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Book Review

Cherishing God’s Storied Book

If you’ve scoured the bookshelves of a second-hand store, you’ve likely come across a sizable collection of Bibles.

 

Shelved not far from the forgettable bestsellers of three summers ago, these neglected Bibles can look all too ordinary. But this modest appearance belies the incredible reality of what the Bible is, the supernatural message that the Bible reveals, and the amazing story of how this book came to us.

 

It is the story of how we got the Bible that John Meade and Peter Gurry recount in their excellent volume Scribes and Scripture. It’s probably not a tale that many of us have heard. As they point out, we tend to think that the Bible was given similarly to how the Ten Commandments were handed down at Mount Sinai: whole and complete.

 

Hasn’t the Bible always looked the way it does today: faux leather cover, index in the front, concordance in the back, sixty-six books in all, and in readable English? No, the familiar Holy Bible on your nightstand is the grand culmination of labours that have stretched back thousands of years, labours that have involved tens of thousands of scholars, scribes, copyists, translators, publishers, and even synodical representatives.

 

But what about divine inspiration? Didn’t God himself miraculously “breathe out” these words through his prophets and apostles so that by them we could be equipped for every work? We stand on our confession of the Bible’s full inspiration. But that doesn’t mean God ended his involvement in Scripture at that moment in the first century when the last inspired author finally lay down his pen. In his wise providence, God has also preserved his Word, superintending the careful collection of manuscripts, their replication and translation. And all of this work stands (almost invisibly) behind the wide array of ESVs or NIVs on Amazon from which you can choose today.

 

Occupied in the task were many thousands of people. Meade and Gurry tell the story of armies of ancient and medieval copyists devoted to writing out the Scriptures by hand—line by line, column after column—until they finished a complete Bible, and then began again. They tell the story of church synods and councils, where there was broad (but not unanimous) agreement about what books had been inspired by God and should be received as holy Scripture. They tell the story of Bible translators who laboured long and sometimes at great personal danger to give the masses a Bible they could read in their own tongue.

 

The Bible’s history is long and unquestionably colourful. So I’ll leave it to you to read how (and why) it’s only in the last two hundred years that most English Bibles stopped including the Apocryphal books. Or to learn what’s behind the puzzling little footnotes in your Bible that say something like, “Some manuscripts have…; other manuscripts read…”  You’ll also hear about the persistence of certain historical myths, like how the Bible was collated by a pagan Roman emperor, or how the early church suppressed some accounts of Jesus’s life.

 

It’s far from a flawless history. Meade and Gurry tell how some copyists of Scripture were more careless than others: changing words, forgetting words. Some translators were too literal to be understood, others not literal enough. The status of some Bible books was hotly contested. But God was directing these things too.

 

After this fascinating account of such a storied book, Meade and Gurry end with an apt question: Do you love this Word of God? I’m confident that your love for the Bible will actually grow through reading its history. Next time you hold an ordinary-looking Bible in your hands, ponder the miraculous story of how it came to us. Marvel at the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness across the centuries—opening the mouths of prophets and apostles, guiding the hands of scribes and scholars, blessing the work of translators and publishers—so that today we get to read his living words.

 

Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible

by John D. Meade and Peter J. Gurry

Crossway, 2022

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