(You can read this essay, entitled "Exactness", along with a collection of related essays, in "The Education of Kings", available on our website in pdf or mp3.)
When our family began to copy the Bible, we did not understand the concept of exactness. Our copies of the Bible were very messy. We did not understand the importance of honoring the perfection of the Word of God. The idea of exactness can be summed up like this: It is not important to write more verses, but to write perfect verses. If our hearts do not honor the things that are truly inspired by God, then a careless attitude affects all the things that we do.
Exactness begins with the Word of God. It doesn't begin with teaching a child to add and subtract correctly. It doesn't begin with teaching a child to count his money correctly. Exactness begins with teaching a child to copy verses from the Bible perfectly. If we have an attitude of "that's good enough" with the Word of God, what will God think? If we train our children to think that other things are more important, and their copies of the Bible are messy, they will learn to put God last.
God is a Spirit, and spirits speak words. "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue." (2 Samuel 23:2) Our attitude toward the words of God reflects our attitude toward the Spirit of God. We can boast that we believe in God, and say, "God is first,” but our attitude of indifference toward the Word reveals the actual condition of our hearts.
Exactness in copying the Bible costs us more time and effort than simply copying a certain number of verses. Exactness ensures that the letters are legible and written in the correct order. If an error occurs, it must be corrected. All of this is more important than correct mathematics, a clean house, and good manners.
Our family discovered that we had not dedicated sufficient time to exactness in the Word of God. Since the Spirit of God inspired the Word, it is important to make sure that we preserve that inspiration. Errors ruin the trustworthiness of the Bible. Our hearts should love the perfection of the inspired words of God. "Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Carelessness can ruin a recording. Carelessness can ruin a business agreement. And worst of all, carelessness can ruin the inspired words of God. The Word of God is more important than the earth, but because of carelessness, people don't take it seriously. Many read the Bible carelessly, and do not dedicate time to it to get the right message. For this reason there are hundreds of Christian denominations, with an equal number of differing doctrines-- all supposedly taken out of the Bible. People dedicate eight hours daily for 16 years of their lives, preparing for a profession and to earn money, and do not dedicate more than 10 minutes a day to the Bible-- and during those few minutes, they do not treat the Bible as if it were as important as a telephone number, which has to be dialed exactly.
The carelessness of fathers toward the Word of God is reflected in their children's copies of the Bible. It is a sad commentary when our children have good manners, clean rooms, combed hair, straight teeth-- but their copies of the Bible are messy. Or some people don't think the Bible is even worthy to copy. When God is not first in the family, His Word is not first. These people consider other things more urgent and important.
Let's begin with the letters. Every letter should be legible, and not appear to be a different letter. For example, the letter 'e' sometimes takes the appearance of the letter 'c', or the letter 'o' can look like the letter 'p'.
Children should learn to make their letters correctly and carefully, so there is no confusion. It helps to not have the letters touch each other. A longer line in the letter 'd' distinguishes it from the letters 'a' and 'q'. A curve above the letter 'f' distinguishes it from the letter 't'. The letter 'r' should be different from the letter 'v'. These may seem to be small things; but Jesus emphasized the importance of every jot and tittle of the Word of God, because these are the marks that identify the letters. Neatness in the letters comes gradually, but exactness in the way each letter is formed is essential from the beginning.
Now let's look at words. Words may be misspelled. The order of the letters is very important, and care must be taken to maintain the order. Sometimes incorrect order of letters can produce a different word altogether. Letters must not be omitted, or substituted for other letters. These types of errors result from carelessness. The apostle John warned us that we should not add or take away from the words of God.
If you believe that all of this is straining out a gnat, what would you say if your bank reported a balance of $550 instead of $5500, omitting the last '0'? Only one small '0' makes a big difference. Would you not be worried? We can see that a small error is very important. Why would we think that our balance in the bank is more important than the inspired words of God, which communicates eternal salvation to mankind? Oh my friends, what must God think of our lukewarm attitude concerning eternal things?
Now let's look at phrases. A phrase is a group of words such as 'the Son of God,' or 'truly my disciples,' or 'in spirit and in truth.' Every word in a phrase is important to communicate the exact message. No word can be omitted, added, or changed. Changing the order of the words could cause a mistake, and thus a misunderstanding. We have a set of cassettes of someone reading the Bible, and in one instance, the reader omitted the word 'no' in a sentence. The omission of the word 'no' makes the phrase mean the exact opposite of the meaning of the original phrase.
Exactness is important because it guides those who want to know what God means. The correct words lead to the correct understanding, but incorrect words lead to an erroneous understanding. The serpent is the father of all those who twist the words of God.
See here the importance of the supreme care in the use of the Word of God. The basic message should not be changed, nor copied with errors. We are called to be witnesses, and a faithful witness gives true testimony of what he saw. The truth is important, and the truth leads to liberty. When we are mistaken, we are blurring the truth, and it will be more difficult for others to understand and be set at liberty.
Some people have the ability to write very beautiful letters. Nevertheless, it is more important to write correct letters than to write beautiful letters. Artistic letters please the eye, but they do not promote better understanding. Ugly exactness is better than beautiful mistakes. Proverbs 11:22 says, "As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion."
The purpose of Scripture is to impart understanding so that people can believe in the Lord. I realize that it is possible to read, or copy, the Bible correctly, and still not understand. But such a writer was not thinking about what he was writing. This problem is not related to copying with exactness and fidelity.
To solve this problem, many things can be done that will promote the better understanding of Scripture. Copying the Bible is not the same as having faith, but if it is done properly, it will lead to understanding and faith. Copying the Scripture with exactness is the best way that I know to gain understanding of the Gospel, and such understanding leads to faith.
Copying the Bible is better than reading the Bible, because it involves more of the body and the brain. Copying the Bible includes reading it, but it adds another dimension-- the dimension of exactness. He who only reads the Bible really never knows if he read it correctly, or if he omitted or misunderstood words. But he who copies the Bible is sure that he saw every word, and that every word was correctly processed in his head, in order to be reproduced on the paper with his hand. This method produces, without doubt, better understanding and a more sincere faith, just as writing down a telephone number produces better retention than just hearing or reading it. For this reason God commanded the king of Israel to copy the Scripture with his own hand, and to read his copy all the days of his life. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
Copying the Bible produces better readers-- readers who do not skip, add, or invert words. Copying correctly leads to less errors and better understanding. On the other hand, to attend religious services, and listen to hymns and messages on the Bible does not produce exactness. The listener is not required to reproduce anything with exactness. But he who copies the Bible will acquire that faculty of exactness.
Before beginning to copy the Bible, children should learn to copy words without errors. A good exercise is to copy Genesis 1:1 until one can copy it without error. Now that he can do this, he can begin his first copy of the Bible. Children should copy only one verse daily, or only one line daily, until they can copy without errors. One verse well written is better than ten verses with errors. A perfect verse, without errors in handwriting or punctuation, can be called an excellent verse. A student who can write perfect verses reaches a level of excellence: Excellence 1- he can write one perfect verse; Excellence 2- he can write two perfect verses in a row, etc.
There are different types of perfection-- perfect letters, perfect words, perfect verses, and perfect understanding. If a person doesn't even copy the words perfectly, there is no hope that he will understand correctly.
Let's give God the honor He deserves, and let's give the Word the honor it deserves. Let us honor the perfection of the Word of God.