Saturday, June 1, 2024

A Lamp to My Feet, A Light to My Path

 In the middle of the 20th Century, what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the hilly desert region of Qumran and other locations.  From 1947 to 1956, approximately 900 manuscripts, dating from 250 BC to AD 68 were brought out from eleven desert caves after being hidden for two thousand years.  Scholars debate the identity of the scribes who left this treasure trove of documents; it is commonly believed that they were from a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, but we don’t know.  The scope and significance of such discoveries cannot be overestimated.  These documents represent our oldest copies of Biblical manuscripts.


Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the oldest manuscripts scholars had to work with were texts from several centuries later.  The Masoretes were Jewish rabbinical scholars who made it their business to preserve and copy the Hebrew Scriptures completely and accurately.  The oldest complete copy of the Masoretic Text known to exist is the Leningrad Codex, dated to AD 1008.  It is this text that had served as the basis for most of the current translations.


The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls aroused more than academic interest.  With the appearance of Old Testament texts a thousand years older than the Masoretic texts, there was reason to wonder if the Bibles in circulation were as accurate as they could be.  Add to that the existence of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures widely used by the early church, there was good reason for confusion and concern regarding which Biblical texts available to us were the least corrupted and most trustworthy.


Our Bibles today are still based for the most part on the Masoretic Text.  Extensive comparison studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Masoretic texts, and the Septuagint have revealed a truly remarkable harmony among these texts.  Despite the thousand-year time span, different sources, and questions of translation, these documents are astonishingly consistent with one another.  Although there are differences, and scholars continue to analyze and compare the texts in pursuit of the most accurate texts to use in translating Holy Scripture into modern languages, the differences are minor.  The Dead Sea Scrolls confirm to a very large degree the faithful transmission of Scripture from the time they were written until the Masoretic Text was completed.  And so we know, for example, that the creation account in Genesis Chapter 1 that we read in our Bibles is a careful translation of the same text that the Jews were using 500 years before Christ.  This brings me to the conclusion that not only did the Lord inspire His Word, He has also protected It.


Again, the history and reliability of our Biblical texts are of far more than academic interest.  They are not an intellectual curiosity.  God’s Word is the foundation for our faith and faith life, and its reliability is crucial.  The Dead Sea Scrolls offer a wonderful opportunity for multiple avenues of investigation, but I would argue that the most profitable of those avenues is that which has given us reason for confidence in our Scriptures.  The Jewish scribes responsible for them, and then the Masoretes who followed a millennium later, have mightily blessed us by their respect for the Scriptures and their diligence in copying them for subsequent generations.


The Scriptures that we hold in our hands are courtesy of those who valued God’s Word to the highest degree.  May we demonstrate our gratitude by following their example: may we treat God’s Word with reverence; but even more, may we take advantage of their gift by studying it and inviting the Holy Spirit to use it to conform our characters to Christ’s and to be progressively transformed into partners in His Kingdom’s work….





All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness