I’m old enough to remember GCE O-level exams before they were replaced by GCSEs many years ago. As part of our English Language classes, we had an exercise called précis. We had to reduce a long text to its minimum while still retaining the essence of its message. I don’t know if today’s schoolchildren have to complete a similar exercise, but it was a useful test of our language and comprehension skills.
What about the text of the Bible? If you hold a Bible in your hands, there are pages and pages of text. In fact, looking at the Bible can feel quite daunting. There are 66 books; 23,145 verses and 783,137 words in one well-known version… but, what’s it all about?! What is the Bible’s message?
If, in my English précis lesson, I had been set the task of reducing the Bible to a minimum while maintaining the essential essence of its message, I wonder what’s the lowest word count I could go to? Now, of course every word of the Bible is important because it is God’s word to us! The Bible itself is clear on this matter. It says, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable’ (2 Timothy 3:16).
Having said that, within the 783,137 words, there is an essential message that I need to grasp. But what is that message? How low can I get my ‘word count’ without compromising the message?
Martin Luther once said that John 3:16 contains the Bible ‘in a nutshell’.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
That’s 26 words: a reduction of 783,111! Not bad! And it does tell us ALL we need to know in order to receive eternal life and avoid perishing. I simply need to believe in him.
But, if that’s the only part of the Bible that I had, it would leave me with lots of questions and to answer them I’d need other parts of the Bible.
Questions like: Who is God? Why am I perishing? What does it mean to perish? What is eternal life? Who is his Son? What has this Son done for me? What does it mean to believe?
If I read further in the Bible, I’d discover that I was made by God and made to know him in a living, vibrant relationship and that this indeed is the essence of eternal life. I’d find that my sin means that I can’t know God and that I am perishing and will perish forever. Further, I’d discover that although I cannot alter my state, God in his astonishing love has sent his Son, Jesus, to take away my sin. Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived a sinless life for me. Then he died as if he were me: he perished in my place that I may have life. I’d find he rose again from the dead. Finally, for this to work, to give me eternal life, I need simply to believe in Jesus!
That’s 123 words, more than Luther, but still a big reduction of 783,014!
4 beautiful words
Now, let’s cut to the chase – how low can we really go?
I’ve been saved now for more than 43 years. By God’s goodness, Jesus gets more and more wonderful to me and the message of the Bible more and more beautifully simple. I’ve read the Bible many times and as a preacher delivered many thousands of sermons and gospel messages. In my daily life as a Christian, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the message of the Bible on a personal level with many people. If I were asked to summarise or to précis its stunning message, how low could I go? Well, I’d knock off a further 22 words from Martin Luther!
Here it is, my summary of such wonderful, heart-melting, tear-jerking, stunning, astonishing words:
‘Jesus died for ME!’
Four words. Four beautiful words to eternal life! Reader, can you say that from the depths of your being? Read the Bible until you can, because it’s in there, and it needs to be alive in you!