how YOU see me — may appear to be somewhat more youthful. In fact, I go way, way back in history. Parts of me are very old, while other parts, added as the years passed, are much younger. My oldest components, in fact, are dated from the fifteenth century before Christ. I am the Word of God.
I consist of two parts: the Old and the New Testaments, or Covenants. I contain sixty-six books. Thirty-nine of my books belong to the Old Testament, while the remaining twenty-seven belong to the New. More than forty authors, who had diverse occupations and social standing, contributed to my present form, writing in a span of over 1600 years. Most of you know the more famous writers; men like Moses, who was a prophet, a general, a highly-educated man; and Peter, who was a humble fisherman and had little, if any, schooling. But did you also know that obscure and barely known men like Nathan, Gad, Ahijah, Iddo, Shemaiah, Jehu, and some anonymous writers also gave me substance? While some of these men were familiar with each other, many were not, yet their writings form a cohesive unit, even though penned decades or hundreds of years apart. I am the Word of God.
I am the most read book in the world. Bar none. I have been published in more languages than any other book. Bar none. Right now, at this very instance, thousands of men and women are working around the world in primitive conditions and at great expense to themselves to translate my words into more than 1000 other languages. In the early 1940's the British and Foreign Bible Society was printing a copy of me every 3 seconds day and night. Can you imagine that? Twenty-two copies every minute, 1,369 copies every hour, 32,876 copies every day in the year. I can just imagine what it must be today. And add to that all the Bibles being printed by the American Bible Society, the International Bible Society, Oxford Press, Harvest House, Harper & Row, Word Publishing, and many, many more. I am constantly and continually in demand. I am the Word of God.
You have a copy of me, don't you? I know that there are quite a few distributed in the pew racks in front of you. But do you know there was a time when there were so few Bibles available that the one Bible in a church’s possession had to be chained to the pulpit or lectern so it wouldn’t be stolen? I was really appreciated in those days. Did you also know that there was a time when your possessing me could have cost you your life?
As early as the year 303, Emperor Diocletian issued an edict for the destruction of all Christians and their books. He ordered churches to be razed, and scriptures to be burned. He stripped many of their citizenship, civil rights, and liberty for persisting in professing Christ.
John Fox, in his famous Book of Martyrs, tells us of many who died for me. “Timothy [a deacon of Mauritania], being apprehended as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, ‘Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God,’ The governor being much incensed at this reply, ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying ‘The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them.’ His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth.”
“At Buckingham [in 1541], Thomas Bainard, and James Moreton, [were brought to trial] the one for reading the Lord’s Prayer in English, and the other for reading St. James’ Epistles in English, [and] were both condemned and burnt alive. ... Their constancy triumphed over cruelty, and their sufferings will be held in everlasting remembrance. Thus were Christ’s people betrayed every way, and their lives bought and sold. For, in the said parliament, the king made this most blasphemous and cruel act, to be a law forever: that whatsoever they were that should read the Scriptures in the mother-tongue (which was then called “Wickliffe's learning”), they should forfeit land, cattle, body, life, and goods, from their heirs for ever, and so be condemned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and most arrant traitors to the land.
One more story should be sufficient to illustrate: in “AD 1546, Peter Chapot brought a number of Bibles in the French tongue to France, and publicly sold them there; for which he was brought to trial, sentenced, and executed a few days afterward.” But how many, even in our day are under the same condemnation and yet risk their very lives in order to hold me? I am that special. I am that valuable. I am the Word of God.
Why is it that some people will risk their lives to have me? Take a look at Psalm 119. The 119th Psalm is an encomium to me. I like it. But every word of praise is honest and true. There’s not the least bit of flattery in it.
119:9 “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
What other book can say that? What other book can do that? Young man, if you follow my advice, you’ll never go wrong. Never. Ever. This one promise makes me more valuable than all the Great Books of the Western World put together.
119:11 “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
Now my value is doubled. What other book can say that? What other book can fence you against sinning? What other book can not only keep you from offending God but allow you the pleasure of His company?
119:43 “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. 44 So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. 45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.”
How about that? Liberty, freedom — guaranteed to those who love me and obey me. What other book can offer that promise? What other book can keep that promise?
119:97 “O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day. 98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.”
Here's another promise that no other can make. I can make you wiser than your enemies. That's a good reason to love me, I’d say.
This psalm has 176 verses. They extol me. They praise me. They tell of the benefits of knowing me, of loving me, of keeping me. They speak highly of me. I deserve it. I am the Word of God.
Many hate me, too. I know why, but I just don't understand it. Voltaire, a once-famous infidel and personal enemy used to boast during his short and wasted lifetime that in another hundred years Christianity would be swept into history, a mere remembrance of an ignorant day. Yet, only fifty years after he died in 1778, his house and his printing press were being used to produce me — stacks of me. Voltaire was swept into history 210 years ago. I am still going strong. I am the Word of God.
What is the cause of my long life? It is because I possess a life of my own. I am breathed out from God himself. Paul calls it “theopneustos.” He says, 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” Inspiration, or “theopneustos.” really means exhalation. All scripture is “breathed out” by God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word of God is quick — or alive. What other book can say that? What other book has caused as many people to change for the good as I have? Only I can do that. I am the Word of God.
Oh, one other thing. I am perfect. Well, yes, you'll find some errors in your translations. Those are human errors added to me in the process of transcription and translation. But, even with those, you really can’t find fault with me. Sir Frederic Kenyon stated it well: “One word of warning, already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion. No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading....
“It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case of the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.
“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge of their writings depends of a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.”
I have stood the test of time. I have more extant ancient manuscripts — in excess of 13,000 — more than any other book half my age. I have survived all sorts of opposition. I have outlasted those that tried to burn every copy of me. I have won the battle against time, against persecution, against textual criticism, against so-called scholarship. I am a survivor. Oh, yes, there are still more battles to be fought. But I will win them too. I am the Word of God.
Now, my friend, will you value me? You may have picked me up for a quarter in a yard sale, but that doesn’t mean I’m cheap. You may even possess me by the dozens, but that doesn't mean I’m common. I was given freely by a gracious God, but I was bought with the blood of countless martyrs. You are the beneficiary of someone else’s intense labors and sufferings. I am the key to your happiness. Value me. I am a precious treasure. “More to be desired ... than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” I am the Word of God.
Preached following a Gideons International presentation on 5 April 1998