Biblical Salvation Depends on Bible Availability

In the United States we’re blessed to have our rights to free speech protected.  Since this country has many Christians, the Bible has been widely distributed and is available in large quantities in almost every book store.  You might not be able to read the Bible or make sense of it all when you try to read this massive collection of sixty-six ancient books (78 if you’re Roman Catholic)[1], but it’s certainly available.  For people brought up in Christian homes in a nation predominantly filled with Christians it seems only natural and logical to believe that the Bible is the word of God.

In most countries, however, especially in times past, this alleged book of salvation from hell has not been readily available for people to read.  Take for example the first thousand and a half years of Christianity’s existence.  Before the invention of the printing press by Johanness Gutenberg in the 15th century (that’s 1,400 years after the events of the New Testament!), copies of manuscripts were made the long, slow, and difficult way; by hand.  If you wanted a copy of God’s alleged word, then you depended on someone to make a copy of it for you.  Typically, someone known as a scribe–who’d been fortunate enough to be educated in reading and writing–would perform the tedious task of copying one manuscript at a time.  How long would that take?  There are over 700,000 words in the English Bible so you’d better get in line early, and don’t hold your breath while waiting.  Most “Christians” don’t even have the time to read the Bible much less make a copy of it.

Of course, buying a copy would come at a high cost, too.  How many hours would a scribe have to spend copying over 700,000 words?  Writing carefully it takes about twenty seconds to copy a sentence with five words.  If you do the math at that rate, then it would take thirty-two days and sleepless nights of non stop writing to make one copy of the Bible!  And what would a scribe charge for his services?  He’d likely charge more than any ancient commoner would be able or willing to pay.  Yet, this was how the New Testament was reproduced for over the first fifteen hundred years of its existence!

The task of copying the Bible was painstakingly slow.  It was expensive to hire scribes to do the work.  So most people in the world never owned or read a complete Bible until the past few hundred years (my guess would still be that most people who own Bibles have never read the entire Bible even though they claim to believe it is the word of God).  The poor and uneducated people of the world depended on others to read it for them or simply to tell them what was written.  Individuals didn’t have their own copy of the Bible as we do today.  Rather congregations had a book here and there that the leaders would read to the church.  This is obvious in Colossians 4:16, which says, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.”  We don’t know what happened to the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned here, but apparently the two churches were supposed to exchange letters and have them read aloud to the mostly illiterate assembly.  This is further seen in the book called Revelation, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3).  Here again we see that there would be one reader of the writing, while others gathered around to hear.  It doesn’t even appear that anyone mentioned in the New Testament foresaw the making of a N.T. Bible at this time.

Church leaders apparently kept the sacred writings in their possession.  They would be responsible for reading what ever was written to the congregation.  This made the educated leaders in the church and pulpit very important and powerful.  We see this conflict in the New Testament with two church members named Gaius and Diotrophese.  Attributed to John, the epistle warns Gaius, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.” (3 John 9).[2]  So Diotrophes was controlling and hindering what people got to hear and read in the church he attended?  Too bad for those poor, unfortunate, souls who attended his congregation!  Through no fault of their own they were unable to hear the whole alleged word of the Bible-God.

How did the Church do at communicating God’s supposed will to the flock?  Just ask Protestants who finally rejected the authority and teachings of the Catholic Church claiming that they had hindered the translation of the Bible into the common language for centuries.  Not only did they hinder translations from the original languages, according to Protestants the Catholic Church also corrupted many of the teachings found in the New Testament.  Are we really to believe that God’s will and salvation from eternal hell was bound by the work of a bunch of scribes and power-hungry church leaders?  Wouldn’t God’s creed of salvation be freely available for all to read?

The problem of availability isn’t just limited by natural means (i.e. making copies of it), but also through evil men who want to suppress freedom of speech and thought and the free exchange of ideas (See Diotrophes in 3 John 9).  The Bible has frequently been suppressed in nations over the past two thousand years.  In an effort to stomp out the Christian religion, early writings considered sacred by Christians were confiscated and burned to prevent the spread of their teachings.

According to Lactantius (A.D. 260-330), an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered the confiscation and burning of Christian scriptures, “The books of the Holy Scriptures were found, and they were committed to the flames….”[3]  Eusebius Pamphilius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and Roman/church historian of the third and fourth century also testifies to destruction of Christian literature in his Ecclesiastical History, “the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places…”[4]  Was salvation really dependent on something so vulnerable to attack as the written word which is so easily destroyed?  It seems to me like God would have chosen a better way to spread the teachings of what is necessary to be saved from eternal hell.

We know of more modern examples of nations whom suppressed the Bible.  Though Hitler claimed to be a Christian as it was expedient for him, the Reichkirche so twisted and corrupted biblical teachings and intimidated people who didn’t buy into the state church that it greatly hindered what people believed.  What were the poor Germans supposed to do during that time?  According to many fundamentalist Christians (e.g. Church of Christ), they were supposed to go to hell for believing the wrong things.  By fault of birth alone, people in the former communist Soviet Union and China and the Moslem countries in the Middle East have not had the access that Americans and Europeans have to the Bible.  It is unreasonable to think and teach that salvation from hell for people in parts of the world where free speech has been suppressed are held accountable for not believing and obeying the Bible.

 

[1] The Apocrypha is a collection of fifteen books dating between 200 B.C.E. and 100 C.E., which were accepted into the Greek translation of the O.T. (Septuagint) and the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, excluding 1 and 2 Esdras and The Prayer of Manasseh.  More Bible confusion!

[2] According to Eusebius, Third John was considered to antilegomena, i.e. one of the disputed books of the New Testament Canon.  In other words, it was a second class book of the N.T. along with James, Jude, Second Peter, and Second John, which were also antilegomena.  Most Bible believing Christians, however, do not know this.

[3] Lactantius (A.D. 260-330) in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Addressed to Donatus, book 7, ch. 12, pg. 305.

[4] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.xiii.iii.html (Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine 8:2:1.

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