A Book for All People
“God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—ACTS 10:34, 35.
1. How did one professor respond when asked what he thought about the Bible, and what did he decide to do?
THE professor was at home on a Sunday afternoon, not expecting any visitors. But when one of our Christian sisters called at his door, he listened. She spoke about pollution and the future of the earth—subjects that appealed to him. However, when she introduced the Bible into the discussion, he seemed skeptical. So she asked him what he thought about the Bible.
“It is a good book that was written by some intelligent men,” he replied, “but the Bible is not to be taken seriously.”
“Have you ever read the Bible?” she inquired.
Taken aback, the professor had to admit that he had not.
She then asked: “How can you voice a strong conviction about a book that you have never read?”
Our sister had a point. The professor decided to examine the Bible and then form an opinion about it.
2, 3. Why is the Bible a closed book for many people, and this presents us with what challenge?
2 The professor is not alone. Many people have definite opinions about the Bible even though they have never personally read it. They may possess a Bible. They may even acknowledge its literary or historical value. But for many, it is a closed book. ‘I do not have time to read the Bible,’ some say. Others wonder, ‘How could an ancient book possibly be relevant to my life?’ Such viewpoints present us with a real challenge. Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that the Bible “is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) How, though, can we convince people that regardless of their racial, national, or ethnic background, they should examine the Bible?
3 Let us discuss some reasons why the Bible is worthy of examination. Such a discussion can equip us to reason with those whom we meet in our ministry, perhaps convincing them that they should consider what the Bible says. At the same time, this review should strengthen our own faith that the Bible is, indeed, what it claims to be—“the word of God.”—Hebrews 4:12.
The World’s Most Widely Distributed Book
4. Why can it be said that the Bible is the world’s most widely distributed book?
4 First, the Bible deserves consideration because it is by far the most widely circulated and widely translated book in all human history. Over 500 years ago, the first edition printed from movable type came off Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. Since then, an estimated four billion Bibles, in whole or in part, have been printed. By 1996 the complete Bible or portions of it had been translated into 2,167 languages and dialects.a More than 90 percent of the human family have access to at least part of the Bible in their own language. No other book—religious or otherwise—even comes close!
5. Why should we expect the Bible to be accessible to people the world over?
5 Statistics alone do not prove that the Bible is God’s Word. However, we should certainly expect a written record that is inspired of God to be accessible to people the world over. After all, the Bible itself tells us that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) Like no other book, the Bible has crossed national boundaries and has overcome racial and ethnic barriers. Truly, the Bible is a book for all people!
A Unique Record of Preservation
6, 7. Why is it not surprising that none of the original Bible writings are known to exist, and what question does this raise?
6 There is another reason why the Bible deserves examination. It has survived both natural and human obstacles. The record of how it was preserved despite tremendous challenges is truly unique among ancient writings.
7 The Bible writers evidently recorded their words with ink on papyrus (made from the Egyptian plant of the same name) and parchment (made from the skins of animals).b (Job 8:11) Such writing materials, however, have natural enemies. Explains scholar Oscar Paret: “Both of these writing mediums are in the same strong measure endangered by humidity, by mold, and by various maggots. We know from daily experience how easily paper, and even strong leather, deteriorates in the open air or in a damp room.” So it is not surprising that none of the originals are known to exist; they probably disintegrated long ago. But if the originals succumbed to natural foes, how did the Bible survive?
8. Over the centuries, how were the Bible writings preserved?
8 Soon after the originals were written, handwritten copies began to be produced. In fact, copying the Law and other portions of the Holy Scriptures became a profession in ancient Israel. The priest Ezra, for example, is described as “a skilled copyist in the law of Moses.” (Ezra 7:6, 11; compare Psalm 45:1.) But the copies produced were also perishable; eventually they had to be replaced by still other handwritten copies. This process of copying the copies went on for centuries. Since humans are not perfect, did copyists’ mistakes substantially change the Bible text? The overwhelming evidence says no!
