This is a true story.
Late Wednesday afternoon and I need to get an important letter in the post, on behalf of Jacqui’s aunt. I finish it in good time for the 5.30 pm collection – and then realize that I have no printer. That packed up last week, thankfully under warranty, but I am still waiting for its replacement.
I didn’t want to bother John Shaw opposite yet again and there was no time to use the printer at the Ministry Centre. A Thursday posting would have to do, not the best of options as it happens. Pity.
Then I had an idea of such clarity and simplicity I was taken aback.
That evening I shared this dilemma with several guys at Alpha; several were technophiles. How did I do it? All kinds of ideas – variations of email, Skype, Google+, MS Messenger, even fax from my pc or text on a mobile. None would work because I had to include a particular document. No one came up with the answer. They were in awe when I explained what I did.
I wrote the letter by hand – using a pen.
It’s most rare for me to write anything by hand nowadays but this incident reminded me that the Bible was written by hand – and that has all kinds of implications we don’t often think about.
The question “Who wrote Paul’s epistle to the Romans?” you would think is in the same league as “Who wrote Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?” Well, it isn’t – for the simple reason that Paul’s letter to the Romans was written by Tertius (see Romans 16:22).
Note how 2 Thessalonians ends: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.” He signs off his letters to show their authenticity, the body of the letter is written by someone else.
It seems that Paul did not actually put pen to paper (or papyrus) but used a secretary or a transcriber. Actually, the technical term is an amanuensis –it means “within hand reach” referring to the position of a personal slave.
Why did Paul use an amanuensis? Sometimes he may have been in the situation I am in at the moment – his printer was not working, that is – he simply was unable to write. So the very last verse of Colossians, Paul takes the pen somewhat clumsily and writes as best he can given his shackles: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
It may be for convenience given his workload. Or that he found it easier to think when he wasn’t actually holding the pen. As far as I am aware no one has done any serious work how such an amanuensis would work. How much freedom did they have? That in itself could explain the difference in writing styles between say, Corinthians and 1&2 Timothy, for example.
But it does give us a wonderful image of the apostle pacing up and down with the poor amanuensis saying “Hold on, Paul – I can’t keep up!” Ephesians 1:3-14 form one mega sentence in the original Greek as ideas pile up against each other. You can sense the excitement of this pioneer for God being so grabbed by his message that even Dragon Dictate V2.5 would struggle.
And when does he pause – like I am doing now? And the challenge is that it all has to be done in one take. No easy deletion or changing the order of paragraphs.
Very simply Paul, maybe more than the other writers of the New Testament, was living his letters, they were such a part of him. I only just read this morning from Philippians 3: “I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
May we too, in the words of the apostle, become living letters – “You show that you are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
May our message be a natural extension of who we are becoming in Christ.