A Bible for Today–or Yesterday

My Bible is newer than yours! How old is your Bible? More than any physical Bible, I now use online resources, which, we could argue, means that my Bible is created and destroyed with every new search and closed web page. So mine is newer than yours.

8039Then there’s the Book of Kells, the Irish treasure dating from around A.D. 800. This book–actually it is currently bound in four volumes–contains the Latin text of the four gospels as well as some remarkable decoration and artwork.

I’m currently taking a four-week course on this Medieval treasure. You can too if you like. In going through some of the materials concerning the way that the book was created, I read this about its history.

[I]n 1826, the manuscript was entrusted into the care of binder George Mullen Jnr. Belonging to an era when ‘tidiness’ was the preferred aesthetic, Mullen’s intervention has since been described as ‘disastrous’.

Mullen first washed the manuscript, causing the pages to shrink unevenly, and then pressed them together to flatten them, causing considerable loss of colour. He then painted some of the margins with white oil paint, and filled and tinted flaws in the vellum. Worst of all, he trimmed the formerly uneven edges of the manuscript so that the edges could be gilded, removing parts of decoration of some of the pages in the process.

We have a name for somebody like George Mullen: vandal.

But as I thought about this matter, it occurred to me that this is a fairly common way that apparently genuine believers treat the Word of God. We like to shave off the bits that seem uneven and wash off the soiled parts. Mostly, we try to make God’s Word conform to the preferred aesthetic of our day.

  • It appears in apologetics both for and against capital punishment.
  • It used to show up in arguments both for and against human slavery.
  • That’s what happens when people try to do exegetical gymnastics to escape the passages that condemn homosexuality.
  • It’s what we see when conservatives struggle with the seemingly socialist lifestyle described in Acts.

There’s something to discomfit just about everybody in the pages of scripture, but that’s part of its charm and much of its power. The bottom line is that we cannot scrub or trim away the inconvenient messiness that seems to be lurking around our Bibles. My Bible may be instantaneously new, but I hope to read it as close to the original as I can manage.