October 20, 1998
Imagine William Shakespeare writing his plays on a word processor or Thomas Jefferson storing the Declaration of Independence on floppy disks. Experts say, if they did that but neglected to transfer their work to paper, those great writings would have vanished long ago, probably into an unreadable jumble of binary code.
Electronic storage seems so practical but it is more fragile than most people realize. Already some census data and other records have been lost. Imagine the chaos if all data from the world’s information storehouses went missing or became inaccessible.
Fragile computer storage methods are not the only problem. Software constantly changes. A book or letter written to disk in 1980 is unreadable using 1998 equipment. My first computer was a Commodore 128. Today, I use a Pentium. As modern as it is, it cannot read those old Commodore disks.
Most average computer users transfer their important information to new storage devices as they come available. Although I could not do this with disks, I did have a modem for my Commodore and for my newer computer. With two phone lines and days of patience, I was able to save all my old files. Now, instead of 3 1/2" disks, I now archive material on Zip disks. (In 2017, some of it is in a cloud!)
Updating or printing on paper works best for permanent storage but large corporations would not find this practical for keeping their storage files current. Besides, many documents now contain multimedia data such as sound files or videos, impossible to store on paper.
The process of writing and preserving books changes over the years yet many documents remain as they were. For instance, clay tablets are preserved in museums along with papyrus documents that are centuries old. A few modern scholars are even able to read them.
Other books stay the same in content yet their format changes with current printing methods. For instance, the Bible continues to endure yet has been reproduced in every possible format including books and computer disks, as well as translated into hundreds of languages.
Translations began early. In fact, most of what Jesus said in Aramaic, the language He spoke, was immediately recorded in Greek. Even our English versions undergo continual translation (using ancient manuscripts) because our language changes, as do all languages.
Methods change too. The original manuscripts were written on papyrus scrolls, much more fragile than electronic storage, yet many fragments still remain. However, Jewish scholars and later Christians so valued this book (actually 66 books) that they painstakingly copied and recopied every word, counting words and even letters to ensure there were no errors.
With all of that copying and changes, what about the accuracy of its contents? Biblical translations are not without a solid foundation. Scholars rely on thousands of ancient manuscripts, more than remain of any other ancient book. Some of these manuscripts date from the second century. Not only that, the art of translation has greatly improved. Modern translators are able to gain additional insights into word meanings and expressions from tens of thousands of Hellenistic Greek documents from the same time period.
Further, the same God who insured His words would be faithful written in a book still works to maintain their fidelity. We can rely on our modern versions. The Bible will never obsolete or out-dated because it came to us from a God who is never out of fashion and who wants us to read of Him and know Him.
Neither can the Bible be destroyed. As Isaiah promised over 2600 years ago, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”