I had the great privilege of visiting the British Library last week. If you are a bibliophile like me, you would be astounded at the richness of history captured in one room there in the form of books. If you enjoy music, you can see the original handwritten scores for works by Handel and Mozart. If you enjoy literature, you can see first drafts of novels by the Bronte sisters, notebooks by Shakespeare and original Dickens works. If you enjoy science, you can see the original published works of Galileo or excerpts from handwritten notebooks by da Vinci. And if you enjoy history, important documents like the Magna Carta reside in this library, along with a treasure trove of letters such as one I saw written by Thomas More to his daughter just before he was executed for treason.
But to the believer, the highlights have to be in the section on faith. The Codex Sinaiticus can be seen there, one of the fullest and most complete texts of the Bible from ancient times. There are beautifully displayed medieval Bibles which are lavishly illustrated. Gutenberg’s first printed Bible is there, and Tyndale’s New Testament (the first full translation into English), and the Matthew’s Bible. The history of the written word of God is presented for all who will see it.
As I said before, I love books. I always have done. I am always reading something, or several somethings at once, so this exhibition was perfect for me. But it made me think about a few things I thought it would be useful to explore in a blog post:
- God has been so gracious to us that we have the Bible in our hands today. The many versions of the Bible presented in the British Library have survived by God’s providence. There were many times rulers tried to destroy them, or ban them from the hands of the common people. I am grateful to the many monastic believers in particular who faithfully copied these important documents for us, and for people like Tyndale who laid down his life so the Bible could be available in English. We take it for granted that we have English Bibles available freely for us in many translations and at low cost, but the process of getting to this point was anything but free.
- For all their beauty, and all their history, the Bibles of this world are not intended to be displayed but to be read. For many owning such a grand book was a status symbol and you would not want to actually read it and damage it, reducing its value. Royalty commissioned Bibles to be made and then stored them safely out of sight or perhaps on display. It is a great shame to see the Bible as something other than the Word of God which is to influence us. We are read it, to listen to God our Father speaking to us, and to be changed by it. So in that sense, a well-worn dog-eared Bible in the bag of a believer is of greater value in practice than these beautiful versions on display in the museum.
- Many believers, myself included, tend to be scattered in our personal Bible reading. We can read it when we need to for teaching preparation or a Bible study we are going to attend. But we must take the Bible more seriously than that. It is a marvellous gift that our God has not left us to guess what He is like and what He wants from us; he has told us. We are sure of the wonderful truth of the gospel because He has revealed it to us.
Let’s pray that what the psalmist of Ps 119 says might be true for us, that “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). For it to illuminate anything we need to read it and meditate on it. Praise God for his most wonderful gift of the Bible!