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Roman emperor named Constantine and a
German student of ancient Bible texts named
Tischendorftwo actors in the sometimes-hard-to-believe drama
of how we got our Biblelived 1,500 years apart, yet were
connected by events neither could have foreseen. The story began
with the Roman emperor Diocletian.
In 303, Diocletian initiated the last great persecution of the
Christian Church in the Empire. More than the emperor feared
Christian buildings or beliefs, he feared the copies of their sacred
book. He knew if the Scriptures survived, the Church could
survive! So he destroyed all the copies he could fnd. But the Bible
was then, and still is, a survivor. Through the ages, Gods Word
has fed the people of God and kept the Church alive.
When Constantine became emperor of Rome in 324, he made
Christianity the offcial religion of the Empire. But, as a result
of Diocletians actions, he discovered that the churches of
Constantinople had no Bibles. So he commissioned a scholar
named Eusebius to produce 50 vellum Bibles for the churches:
. . . volumes, that is to say, of the Holy Scriptures, the provision
and use of which is, as you are aware, most necessary for the
instruction of the Church.
Diocletian tried to get rid of Gods Word but Constantine brought
it backand a young German scholar named Tischendorf helped
bring it into the modern era.
Unfortunately, not a single one of those 50 vellum Bibles produced
by Eusebius exists today. But once Christianity was made the
offcial religion of the Roman Empire, the preparation of Bible
copies increased signifcantly. One of the ironies of biblical history
is that Emperor Constantines efforts were recognized by a young
Bible student who bore the emperors name: Lobegott Friedrich
Konstantin von Tischendorf. His adventures in search of ancient
copies of the Bible read like an Indiana Jones adventure. But its
not fctionits fact.

ischendorf spent years blowing dust off ancient
manuscripts in Europe and the Middle East trying to fnd
long-forgotten copies of the sacred text. In 1844, he visited
a monastery near Mount Sinai in Egypt. While in the
monastery library, he saw a trash bin next to the freplace
flled with pages of an old manuscript about to be used
as kindling. When Tischendorf examined the pages, to his
horror he realized he had found 129 leaves of the oldest Bible
manuscript he had ever seenprobably a copy of one of the
50 Bibles Constantine had commissioned centuries earlier.
When he explained to the monks what he had discovered,
they quickly confscated all but 43 of the pages, which
Tischendorf was allowed to take with him.
Haunted by the memory of the rest of the pages he had
left behind, Tischendorf visited Saint Catherines again in
1853, but came away empty-handed. On another visit in
1859, he was more low-key, not mentioning ancient Bibles
until the last night of his visit. A monk took him to his room
and pulled down from a shelf a bundle wrapped in a red
cloth. As Tischendorf looked on breathlessly, he saw the
remaining pages of the manuscript he had pulled from the
trash in 1844much of the rest of the Old Testament, the
Apocrypha, the entire New Testament, and two nonbiblical
letters written by early church leaders.
Through Tischendorfs diplomatic efforts, this manuscript
eventually made its way to Cairo, then to the Imperial Public
Library of St. Petersburg in Russia. Today, Codex Sinaiticus
is one of the three largest, earliest, and best-preserved
copies of the Bible in existence. (Incidentally, another 3,000
manuscripts were discovered at Saint Catherines Monastery
in 1975, including more pages of Codex Sinaiticus!)
I ask you: Is the Bible not a survivor? Think about it: one of the
three most important biblical manuscripts in the world sitting in
a trash can, destined for the freplace, in a remote monastery in
the Sinai wilderness! Who can doubt that the hand of God was at
work to cause a young scholar to happen on the scene at just the
right moment to save it from destruction?
In this article we want to focus on the preservation of the Word
of Godthe amazing and miraculous story of how God has
preserved the record of the revelation of His redemption for all the
world to read. To be sure, preservation is the right word. Given the
way other ancient literature has vanished from the world stage,
the preservation and propagation of the Bible can be attributed to
nothing except the providence of God throughout history.
Providence AND THE BIBLE
Without doubt, providence is the key word in the Bibles survival
story. What is providence? The Westminster Shorter Catechism
Through the ages,

