Friday, 23 January 2009

Bric-a-brac of the Bible

SOMETHING TO CHEW ON

The Bible, so we are told by the Rev. Roswell D. Hitchcock in a book published in 1870, contains exactly 773,692 words. Of these, 592,439 are in the Old Testament and 181,253 are in the New Testament. The Rev. Mr. Hitchcock was quite a Biblical statistician. He writes just how many chapters there are, how many verses, and, if you have a head for figures, how many letters (!) there are in the Authorized Version. (All right, if you must know: there are 3,566,480 letters in the Bible, of which 838,380 are in the New Testament; a simple exercise in subtraction will give you the number in the Old Testament, though I don’t think that knowing this will help you much.”

  Nor does it lift your soul much higher to know that the middle verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8; or that the word “Jehovah” occurs 6,855 times and the word “and” is used 46,227 times, 10,684 of them in the New Testament. But to the Rev. Mr. Hitchcock these things were important - though imagine, if you will, the painstaking care he must have taken to establish his facts! And consider how irritated he would justifiably have been if he had lived to see a computer do all this mammoth chore in a matter of minutes or less!

  No, these things, although perhaps of passing interest, are not the stuff of which salvation is made; they are the mere bric-a-brac of the Bible, yet they suggest something that might be worthy of our consideration. WHY did the reverend gentleman spend his time counting the letters of the Bible? No one, to my knowledge, has ever counted the words that Shakespeare wrote - nor would anyone want to. And certainly no one ever pored over Shakespeare to find out how many letters there are in his complete works. Why then, do people do this to the Bible?

  Ah, we may say, that is the point. And the point is this: the Bible has a fascination that no other book or collection of books has. Moreover, its fascination lies in its unity and its diversity, its simplicity and its complexity, its singularity and its variety. For a book with all the possibilities of confusion, it has a marvellous clarity of message. But H.L. Hastings says this so much better:
  “The authorship of this book is wonderful. Here are words written by kings, by emperors, by princes, by poets, by sages, by philosophers, by fishermen, by statesmen; by men learned in the wisdom of Egypt, educated in the schools of Babylon, trained up at the feet of rabbis in Jerusalem. It was written by men in exile, in the desert, in shepherds’ tents, in “green pastures” and “beside still waters.” Among its authors we find the tax-gatherer, the herdsman, the gatherer of sycamore fruit; we find poor men, rich men, statesmen, preachers, exiles, captains, legislators, judges; men of every grade and class are represented in this wonderful volume, which is in reality a library filled with history, genealogy, ethnology, law, ethics, prophecy, poetry, eloquence, medicine, sanitary science, political economy and perfect rules for the conduct of personal and social life. It contains all kinds of writing; but what a jumble it would be if sixty-six books were written in this way by ordinary men!”

  Indeed, what a jumble! But yet this Book was, in a sense, written by “ordinary men” - though there was precious little opportunity for collaboration between most of them. As one writer says on the point:

  “Altogether about forty persons, in all stations of life, were engaged in the writing of these oracles, the work of which was spread over a period of about 1,600 years.

  And herein lies the sum of the troubles of mankind, whether he be agnostic or theologian, saint or infidel, churchman or atheist. And what is more, here is the issue on which Christendom has split itself down the middle for centuries: its attitude to the Word of God! Incredible but true. Some have torn this Book to shreds; others have enthusiastically acknowledged it without question. Hastings says (not without irony): “The Bible is a book which has been refuted, demolished, overthrown, and exploded more times than any other book you ever heard of .....They overthrew the Bible in Voltaire’s time - entirely demolished the whole thing. In less than a hundred years, said Voltaire, Christianity will have been swept from existence, and will have passed into history ....But the Word of God “lives and abides for ever.” And in the same house where this same Voltaire lived, there is now a printing press which operates for the Bible Society, daily giving the lie to Voltaire’s sceptical prediction.

  By way of contrast to Voltaire and his friends, consider the famous statement made by Dr. Chillingworth nearly one hundred and thirty years ago: “The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants! .... I for my part, after a long and impartial search of the true way to eternal happiness, do profess plainly that I cannot find any rest for the sole of my foot but upon this rock only. There is no sufficient certainty but of Scripture only for any considering man to build upon. This, therefore, and this only, I have reason to believe; this I will profess; according to this I will live, and for this if there be occasion, I will not only willingly, but even gladly, lose my life, though I should be sorry that Christians should take it from me. Propose me anything out of this Book, and require whether I believe it or no, and seem it never so incomprehensible to human reason, I will subscribe it with hands and heart, as knowing no demonstration can be stronger than this: God has said so, therefore it is true.”

  There is something in us that responds to the old fashioned ring which that plain statement has to it. Would to God that our modern theologians and all our leading ecclesiastics would make statements like that today - instead of sniping at the authenticity of the Word of God, instead of questioning its inspiration, instead of branding it a collection of myths and fables. We need ten thousand Dr. Chillingworths in our pulpits today; with declarations such as that afore-mentioned, the preachers would set their pulpits on fire and their congregations would flock to hear them.

  Or, if there were no Dr. Chillingworths around, perhaps a Robert F. Horton would do just as well. Listen to what he wrote about the Scriptures in 1891:

  “On what ground do we believe that the Bible is inspired? Some will give the ready answer, ‘We believe that the Bible is inspired because the church says so.’ Others there are who, when asked why they believe the Bible to be inspired, would reply, ‘It is because we have found it to be so practically; by reading we have found our way to God; by searching it the will of God has become clearer to us; by living according to its precepts we have proved that it is Divine; and now its words move us as no other words do: other books delight us, instruct us, thrill us, but this book speaks with a demonstrable truthfulness concerning the temporal and the unseen.’..... The people who answer in this way certainly seem to render a more solid reason than those who found their assertion about inspiration upon the tradition of an authoritative church.”

  That is the crux of the whole matter; the Good Book is God’s Book. It is best known, as Robert Horton has just reminded us, “by reading, .... by searching .... by living its precepts.” Anyone who has any doubts of its power and its authorship need only follow this simple formula to find out the indisputable truth.

 - John Aldersley