THE WORD IS
The Bible is a collection of books. None of its 66 books has been preserved in its original state. This does not, however, mean that the Word of God has been lost. The original manuscripts were copied, and from reliable copies new copies were made. The copies are called manuscripts. Thousands of these manuscripts of both the Old Testament and New Testament have been preserved. Even in recent times valuable manuscripts have been found and others may still be found. The manuscripts differ from each other in some instances but the differences are usually insignificant. It is generally agreed that the differences do not affect any doctrines of the Bible making them doubtful or controversial. By comparing the oldest and most reliable manuscripts to each other, the correct reading of the original text can be determined. For no other ancient book have as many manuscripts been preserved as have been preserved for the Bible. The great number of Biblical manuscripts and the fact that they are in such close agreement with each other testify that the text of the Bible has not been changed in the course of the world's troubled history.
Some of the New Testament manuscripts are from as early a period as the second century. The entire New Testament collection of books is from the fourth century, only about 200 years after they were originally written. It is possible that among the preserved manuscripts there are some that were copied directly from the originals.
Until the time of the discoveries at Qumran (1947), the oldest Old Testament manuscripts were from the 9th and 10th centuries. The Qumran discoveries included manuscripts that are a thousand years older. And what is especially significant is that they confirm that the Old Testament text has been preserved intact.
The copyists were conscientious in their work. The Jewish copyists had to observe the following rules: The copyist can never depend on his memory. Before writing he must look up every word of the original text and pronounce it audibly. Between every book he must leave three blank lines. Deuteronomy must end exactly on a certain line. The copyist must be dressed fully in the Jewish manner as he copies. Every time he writes God's name he must first consecrate himself, wash his whole body and his pen, and dip it deeply enough into the ink so that he can at the same time copy the word before God's name as well as the name itself. In copying this holy name he must be so devoutly committed to his task that he would not even notice the king if he were to speak to him during the time he is writing. The copy was not acceptable if even one letter was missing or if there was one letter too many, if prose was written as poetry or poetry as prose, or if two letters touched each other. The manuscript had to be examined within 30 days.
These rules may seem strange to us but they were a safeguard against carelessness, they contributed to the birth of exact, reliable copies, and prevented the preservation of erroneous ones. At the same time other regulations served as simple examining means to insure that nothing had been added or that nothing had been omitted.
God's Word truly has not passed away.