The Unchanging Word

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” Isaiah 40:8 (NASB).  This is my favorite verse of scripture in the Bible.  I find God’s Word comforting and to be a place of refuge in the midst of changing times.  And times are changing as we have witnessed during these last several years in the upheaval of Global economics, changes that for good or ill are continuing.  What does the future hold?  Where will these changes lead us?

While I take comfort in the unchanging truth in God’s Word during these changing times, the critic would intone, there is no God.  He would say a belief in an immutable God whose word stands forever is ridiculous and without evidence.

I have often said there is a difference between faith and blind faith.  I have said as well that faith will always be a necessary ingredient in the Christian life and absolute proof regarding matters of faith are not always to be found.  But God has not left us completely in the dark.

A criticism commonly levied by skeptics against the trustworthiness of the Bible is, after several millennia of transcription and translation how do we know the Scriptures are accurately preserved?  How do we know what God said then is what we read now?  Among Bible scholars this is known as the issue of textual corruption due to the long period of transmission.

Before addressing this argument in the main, I wish to make what should be a salient point.  It is only natural to assume that any written work if copied over and over again for 3500 years (the first 3000 by hand) and translated from one language to another should contain a multitude of mistakes.  If, on the other hand, that same work can be shown to be remarkably free of error and transcribed with uncommon exactitude, then one must assume God not only inspired such a work but also played an active role in preserving it.

In the twenty-second chapter of Matthew beginning in verse twenty-three, the Sadducees confront Jesus.  They do not believe in the resurrection and relate an experience they believe disproves it.  They tell the story of a woman who successively married seven brothers.  She married the first, and when he died she married the next, and he died and so on, until she had married them all, they had all died, and then she died also.  The Sadducees asked, whose wife of the seven will she be?  They had wrongly assumed that temporal relationships established on earth would become confused in the eternal setting of the resurrection.

The Sadducees thought they had constructed a clever argument against the resurrection.  Jesus explains their point is not valid; there are no marriages in heaven.  But he goes on to show that they need not rely solely on His own testimony about relationships in heaven.

Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 where God speaks to Moses and declares, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” and offers the following interpretation, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Jesus’ argument is this, when God spoke to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been dead for over 400 years.  Yet, God referred to them in the present tense, “I am.”  If God is referring to them in the present tense, even if their bodies are dead, their spirits are in some sense resurrected, alive and in His care.  This use of grammar to understand and explain the meaning of a passage of Scripture was a recognized interpretive method that silenced the Sadducees.

Follow me carefully.  Moses wrote Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch circa 1500 years before Christ in Hebrew.  The rest of the Old Testament canon followed and was translated into Greek about 200 B.C. and become known as the Septuagint.  Jesus’ works and words are recorded in the Gospels and are joined by the rest of the New Testament during the first century A.D., which is also written in Greek.  In the fourth century Jerome translates the Bible into Latin.  Many of the early English translations can find their origins in the Latin Vulgate.  Since the King James Version of the Bible was printed, the English language has undergone at least five revisions.  Modern versions of the English Bible are translated from the best Hebrew and Greek texts available.

Here is my point.  After 3500 years of transcription, translation, and language revisions the tense of a verb has not changed.  If it had Jesus’ reasoning regarding the resurrection would have been inscrutable.

When skeptics assailed the scriptures, the French Huguenots would offer this poetic response, “Hammer away ye hostile hands; your hammer breaks, God’s anvil stands.”


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