Psalm 119:90–91 (ESV) … “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.”
Martin Luther once wrote of God’s Word, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. The Bible is not antique or modern. It is eternal.” The everlasting nature of the Bible is the theme of this stanza, particularly of verses 89–91.
Each of these verses is more or less parallel to the others; each says that God’s Word is everlasting and therefore something a person can build on not only for this life but also for eternity. Verse 89 says, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Verse 90 says, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.” Verse 91 observes, “Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.”
If “faithfulness” in verse 90 refers to God’s Word, then these verses are saying that because God’s Word is eternal in heaven, it can also clearly be depended upon on earth. If it refers to a separate attribute of God, then they are saying that three things are eternal: God’s Word in heaven; God’s faithfulness on earth; and the laws of God that, like the heavens and the earth, endure “to this day.” The laws of God will endure even longer, of course, since, as the last and summarizing verse of this section states, they are “boundless” (v. 96).
Jesus clearly taught the everlasting nature of God’s Word. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in what is some of his most extensive teaching on the Scriptures, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18).
The older versions spoke of “a jot or a tittle,” which was accurate but unclear to most people, which is why the New International Version expands the phrase to read “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen.” The “jot” or “smallest letter” is the yodh, the tiny mark of a letter that begins each verse of the tenth stanza of Psalm 119. You may have it in the heading to that section. It is like an apostrophe. The “tittle” is not a letter. It is part of a letter, a small protrusion called a serif. You can see what a “tittle” is by comparing the letter found before verse 9 of Psalm 119 (a beth) with the letter before verse 81 (a kaph). The letters are similar, but the first has a small protrusion (a “tittle”) at the bottom. The same “stroke of a pen” distinguishes daleth from resh and waw from zayin.
Jesus was teaching that not even the smallest mark of the sacred text will be lost from Scripture until every single portion of it is fulfilled. And not even then! For as he said elsewhere, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The psalmist wrote, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal” (Ps. 119:89).
Neither you nor I can see things from the perspective of eternity—only God can—but we can testify to the enduring qualities of Scripture throughout observable history. Indeed, one reason among many for believing the Bible to be God’s Word and not the word of mere human beings is its extraordinary preservation through the centuries. Today, after the Bible has been translated, in part or whole, into many hundreds of languages, many with multiple versions, and after millions of copies have been printed and distributed, it would be nearly impossible to destroy the Bible. However, such conditions did not always prevail. Until the time of the Reformation, when Gutenberg’s remarkable discovery of moveable type enabled the Bible as well as other literature to be mass-produced and distributed easily throughout civilized lands, the text of the Bible was preserved by the laborious and time-consuming process of copying it over and over again by hand, at first onto papyrus sheets and then onto parchments. Throughout much of this time, the Bible was an object of extreme hatred by many in authority. They tried to stamp it out, but the text survived. In the early days of the church, Celsus, Prophyry, and Lucien tried to destroy it by arguments. Later the emperors Diocletian and Julian tried to destroy it by force. In some periods of history, it was a capital offense to possess a copy of the Bible. Yet the text survived.
If the Bible had been only the thoughts or work of mere men, it would have been eliminated long ago, as other books have been. We know from passing references in other ancient books that we have lost masterpieces by many of the greatest writers of the past. But the Bible has endured and has endured intact. Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8).