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Christian believers in prison have their faith under fire much like people on the outside of prison. One of the common challenges to our faith is when Bible critics say something like this: “Well, we don’t really know what the Bible originally said because the Bible comes to us from an oral culture that passed these stories down for many generations, then it was finally written down in Hebrew, then translated into Aramaic, then translated into Greek, then Latin, then German, and finally into English with fresh errors creeping in with each translation and we are somehow supposed to believe our English Bible is the infallible word of God.”
Although the details may be different each time we hear it, many of us have heard something like this. These kinds of arguments are thrown around prisons just like they are thrown around outside of prison.
If the history of the Bible’s transmission and preservation is anything like that described above, then perhaps we should abandon faith altogether and embrace atheism. However, the case is not as the critic would make it out to be, so we should continue in faith. We can have great confidence in God’s word, that has been preserved for us.
As Christians, we believe the word of God was inspired, but we also affirm its preservation through history. In a very important paragraph, Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 1:8 says the word of God in the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek were “immediately inspired” at the time they were written. The Hebrew and Greek were then “kept pure in all ages” by God’s “care and providence.”
WCF 1:8 goes on to say that since not everyone knows Greek and Hebrew the Bible should be “translated into the vulgar (common) language of every nation unto which they come.” In other words, the Bible is to be translated from the original languages into the target language (in our case, English) and the proverbial train of translation does not need to make multiple stops in other language stations along the way. Therefore, according to the Reformation and Confessional understanding, today we can hold in our hands the very words of God, whether in Greek, in Hebrew, or in faithful translations.
The Belgic Confession also rightly assumes God’s providential preservation of His inspired word at the end of Article 2, and also in Articles 3, 4, and 5, though it does not mention preservation explicitly.
In my time in the prisons, I have sought to teach the Reformation view of the preservation of God’s holy Word in the midst of attacks from false religions and the mainstream academy. The inmates have been comforted by the truth of God’s preservation of His word and so should you. The Christian should be confident, not only in God’s inspiration of His word, but also in His preservation of it. We have the word of God!