The Dead Sea Scrolls

[NOTE: Clicking on the pictures below will make them larger]

We have no original manuscripts of the Bible.  All we have are copies of copies.

That does not mean however that our Bibles are unreliable – as if a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy etc. might render it valueless.  We now have some 7000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Old and New Testament.  A few of the New Testament fragments date to the first century.

P1040326 P1040323Until the mid 20th century, most of the manuscript evidence was for the New Testament.  Our oldest Old Testament manuscript dated to the 10th century AD – 1400 years past the closing of the Old Testament. In 1946 however, a young shepherd boy, searching for a stray goat, happened upon a cave in the Judean desert (note pictures of the caves to the left).  In the cave he found jars containing Hebrew scrolls (the third picture is of a facsimilie in the museum of Qumran — the area of the caves).  This was the beginning of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls which would, in total, be found in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea (the whole story is a lot more extensive than I have room for here).P1040317

While not all the scrolls contain Bible text, portions of all of the Old Testament were found except for the book of Esther.  The find was of tremendous significance because it took our manuscript evidence for the Old Testament back to the days before Jesus, as far as 250 B.C.  What scholars discovered was that the text of the Old Testament from the tenth century AD was in remarkable agreement with the texts we now had from near the closing days of the Old Testament.

P1040156Today, a majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed at the Shrine of the Book (4th picture), a part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  I was privileged to spend half a day there a few months ago.  It, along with the visit to the caves) was one of the highlights of the trip. The shrine is built to look like the top of the jars that held the scrolls.

Two observations are in order:

First, the Bible is the most studied and criticized text of antiquity.  But the result is that it is the most reliable text of antiquity.  No other document comes close.

Second, the vast majority of Bible manuscripts have been discovered since 1900.  Additionally, textual studies of non-biblical manuscripts (the majority of which also were discovered in the last 100 years) have increased our understanding of ancient words and languages immensely.  This does not mean that new translations are more reliable than old ones.  It does, however, mean that new translations have the opportunity to be more reliable, for the translators have access to far greater knowledge and evidence than those of 100 (or more) years ago.

Is It Well With Your Soul?

“It Is Well With My Soul” is one of my favorite hymns. Born out of tragedy and loss, it points to the only thing that matters. Period.

I’ve told the story of the hymn many times.  Briefly, in 1873 Horatio Spafford, a Chicago businessman, sent his wife Anna and four daughters to England on vacation.  He was to follow later and they would all meet up with their old friend and preacher, Dwight Moody (who was holding revival meetings in England at the time).  But the ship carrying his family was accidently struck by another vessel and sank in only twelve minutes.  Only Anna survived.  Arriving in England, she cabled her husband: “Saved alone.”

Mr. Spafford boarded a ship immediately for England.  On the voyage one evening, the captain met him on deck and said: “As near we can tell, this is the place where the SS Ville de Harvre sank with your daughters.”  Spafford returned to his stateroom and wrote the hymn that night.

The Spafford story continues through many “toils and snares” and he and his wife ended up in Jerusalem as missionaries.  They founded what would become “The American Colony” and the “American Colony Hotel” is one of the present monuments to their efforts.  Just off the lobby is a room dedicated to the Spafford story – including the original manuscript of the hymn and the telegram Anna sent to Horatio.
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I was overjoyed the evening I arrived in Jerusalem when I noticed my hotel was just across the street from the American Colony Hotel. Though it was late when I arrived, I walked over to snap these photos: A picture of the hymn manuscript, one of Anna, and one of Horatio (click the pictures for a better view).

We sing the hymn regularly in worship – and especially at funerals.  But it is not just a beautiful hymn.  It is a personal declaration: “It is well with my soul.”

Is it well with yours?

The Mount of Beatitudes

P1030828 P1030825 P1030827I remember my first formal sermon.  It was on being ready for the final judgment.  I still have the original notes, written in pen on the back of old style computer paper.
But if I had it to do over again, I’d preach from the beatitudes.


Because in the first formal sermon we have of Jesus, that’s what he began with.  I do not think they are Jesus’ attempt to present some light opening comments.  In those eight verses he would turn the world on its ear.  It is quite evident those opening verses  shocked his audience.  It wasn’t the kind of sermon material they were used to hearing.  They very likely thought it was a most “unscriptural” beginning.  Perhaps that’s why Jesus followed up with: “Don’t think that I have come to get rid of the law and the prophets.  I have come to fulfill them.”  In essence, Jesus was saying: “These are what the law is really about.”

Dependence on God (poverty of spirit).
Seeing sin and the plight it brings (mourning).
Self-control and putting others first (meekness). Wanting to stand in God’s favor. Mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking – these are all the opening focus of Jesus’ sermon.  They are really the foundation on which the rest of the sermon sits.

My second morning in Galilee found me at the traditional site of that sermon, now referred to as the “Mount of Beatitudes.”  It’s a beautiful place overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As a slight breeze moved through the trees, I imagined myself sitting with the crowd as Jesus began this most significant of lessons.  When Matthew began the first of what would be five teaching sections in his book, this is where he began.  Those words remain the foundation for all Christian living.