Archives For January 2010

Impur… Imperfect?

January 11, 2010 — 3 Comments

I do crossword puzzles in ink. This drives my mother-in-law nuts. Especially when I’m at her house doing her crossword. She uses a pencil. I think what really bugs her is that I don’t really have the crosswording cred to puzzle in pen. When she makes a mistake, she politely erases it and no one is the wiser. When I make a mistake, I crudely try and reform the errant letter into the proper shape. I end up with bold “O’s” that looks suspiciously like “D’s” and “M’s” that may have once been “A’s”. I make mistakes. It’s no biggie.

I’m copying the New Testament by hand and I’m using a pen. I figure that if I’m super deliberate about every jot and tittle, I shouldn’t have any mistakes. It’s copying, right? It’s different than a puzzle where I’m having to figure out what to write. All I have to do is look at a word and then replicate that word. My four-year-old who can’t read can at least copy words. I know because I’ve seen her do it. When I sit down to work on the copying, she gets out “Hop on Pop” and a piece of paper and starts her own copying project. It’s really quite cute.

Maybe that’s why it happened. Maybe I was distracted because both my girls were at the table with me as I’m trying to concentrate on a seemingly simple task. Maybe it was due, in part, to their incessant narration of their lives that seems to issue forth from their mouths with little to no cognitive awareness on the part of their ears. Whatever the reason, I messed up. And it wasn’t the kind of just-boldly-transform-that-wrong-letter-into-a-misshapen-right-one kind of mess up. It was the you-wrote-the-same-word-two-times-in-a-row-you-idiot-idiot kind of mess up. Check it out:

Right there at the end of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew I wrote “and angels ang came and attended to him.” Man, that’s frustrating! That got me to thinking about the transmission of Scripture. Before Herr Gutenberg, it was all hand copied. How were errors in transcription handled? What if, unlike mine, they weren’t caught? Could our Holy Scriptures have been significantly changed over centuries of sloppy, distracted copiers like me?

I consulted one of my favorite primers on Biblical Hermeneutics, Gordon D. Fee’s and Douglas Stuart’s “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.” They write briefly of textual criticism (read that again, we’re not talking about bad-mouthing your spouse’s cuddling ability), or the science of making sense of little errors or discrepancies in ancient manuscripts. They say there are external evidences, which have to do with the condition, age, and other things relevant to the manuscript itself, and internal evidences, which deal more with copyist mistakes. Regarding internal evidences they write:

When translators are faced with a choice between two or more variants [places where the manuscripts differ], they usually can detect which readings are the mistakes because scribal habits and tendencies have been carefully analyzed by scholars and are now well-known. Usually the variant that best explains how all the others came about is the one we presume to be the original text. (p. 37)

That makes me feel a little better. It seems that the people who copied these things back in the day took their copying seriously and the people who translate them take their work seriously, and anything that doesn’t look right is scrutinized until a consensus is reached as to what the error is, where it came from, and what the most faithful was to move on is. I guess none of these guys work from home with their little girls at the table. Good for them.


January 9, 2010 — Leave a comment

Do you remember when you were a kid and your hand used to cramp after coloring or writing for a little bit? My memory has just been vividly refreshed. Oh, and by the way, my handwriting is atrocious. I attribute both of these things to the very little time I actually have to put pen to paper these days. Most often I only write things down if I’m making a “to do” list. Everything else gets typed on my computer. It is much faster, more legible, and easier to organize.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, after writing for about ten minutes my hand began to cramp. I had to take a little break. When I stood up, I realized that my neck and shoulders were a little stiff too. What’s wrong with me that a few minutes of writing causes my body to revolt? Ugh. As I stretched and looked at my hand I noticed that little red mark on my middle finger where I grip the pen was starting to return. I haven’t seen that callous since 2nd grade.

Enough about my ailments. As I was copying today I noticed echoes of my favorite New Testament passage John 15:1-8 in the words of another John, speaking in Matthew 3:7-10. What struck me (beyond the similarities) was the audience in Matthew. John is out in the desert, baptizing people for repentance and some of the Pharisees and Sadducees come up wanting to get baptized.

The fruit he tells them they need to produce is fruit of repentance. These guys were counting on two things to produce fruit: their genealogies and their deeds. Since they could trace their families back to Abraham and since they obeyed the law, they believed that God was then contractually bound to do good by them.

John is saying that they’re missing the point. The fruit that God is looking for doesn’t come from pedigree or works, but from the posture of the heart. Repentance is the key. Without understanding and acknowledging that nothing – including our family history or our best efforts – can put us in the good graces of God except His generosity, all our words and actions are empty. They need to understand, we need to understand, I need to understand that I am in no place to try and earn or bargain my way into a relationship with God.

However, because He loves me if I just admit that I need Him to rescue me from the mess I’ve made – good intentions or not – He will swoop down and lift me up. I think we have a tendency to forget that. Especially those of us who have been doing this Disciple of Christ thing for a while. When we were younger, we knew the pain of our mistakes. Over time, though, a callous began to form and those mistakes didn’t hurt us so much. Then we moved on to other kinds of screw ups that were easier to hide, more palatable. Maybe what we need to do is ask God to make it hurt again? Then maybe our fruit will be born of repentance.

Today I started hand copying the New Testament. I was able to find a nice long lined journal. I’m not sure how far I’ll get in this one volume.

The plan is to spend a little time each day on the project. I’m writing on the right-facing pages and leaving the left-facing pages for later notes. This could be a cool devotional tool over the coming years as I add notes and a cool heirloom for my girls later in their lives.

I must admit that the idea isn’t mine. It came via my friend Andy, who showed me a bound blank book titled “Proverbs” which outlines the idea of hand copying scripture. The book is published by a student group at Cedarville University (his alma mater) that calls it the first installment of the 17:18 project. This is a reference to Deuteronomy 17:18 which says that when the king takes the throne, he is to copy the law himself onto a scroll. I think that is a pretty cool idea.

My wife, April, and I homeschool our two girls. Hand copying is a big part of how they learn. Not only is it practice for their penmanship and reading, but the content sticks as well. I find that too often when I read a familiar passage in the Bible, I start to zone out and skim because I know the gist of what it says. When you are copying something letter by letter though, you scrutinize it at a completely different level. I hope to share some insights along the way. Who knows? Maybe there’s a book that will come out of this journey.