Vol.XX No.IV Pg.4
June 1983

Precious Letters

Robert F. Turner

The letters are brown and brittle with age and enclosed in envelopes that are well-worn. In 1910-11, when the letters are post-marked, postage was just two cents. The letters were written just before and immediately after a marriage that was to last for over sixty years. Their author was a young man who was deeply in love with a young lady. In them he spoke with clumsy eloquence of his love for her.

She had saved her precious letters all these years, and the badly torn envelopes indicate she had often removed and read them. The sentiments in the old letters took on new meaning with the passing of time.

But now her husband was near death. Sixty-four short years of marriage were about to end. And knowing that soon she would no longer have him with her, she carried the precious letters with her around the house. She would cling to his words of love that had bound them in life and from which she would not be separated in death.

After her death, the letters were passed on to family members. They will be cherished by those who knew and loved the couple. They, too, will want to read the loving sentiments. But will the possessor of the letters give them away? Never! He prizes the letters and prefers to keep them. Loan them to those interested? Not likely: they might become lost or damaged. Perhaps he will make himself copies and send the originals to the other family members? No, he will make copies for them, keeping the originals for himself. And so with great care he copies each word from the old letters, accurately reproducing each original. He thus gives to others what they, and he, really want: not the original letters, but the messages they contain.

We see a similar attitude toward and treatment of some other "precious letters" written two thousand years ago. The epistles of inspired men to specific churches and individuals were intended for distribution over a wide area (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; Col. 4:16) and Peter indicates this was done by the time he wrote (2 Pet. 3:15-16). But how? By a hand copying process (the only way possible) in which the copies were carefully made, authenticated, and transmitted (Rom. 16:22; 1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thss. 3:17).

In this way those receiving copies considered them as much "scripture" as an original (Lk. 4:21; Acts 8:32; 17:11; Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 5:18 — the word "scripture" in these texts is not likely a reference to an original but to copies of copies of copies.)

Copies of these copies have been faithfully made and providentially preserved. Our copies speak to us today as accurately as the originals did to those in the first century.

Thus we cherish the old letters of inspired men — not the paper on which they have been copied, but what they say — in somewhat the same way that I cherish those precious letters I have that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother over seventy years ago.

David Smitherman