The Unchanging Word of God
This article was first written for and published in the IFCA News Connection, an email publication of news and encouragement of IFCA Int. You can find the edition in which this article was published by clicking here, and you can subscribe to receive that e-newsletter by clicking here.
The Unchanging Word of God
By Kenn Chipchase
In 1970, archeologists were sorting through some ancient remains of a village called En-Gedi that had suffered from a fire way back in approx. 600 A.D. They found an ancient charred document amongst the remains but were unable to unroll and read the scroll for fear of damaging the badly overcooked piece of animal-skin parchment. Researchers have been forced to ignore their curiosity in the contents of the scroll until a later time when new methods were developed.
Those new methods have arrived. With recent advances in technology, researchers have finally been able to find out what was written in that document.
Using a complex instrument normally employed for cancer analysis, a team scanned the En-Gedi scroll and used a new program developed by a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky to do some 3-D imaging of the scroll. That program was then able to use the data from the scan to virtually unroll the scroll and produce 2-D images of the document, allowing the researchers to read the contents. Being able to actually read the document was the first surprise, as many were skeptical the process would work. The second surprise was what they read. Many were shocked to read what was inside, but I was not. I was absolutely delighted to learn what was written on that scroll.
On that scroll, currently being dated from the mid to the late first century, are the first two chapters of Leviticus, giving us the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book ever found.
What’s so special about that, you ask? Our current translation of the Old Testament is nearly entirely reliant upon what is known as the Masoretic Text (MT). There are fragments of the MT that date as early as the 9th Century, A.D., but the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament is a copy of the MT that dates to 10th-11th Centuries. Because we do not have very many fragments of the Old Testament that are older than this, there are many that would seek to attack the Scriptures by declaring that the text has been altered and we really don’t know what the original document said because we only have copies of copies of copies. For years, there was little that could be said to repudiate such a claim. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s-50s helped in this regard, as these scrolls, dated to the 3rd Century B.C., contained a complete copy of Isiah, and matched the MT in nearly every way with minimal differences. This was important because it showed that the text suffered virtually no variation over the course of over 1,200 years (and the variations that do exist do not affect the meaning of any text). This was immensely significant as it confirmed that God’s Word had not changed over the years, despite being copied and copied and copied.
Well, once again, we have definitive proof that God has preserved His Word. The En-Gedi scroll that was scanned and virtually unrolled revealed that the contents of that document, the first two chapters of Leviticus, are absolutely identical to the MT. It’s not close; it’s not similar; it is identical. After nearly 1,000 years of copying copies, we find that the Word of God remains. We can have confidence that the Word that God originally inspired is the same Word that we have today. This is but another reminder that though the grass withers and flower fades, the Word of the LORD endures forever.