9. How does the example of the Masoretes illustrate the extreme care and accuracy of Bible copyists?
9 Not only were the copyists very skilled but they also had a deep respect for the words they copied. The Hebrew word for “copyist” has reference to counting and recording. To illustrate the extreme care and accuracy of the copyists, consider the Masoretes, copyists of the Hebrew Scriptures who lived between the sixth and the tenth centuries C.E. According to scholar Thomas Hartwell Horne, they reckoned “how many times each letter of the [Hebrew] alphabet occurs in all the Hebrew Scriptures.” Think what that means! To avoid omitting even a single letter, these devoted copyists counted not just the words they copied but the letters as well. Why, according to one scholar’s count, they reportedly kept track of 815,140 individual letters in the Hebrew Scriptures! Such diligent effort ensured a high degree of accuracy.
10. What compelling evidence is there that the Hebrew and Greek texts upon which modern translations are based accurately represent the words of the original writers?
10 There is, in fact, compelling evidence that the Hebrew and Greek texts on which modern translations are based represent with remarkable fidelity the words of the original writers. The evidence consists of thousands of handwritten copies of Bible manuscripts—an estimated 6,000 of all or portions of the Hebrew Scriptures and some 5,000 of the Christian Scriptures in Greek—that have survived to our day. A careful, comparative analysis of the many existing manuscripts has enabled textual scholars to detect any copyists’ errors and determine the original reading. Commenting on the text of the Hebrew Scriptures, scholar William H. Green could thus state: “It may be safely said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.” Similar confidence can be placed in the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
11. In light of 1 Peter 1:24, 25, why has the Bible survived to our day?
11 How easily the Bible could have perished were it not for the handwritten copies that replaced the originals, with their precious message! There is only one reason for its survival—Jehovah is the Preserver and Protector of his Word. As the Bible itself says, at 1 Peter 1:24, 25: “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like a blossom of grass; the grass becomes withered, and the flower falls off, but the saying of Jehovah endures forever.”
Into the Living Languages of Mankind
12. In addition to centuries of recopying, what other obstacle did the Bible face?
12 Surviving centuries of recopying was challenging enough, but the Bible faced another obstacle—translation into contemporary languages. The Bible must speak in the language of the people in order to speak to their hearts. However, translating the Bible—with its more than 1,100 chapters and 31,000 verses—is no easy task. Yet, over the centuries devoted translators gladly took on the challenge, facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles at times.
13, 14. (a) What challenge did Bible translator Robert Moffat face in Africa in the early 19th century? (b) How did Tswana-speaking people react when the Gospel of Luke became available in their language?
13 Consider, for example, how the Bible came to be translated into the languages of Africa. In the year 1800, there were only about a dozen written languages in all of Africa. Hundreds of other spoken languages had no writing system. This was the challenge facing Bible translator Robert Moffat. In 1821, at the age of 25, Moffat set up a mission among the Tswana-speaking people of southern Africa. To learn their unwritten language, he mixed with the people. Moffat persevered and, without the aid of primers or dictionaries, eventually mastered the language, developed a written form of it, and taught some Tswana to read that script. In 1829, after working among the Tswana for eight years, he finished translating the Gospel of Luke. He later said: “I have known individuals to come hundreds of miles to obtain copies of St. Luke. . . . I have seen them receive portions of St. Luke, and weep over them, and grasp them to their bosoms, and shed tears of thankfulness, till I have said to more than one, ‘You will spoil your books with your tears.’” Moffat also told of an African man who saw a number of people reading the Gospel of Luke and asked them what they had in their possession. “It is the word of God,” they replied. “Does it speak?” the man asked. “Yes,” they said, “it speaks to the heart.”
14 Devoted translators like Moffat gave many Africans their first opportunity to communicate in writing. But the translators gave the African people an even more precious gift—the Bible in their own tongue. Moreover, Moffat introduced the divine name to the Tswana, and he used that name throughout his translation.c Thus, the Tswana referred to the Bible as “the mouth of Jehovah.”—Psalm 83:18.
15. Why is the Bible very much alive today?
15 Other translators in various parts of the world faced similar obstacles. Some even risked their lives to translate the Bible. Think about this: If the Bible had remained only in ancient Hebrew and Greek, it might have “died” long ago, for those languages were in time virtually forgotten by the masses and were never known in many parts of the earth. Yet, the Bible is very much alive because, unlike any other book, it can “speak” to people the world over in their own language. As a result, its message remains “at work in [its] believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) The Jerusalem Bible renders these words: “It is still a living power among you who believe it.”
Worthy of Trust
16, 17. (a) For the Bible to be trustworthy, what evidence should exist? (b) Give one example illustrating the candor of the Bible writer Moses.
16 ‘Can the Bible really be trusted?’ some may wonder. ‘Does it refer to people who undeniably lived, places that actually existed, and events that truly happened?’ If we are to trust it, there should be evidence that it was written by careful, honest writers. This brings us to another reason for examining the Bible: There is solid evidence that it is accurate and trustworthy.
17 Honest writers would record not just successes but also failures, not just strengths but also weaknesses. The Bible writers displayed such refreshing candor. Consider, for example, the forthrightness of Moses. Among the things he frankly reported were his own lack of eloquence, which in his view made him unfit to be Israel’s leader (Exodus 4:10); the serious mistake he made that prevented his entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:9-12; 27:12-14); the deflection of his brother, Aaron, who cooperated with rebellious Israelites in making a statue of a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6); the rebellion of his sister, Miriam, and her humiliating punishment (Numbers 12:1-3, 10); the profaneness of his nephews Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1, 2); and the repeated complaining and murmuring of God’s own people. (Exodus 14:11, 12; Numbers 14:1-10) Does not such frank, open reporting indicate a sincere concern for truth? Since the Bible writers were willing to report unfavorable information about their loved ones, their people, and even themselves, is there not good reason to trust their writings?
18. What stamps the writings of the Bible penmen as trustworthy?
18 The consistency of the Bible penmen also stamps their writings as trustworthy. It is truly remarkable that 40 men writing over a span of some 1,600 years are in agreement, even when it comes to minor details. However, this harmony is not so carefully arranged as to arouse suspicions of collusion. On the contrary, there is an obvious lack of design in the agreement of various details; often the harmony is clearly coincidental.
19. How do the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest reveal agreement that is clearly unintentional?
19 To illustrate, consider an incident that took place on the night of Jesus’ arrest. All four Gospel writers record that one of the disciples drew a sword and struck a slave of the high priest, taking off the man’s ear. Only Luke, however, tells us that Jesus “touched the ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:51) But is that not what we would expect from the writer who was known as “the beloved physician”? (Colossians 4:14) John’s account tells us that of all the disciples present, the one who wielded the sword was Peter—a fact that is not surprising in view of Peter’s tendency to be rash and impetuous. (John 18:10; compare Matthew 16:22, 23 and John 21:7, 8.) John reports another seemingly unnecessary detail: “The name of the slave was Malchus.” Why does John alone give the man’s name? The explanation is provided by a minor fact stated in passing only in John’s account—John “was known to the high priest.” He was also known to the high priest’s household; the servants were acquainted with him, and he with them.d (John 18:10, 15, 16) It is only natural, then, that John should mention the injured man’s name, whereas the other Gospel writers, to whom the man evidently was a stranger, do not. The agreement between all these details is remarkable, yet clearly unintentional. There are scores of similar examples throughout the Bible.
20. What do people of honest heart need to know about the Bible?
20 So can we trust the Bible? Absolutely! The candor of the Bible writers and the Bible’s internal consistency give it the clear ring of truth. People of honest heart need to know that they can trust the Bible, for it is the inspired Word of “Jehovah the God of truth.” (Psalm 31:5) There are additional reasons why the Bible is a book for all people, as the next article will discuss.
a Based on figures published by the United Bible Societies.
b During his second imprisonment in Rome, Paul asked Timothy to bring “the scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13) Paul possibly was asking for portions of the Hebrew Scriptures so that he could study them while in prison. The phrase “especially the parchments” may indicate that both scrolls of papyrus and others of parchment were involved.
c In 1838, Moffat completed a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. With the help of a colleague, he finished translating the Hebrew Scriptures in 1857.
d John’s familiarity with the high priest and his household is further shown later in the account. When another of the slaves of the high priest charges Peter with being one of Jesus’ disciples, John explains that this slave was “a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off.”—John 18:26.
How Would You Answer?
◻ Why should we expect the Bible to be the world’s most accessible book?
◻ What evidence is there that the Bible has been accurately preserved?
◻ What obstacles were faced by those who translated the Bible?
◻ What stamps the Bible writings as trustworthy?