Scraps of Scripture

Earliest manuscript scrap dating cr. 250 AD

This tiny portion of the gospel of John, featured at the John Rylands in Manchester, England is thought to be the oldest manuscript scrap of the Bible in existence today! And I got to see it…in a show case, layered between two pieces of protective glass, with a spotlight carefully positioned under it for maximum viewing, and minimum long-term damage.

I leaned close to the display staringĀ  at this tiny bit of papyrus. A fragile piece of history. A tenuous remnant of the whole. A crumbling, fractured, torn and tearing scrap of the Word of God. And I felt in that moment the awe of God’s eternal purpose.

This scrap stands in stark contrast to the reality of Scripture. This tiny physical portion, represents a reality far beyond it’s delicate condition. God’s Word is powerful. It is eternal. It is truth! It has a purpose, a destiny. It will not crumble with time. It will not lose its way, or fail in its purpose. We know this because God himself tells us so. “For the Word of the Lord stands forever!” (Isa. 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:25)

As we wandered through the rest of the library, including a display on the reformation, highlighting Martin Luther, and William Tyndale–in particular their efforts to get Scripture into the language of the people–I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing on the shoulders of these giants of antiquity. Their stubborn efforts to see the common man hold God’s Word in his own hands, tore open the door, shedding the light of the gospel in a powerful way throughout Europe. But that’s not all. Their faithfulness, their hard work, has provided for us a legacy of Scripture in our own language that has only grown over the past several centuries. And their testimony calls to us, reminding us that the job is not yet finished. Hundreds of languages still sit in darkness, not knowing the power and truth of God’s Word.

From a fragile scrap of Scripture, through years of darkness, to the reformation, and beyond, God’s Word endures. And his purpose is clear…we are his vessels for spreading that word through out the world. So I have to ask myself, what will the John Rylands library feature about the availability of Scripture in our generation? If, one day, there is a display on the struggles of Christians in the 21st century, what will it say. Where will that scrap of Scripture be? Who will have it in their heart language? Who will still be waiting?


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