defnes it this way: Gods works of providence are, his most
holy, wise, and powerful [acts of] preserving and governing all
his creatures, and all their actions. Or, in the words of Scripture
itself, providence is the outworking of Him who works all things
according to the counsel of His will ( EPHESIANS 1: 11) .
Probably not a week goes by that we dont hear someone say
(maybe we say it ourselves!), I caught a lucky break, or He was
so fortunate, or What a coincidence, or Good luck to you!
When we use such language, we refect a secular worldview that
says life is the result of chance events coinciding randomly
sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.
But the doctrine of providence says the opposite: Life is not a
pinball machine; events dont bounce off one another in random
fashion. Instead, the Bible teaches that God orders the events of this
world to accomplish His divine plan and purposes ( PROVERBS
16: 1- 9) . And that includes the preservation of the Bible from the
time of its writing until the end of the ages. Gods providence
includes things like Tischendorf showing up at Saint Catherines
Monastery just in time to rescue a fourth-century copy of the
Greek Bible from the fames.
Looking at the preparation and preservation of the Bible can be
like looking at our own lives. On any given day, events can seem
unrelated, random, or without reason. But over the course of time
we can see purpose and divine providence at work. For instance,
the Bible is a collection of 66 books written by 40-plus authors
over a period of a thousand years. By the second century B.C., the
Old Testament books had come together; and by the ffth century
A.D., the New Testament was gathered together. It was not always
a tidy process, but it was one superintended by the providence of
In 1500 B.C. there was no Bible, but in A.D. 500 there was. Between
those two dates is a story of drama, debate, and desire to collect
the revelation of God to man and put it together for all to read.
Miraculously, the English Bibles we read today (and the same
goes for the Bibles in other languages) are faithful representations
of what men moved by the Holy Spirit ( 2 PETER 1: 21) wrote
in their original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words. In fact,
almost all Bible scholars agree that, regarding matters of faith and
salvation, there is no doctrine central to the Christian faith that
can be questioned due to an issue of the accuracy of the copies we
possess of the original biblical writings.
I hope you are as thankful as I am for the providence of God in the
preservation of the Bible for generations past, present, and future.
Preservation AND THE BIBLE
Think about some of the ways God worked in biblical days to
bring us the Word He wanted us to have:
Moses, the Bibles frst author, learned to write as a child in
Egyptin hieroglyphics, those strange shapes and symbols
we see on the walls of Egyptian burial tombs. Sometime
later, probably in Midian before going to lead the Hebrew
slaves out of Egypt, he learned to write with the letters
which became the Hebrew alphabet (consonants only; no
vowels). It is amazing to think that the clear English words
we read in Genesis, In the beginning . . . , Moses originally
wrote in squiggly picture-letters thousands of years ago. But
Gods providence ensured that His words were preserved.
Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs
( 1 KINGS 4: 32) . If he spoke the proverbs (undoubtedly
on more than one occasion), someone had to be writing
them down. We know that the scribes in King Hezekiahs
court several generations after Solomon copied some of the
collection of Solomons proverbs ( PROVERBS 25: 1) . God
gave Solomon wisdom ( 2 CHRONICLES 1: 7- 12) which
has come to us as two books of the Bible. Gods providence
controlled the speaking, writing, choosing, and collecting
for our beneft.
Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old.
Because his father had allowed the kingdom to deteriorate
dramatically, the scrolls of the Law were nowhere to be
found. Until, that is, workers who were rebuilding the
temple found the Book of the Law. When Josiah had it read
to him, he tore his robes in grief over how they had ignored
Gods Word. Was it lucky that the workers found the scrolls?
No, it was providential.
Ezra is probably the faithful scribe who began collecting all
the Old Testament writings after the captivity of Judah in
Babylon. He was a man who loved Gods Word ( NEHEMIAH
8: 1- 9) . After the books were written, God raised up a man
with the skills to collect them and preserve them together.
The king of Egypt (third century B.C.) wanted a Greek
translation of the Old Testament books for the library
in Alexandria, Egypt. According to tradition, 72 Jewish
scholars went to Egypt from Israel and prepared a Greek
version of the Old Testament. Because Greek had become
the common language of the Mediterranean world due
to Alexander the Greats conquests, this Greek version of
Scripture made Gods Word accessible to the Mediterranean,
Greek-speaking world. Coincidence? No, the providence of
God at work in the heart of the king of Egypt.
Just prior to the birth of Jesus, a group of Jews, the Essenes,
lived on the shore of the Dead Sea in a community called
Qumran. They specialized in making copies of Jewish
scriptures and had an extensive library of manuscripts.
They abandoned their community with the Roman
occupation of the region in A.D. 70, and their manuscripts
disappeared for nearly nineteen-hundred years. In 1947, a
shepherd boy discovered a cache of clay jars in a cave near
Qumran. This discovery ultimately produced around 800
ancient manuscripts, including all the Old Testament books
except Esther. The magnifcent scroll of Isaiah was found
to be almost identical to the Hebrew texts used to prepare
our modern Bibles, showing how carefully the text of Gods
Word has been preserved through the centuries. It was
nothing but providential that the Essenes valued their texts
and hid them carefully in caves, only to be discovered when
archaeology and textual studies could best appreciate their
great value.
Did you know that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian
church in addition to the two we have in the New Testament
(1 and 2 Corinthians)? He refers to this letter in 1 Corinthians
5:9, but we have never seen it. Was it unlucky that it was
lost by a careless scribe or pastor in the frst century? On
the contrary, its an indication that the letters which God
wanted preserved for the Church through the ages were
kept safe. Its likely that the lost letter was meant for the
Corinthians eyes only.
I hope Ive whetted your appetite for recapturing a passion for
the sacred text. Its one thing to take for granted the various and
modern versions of the Bible we all possess, but quite another
to think soberly about the path that book has taken over the last
3,000 years.
And I hope Ive encouraged you to apply the lessons of Gods
providence with the Bible to your own life. Everything that
happened in the Bibles life was for a reason, and everything
that happens in your life is for a reason as well. Gods book and
Gods children who need that book are survivors together through
the ages!
No other book in the world has been prepared and preserved like
the Holy Scriptures, and no other book in the world deserves our
sacred honor and devotion.
the Holy Scriptures.

For no prophecy was ever made by an
act of human will, but men moved by
the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
2 PETER 1: 21 ( NASB)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and proftable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness.
2 TIMOTHY 3: 16 ( ESV)
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fne gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
PSALM 19: 7- 11 ( ESV)
[the Bible is the Word of God]
The grass withers, the fower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
ISAIAH 40: 8
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but My words will by no means pass away.
MATTHEW 24: 35
Forever, O LORD,
Your word is settled in heaven.
PSALM 119: 89
For I testify to everyone who hears the
words of the prophecy of this book:
If anyone adds to these things, God will
add to him the plagues that are written in
this book; and if anyone takes away from
the words of the book of this prophecy,
God shall take away his part from the
Book of Life, from the holy city, and from
the things which are written in this book.
REVELATION 22: 18- 19
[Gods Word stands forever]
David Jeremiah is the senior
pastor of Shadow Mountain
Community Church in
El Cajon, California.
A best-selling author, his
popular syndicated radio
and television Bible-teaching
program, Turning Point, is
broadcast internationally. David and his wife, Donna,
have four children and eleven grandchildren.