God did not reveal His message to mankind only to have it lost to extinction. Intending it to continue to serve its vital function forever, God promised:
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever (1 Peter 1:24-25).
This promise follows a reference to the word of God as incorruptible seed "which liveth and abideth forever" (I Peter 1:23).
Indeed, through the marvelous providence of God, His revelation to man has been preserved. The copyists and others whose labors contributed to the preservation of the Scriptures were instruments used by God to serve His purpose.
There is good reason to believe that nothing less than the hand of God is responsible for the Bible's endurance, for it was preserved in circumstances which would seemingly make its survival impossible. It has survived despite all the efforts of its many powerful enemies to destroy it.
The Old Testament Period
The Jews successfully preserved the Old Testament Scriptures as they were written. Their turbulent history, however, was certainly not conducive to the preservation of such a group of writings. They were often in a state of turmoil, sometimes from within and other times from outside enemies. They were often oppressed and subdued by enemy powers. Yet, through it all, their sacred writings were kept secure. In 586 B.C. their holy city was destroyed, the Temple burned, and they were taken from their land to captivity in Babylonia; but their holy writings survived.
The Jewish preservation of the Scriptures is remarkable in view of the severe denunciations of the Jewish people and predictions of their downfall that are found in them. Upon hearing a portion of Jeremiah's prophecy, Jehoiakim, King of Judah, was so incensed that he cut it up with a penknife and threw it into the fire (Jeremiah 36). It is a wonder that the Jewish people did not destroy the Scriptures, but rather preserved them so diligently.
They were successful in preserving the Scriptures despite the efforts of their enemies to destroy them. In 198 B.C. the Seleucids (Syrians) took control of Palestine. One of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes, set out to eradicate the Jewish religion. In 170 B.C. he marched on Jerusalem, plundered the Temple, and set up a viceroy to complete the task of exterminating Judaism. Among other things, all the holy writings were to be burned. Then, however, the seemingly impossible happened. Against all odds, the Jews revolted; and under the leadership of Mattathias, and later his son Judas Maccabeus, this tiny nation which would have appeared to be helpless before the mighty Syrians, held its own so that its religion survived. The most ardent enemies of the Scriptures, with all their military might, could not destroy them!
The New Testament Period
Enemies of the Scriptures continued to try to destroy them after the New Testament became God's law for men. When the religion of the New Testament entered into the world, it found itself in a hostile environment: The powerful Roman Empire set itself in opposition to Christianity. The early centuries of the New Testament age were characterized by persecutions of the severest kind. Some of the emperors were particularly fierce in their efforts to destroy Christianity and the Scriptures on which it depended.
Diocletian fiercely strove to eradicate Christianity and the Scriptures. Regarding this emperor's reign of terror, the historian Eusebius said, "Royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the church be leveled to the ground the Scriptures destroyed by fire" (Church History, Book VIII, Ch. 1). Diocletian ordered anyone having a copy of the Scriptures to surrender it that it might be burned. Anyone who refused to do so would be killed. In fact, if anyone knew of someone else who had a copy of the Scriptures, he was obligated to report it. Failure to comply was punished by death.
Consequently, many copies of the Scriptures were burned during Diocletian's reign. Many Christians surrendered their copies of the Scriptures to be burned, but many others endured horrible tortures because they refused to do so. Rimmer says that after Diocletian's edict had been in force for two years, the emperor boasted, "I have completely exterminated the Christian writings from the face of the earth!" (Seven Wonders of the Wonderful Word). In truth, however, all the efforts of the powerful Roman Empire failed to destroy Christianity and the Scriptures.
Even some claiming to be friends of the Bible have in practice been among its worst enemies. During the Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic popes exercised great political power, the Roman Catholic Church vigorously suppressed the Bible. That institution fiercely opposed all efforts to translate the Bible into the languages understood by the common people. Those who made and published translations of the Bible were condemned as heretics. They risked their lives to make Bibles available to people in their own tongues. For his strenuous and courageous efforts to accomplish this noble task, William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake on October 6, 1536, at the command of Charles V. Others also died. During this period thousands of Bibles were burned. The Jesuits in Bohemia boasted of burning 60,000 Bibles in a single year (1637).
Of course, much of the opposition to the Bible has been of a philosophical nature, not involving physical violence. Men have ridiculed it, scoffed at it, and made every possible effort to disprove it. In fact, some skeptics have thought the Bible incapable of surviving their attacks. Voltaire, the French skeptic (1694-1778) said, "In less than a hundred years the Bible will be discarded and Christianity swept from the earth." Yet, in less than a hundred years the printing press upon which Voltaire had printed his attacks on the Bible, was being used to print more copies of the Bible. Thomas Paine triumphantly declared that his book, The Age of Reason, would destroy the Bible and Christianity. Voltaire and Paine have long since departed the earth, but the Bible survives. Very few people have ever read anything written by Voltaire or Paine; multitudes continue to read and profit from the Bible.
By the powerful hand of God, the Bible has been preserved, and it has been preserved in an atmosphere not conducive to its survival. It has withstood every assault that has been made upon it by its many enemies. Some of the mightiest powers that have existed have sought to destroy it, only to fail. The Bible's indestructibility is impressed upon us by the following poem:
Last eve I paused beside a blacksmith's door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then, looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers worn with the beating years of time.
"How many anvils have you had," said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one," said he; then said with twinkling eye,
"The anvil wears the hammers out you know."
And so, I thought, the anvil of God's word
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon,
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed - the hammers gone.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 1, pp. 13-14