WERE THERE TEAR STAINS ON THE AUTOGRAPH PARCHMENT?
A 2020 Resurrection Sunday Question
As far as we know, there are no surviving autographs of any of the Books of the Bible, including the newer writings of the Apostles. An autograph is the original document as first penned by the author. We have copies, and copies of copies, but no autographs.
Does it matter? Yes and no. Yes when it comes to inquisitiveness, but no when it comes to accuracy. God was not unaware that His Word would pass along to the world through copies – copies so accurate that they fully represent the content of the autograph.
But what a copy cannot tell us is whether or not the medium of the autograph (whether papyrus or parchment) contained useful information beyond the words inscribed thereon. Not information that would change the content of the writing, but which might shed light on the sensations of the author as he wrote.
We know that the authors were men of strong emotions, and an intense certainty of their mission. This is affirmed by the Apostle Peter. “20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:20 KJV).
As they were “moved by the Holy Ghost” they were not relieved of their humanity. As they were moved, they were as fully human as those of us who teach and preach the things that they wrote.
As part of my Bible College graduation ceremony, we were asked to memorize a passage of Scripture that in the best way expressed our sentiments concerning our call to ministry. We were to quote the selected Scripture upon the conferring our degree. I selected I Timothy 1:12-17.
There had been a time in my life when I wandered away from the Lord, and wasted precious years in “prodigal living” (Luke 15:13). I knew I was not the only son who had been restored to the Father, but I was one, and the passage fitted me. It remains fixed in my memory.
More than four decades later, I still feel a rush of emotion well up in my spirit when I quote or read that passage of Scripture. I cannot imagine what emotion must have arisen within the heart and mind of the Apostle Paul when he penned the first of his two autographs to be sent to his spiritual son Timothy.
However, there is one thing I can imagine. I can imagine that as the words of chapter 1:12-17 flowed from his pen; the ink may have been beautifully blurred by the tears that fell upon his thanksgiving and confession.
If you are a minister of the Gospel, I invite you to read his words, and test my hypothesis through the lenses of your own heart.
“12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. 17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:12-17 KJV).
Do you think there were there tear stains on the autograph parchment? Perhaps even more importantly, are there tear stains as you read just now? I do confess a beautiful blurring of my own eyes as I key these words.
Resurrection Sunday 2020 will be different than any in the history of the world. Instead of gathering in churches, cathedrals, and outdoor arenas, Christians around the globe will be celebrating in the privacy of their homes. Oddly, that is the way it was on the first Resurrection Sunday.
On the cross the Friday before, Jesus Christ showed forth His all longsuffering as a pattern to all who have believed on Him for everlasting life (I Timothy 1:16). Is it not that “long suffering” (love) the artesian force that draws up our tears? Was that not the force that drew up tears that first Resurrection Sunday (John 20:13)?
That is as it should be. Fanny J. Crosby drew upon that force in her classic hymn “Tell me the Story of Jesus” when she gave us these words:
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.” FJC 1880
How we celebrate Resurrection Sunday 2020 will be different for sure, but I pray that one thing will be the same, one thing will not change, one thing will be the central focus of the day, and that is, no matter where we are, or whom we are with, there will for at least a time, be tear stains on the parchment of our heart.
Dennis D. Frey, Th.D., President,
Masters’s International University of Divinity