-language manuscripts of the Bible provides a means for checking the validity of any translation.
12. (a) What serious changes were made by some Bible translators? (b) How far-reaching were these?
12 Other efforts to change the Scriptures involved more than rewording a few verses. These constituted an attack on the identity of the true God himself. The very nature and extent of the changes gave clear evidence of influence from a source more powerful than any individual man or human organization—yes, influence from Jehovah’s archenemy, Satan the Devil. Yielding to that influence, translators and copyists—some eagerly, others reluctantly—began to remove God’s own personal name, Jehovah, from his inspired Word in the thousands of places where it appeared. At an early date, some translations from Hebrew into Greek, Latin, German, English, Italian, and Dutch, among others, omitted the divine name entirely or retained it in only a few places. It was also taken out of copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
13. Why did the widespread effort to alter the Bible not result in the blotting out of God’s name from human memory?
13 Yet, that glorious name was not blotted out from human memory. Translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Spanish, Portuguese, German, English, French, and many others, honestly included God’s personal name. By the 16th century, the personal name of God also began to appear again in various Hebrew translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures; by the 18th century, in German; by the 19th century, in Croatian and English. Even though people might try to push God’s name into a corner, when “Jehovah’s day” arrives, then, as God declares, ‘the nations will have to know that I am Jehovah.’ That declared purpose of God will not fail.—2 Peter 3:10; Ezekiel 38:23; Isaiah 11:9; 55:11.
Message Reaches Around the Globe
14. (a) By the 20th century, in how many languages of Europe had the Bible been printed, and with what effect? (b) By the end of 1914, in how many languages of Africa was the Bible available?
14 By the dawn of the 20th century, the Bible was already being printed in 94 languages of Europe. It alerted Bible students in that part of the world to the fact that world-shaking events would come with the end of the Gentile Times in 1914, and indeed they did! (Luke 21:24) Before the epoch-making year 1914 had run its course, the Bible, either the whole or some books of it, was published in 157 languages of Africa, in addition to the widely used English, French, and Portuguese languages. Thus the foundation was laid for teaching spiritually liberating Bible truths to humble ones of the many tribes and national groups living there.
15. As the last days began, to what extent was the Bible available in the languages of people in the Americas?
15 As the world entered the foretold last days, the Bible was widely available in the Americas. Immigrants from Europe had brought it with them in all their varied tongues. An extensive program of Bible education was under way, with public lectures and intensive distribution of Bible literature published by the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Additionally, Bible printing was already being done by Bible societies in 57 other languages to fill the needs of the native-born inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere.
16, 17. (a) To what extent had the Bible become available when the time arrived for global preaching? (b) How has the Bible truly proved to be an enduring and very influential book?
16 When the time arrived for global preaching of the good news before ‘the end would come,’ the Bible was no newcomer to Asia and the islands of the Pacific. (Matthew 24:14) It was already being published in 232 languages characteristic of that part of the globe. Some were complete Bibles; many were translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures; others were a single book of the Sacred Scriptures.
17 Clearly, the Bible was not enduring as a mere museum display. Of all the books in existence, it was the most widely translated and most extensively distributed book. Consistent with that evidence of divine favor, what was recorded in that book was coming to pass. Its teachings and the spirit back of it were also having a lasting effect on the lives of people in many lands. (1 Peter 1:24, 25) But more was to come—much more.
Do You Remember?
◻ What is “the word of our God” that endures forever?
◻ What attempts have been made to suppress the Bible, and with what results?
◻ How has the integrity of the Bible been safeguarded?
◻ How has God’s statement of purpose proved to be a living word?
[Box on page 12]
Do We Really Know What the Bible Originally Said?
About 6,000 handwritten Hebrew manuscripts attest to the contents of the Hebrew Scriptures. A few of these date back to the pre-Christian era. At least 19 extant manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Scriptures date to the period before the invention of printing from movable type. In addition, from that same period, there exist translations that were made into 28 other languages.
For the Christian Greek Scriptures, about 5,000 manuscripts in Greek have been cataloged. One of these has been dated as before 125 C.E., thus just a few years after the time of original writing. And some fragments are thought to date considerably earlier. For 22 of the 27 inspired books, there are from 10 to 19 complete uncial manuscripts. The smallest number of complete uncial manuscripts for any of the books in this part of the Bible is three—for Revelation. One manuscript of the complete Christian Greek Scriptures dates back to the fourth century C.E.
No other ancient literature is confirmed by such a flood of ancient documentary evidence.