May 28, 2024
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At our church, we recently replaced two old computers. It was time, and it needed to be done, but, as much as I enjoy playing with new technology and was looking forward to being able to boot up a computer without having time to go get coffee while it started, I was dreading the process. 

What you’re looking for when you do this is, of course, more productivity. What you know, if you’ve ever done it before, is that the new productivity will likely come, but the change will entail a number of days of much less productivity as you try to adopt the right facial expressions and employ the right incantations needed to get everything to work. 

I finally got one of the machines mostly up and running with all of the needed files and software copied and reinstalled. It takes some unbroken (which means rare) time to focus on such, and I was thankful to have some. 

So one down, one to go. 

I went upstairs. That new computer had been sitting unplugged in and brain dead for several weeks. I’d already taken pics with my smartphone of all the old connections and bought a new cable or a few for the new “plumbing.” So I crawled under the table and started the unhooking and re-hooking process. When I finally pushed the button, it lived. 

I got all the files transferred that needed to be moved. And then I installed our new “worship media” program, an update to its predecessor that we were still using after 10-12 years, mostly because I didn’t want to waste time learning the new one. I’d pay them not to issue updates very often. If it works, leave it alone. But it was time for the change.   

It’s good in the 2020s to remind oneself that folks have worshiped just fine for two thousand years, no computers or software necessary. I think we could. But, like most modern worshipers, we’ve gotten used to shooting songs and video slides and sermon points and illustrations up on a screen. 

I have a friend who also likes skiing who decided to take up snowboarding. He said that it takes two full days of falls, tumbles, and misery—and then, on the third day, something clicks in, and you’ve got it.  

I’ve decided that’s true with this updated program. Misery for two full days. And then you begin to see some light. 

Again, one of the things this program allows you to do (the old one did, too) is to put song lyrics up on the screen. You can create your own, but, if you’re lucky, you can find most songs in a large database of songs. Handy, right? 

Yes, but can you imagine how many hours it took a bunch of folks to enter all of those lyrics? And can you imagine that not all of the scribes were as careful as you might wish? Do these people not proofread? And can you imagine that, if you’re an English major, you might very often quarrel with their punctuation? And can you imagine how many songs have had a word or a few changed down through the years? I ran into some of the latter reality when I found myself researching the lyrics of some great old songs I recently recorded on a new music album. Some of the changes are interesting, but you need to get them all nailed down and choose before you hit the recording studio and the meter is running. 

When I run into some occasionally sloppy lyric copying in that song database, I admit to muttering under my breath a sharp critique of the copyist’s skill. 

But this week I found myself intensely thankful for some other copyists whose work we take for granted. If you do just a little research into the people who copied manuscripts of our Bible, you will find that, from the Jewish scribes and then Christian monks and others, their work is, for the most part, utterly amazing. As the years have passed and more early manuscripts have been found, we find even more evidence of how incredibly accurately these amazing people did their work. Are there textual “variants”? Yes, but very few very important, and anything significant at all (none of which “affect Christian doctrine”) is now noted and footnoted in most Bibles, something like, “The best manuscripts indicate . . .”  

I’m thankful also for the amazing scholarship of highly trained and disciplined experts in evaluating manuscripts and manuscript fragments and doing the pain-staking research to help us have incredibly accurate Bible texts. If you want just a glimpse of some of this, look up the Wikipedia article regarding the Novum Testamentum Graece (The New Testament in Greek, Nestle-Aland edition). This very important edition of the Greek New Testament was first published in 1898 and is now in its 28th edition listing the textual manuscript variants, allowing scholars to evaluate them. It forms the basis of most of our translations of the New Testament. I’ve got an edition, and it’s rather amazing. I’d be happy to show you.  

All said to say this: Every now and then, it wouldn’t hurt to look up from your Bible and whisper a prayer of thanks to God for generations of guys (I picture them in in bed sheet or monastic garb) sitting for hours and days on end silently doing their holy work. What they did and their incredible accuracy was and is utterly amazing and faithful service in giving us words inspired by the Author of us all, pointing us not just to holy words but to the very Word himself. And that’s the point. 

Curtis K. Shelburne


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