In a recent post I told you a little about my visit to see P91, an ancient copy of a New Testament portion. In my attempt to keep that post to a reasonable length, I limited my comments significantly. So this is my chance to talk some more about what was a pretty amazing opportunity for me.
Jason Harris with p91 (in glass plate on table)
Here are a few thoughts I took away from the day.
1) Don’t get too caught up on the form
I was reminded of the wisdom of God in not allowing the original autographs to survive to today. Kneeling there looking at that ancient fragment, I could see how easy it would be to treat the form of God’s word as if it were higher than the words of God’s word.
I may seem inconsistent here since I just made a big fuss about a scrap of papyrus, but the key is in the reasoning. What got me excited was not merely the form of this fragment, but the fact that this fragment powerfully corroborates the reality that God has done exactly what he said He would do!
He promised to protect his word, and He did! And on occasion He left a small fragment of papyrus lying about just to demonstrate to us that we have indeed received the same New Testament Scriptures that the apostles wrote all those centuries ago.
2) God has indeed powerfully preserved his word
I just said this, but it’s worth repeating because it’s a reality that is under attack both from within and without our churches. God promised to look after his word, and He did exactly what He said He would do.
The New Testament that was preached in the churches of Egypt in the third century is the same New Testament that we preach in our churches in Australia in the twenty-first century!
There was no conspiracy. There was no cover-up (a la Da Vinci Code). The Church didn’t manipulate it. The heretics didn’t alter it.
No. Instead, it was passed down with stunning accuracy. The few variants between copies easily traceable to scribal error. God did exactly what He said He would do and we can stand up to the scoffers with joy and confidence as we humbly preach God’s powerful word.
3) Keep learning
This experience has given me new insight into the details of how God preserved his word for us. My confidence has been strengthened and my joy renewed.
We cannot be afraid to ask hard questions and wrestle with hard issues. Christianity is strong precisely because Christians can ask hard questions. We don’t have to burn our manuscripts like the Muslims did. We don’t have to avoid translation like Muslims do.
We have a faith that is robust and credible. We can pursue knowledge with honesty, faith, and humility.
Grace to you.