Eleven weeks later, a solemn ceremony dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Diplomat, professor, and pastor Edward Everett spoke to the crowd for two hours! President Abraham Lincoln was invited to add a few appropriate remarks.
The next day, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
But what did Lincoln say?
Here is the likely first draft of the two-minute speech Lincoln gave November 19, 1863.
Gettysburg Address - "Nicolay Draft"
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.
After the speech, Lincoln signed the following updated version. These are the words inscribed on the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial.
Gettysburg Address - "Bliss Copy"
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us —that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
I did not know then that there exist at least five variations of the Gettysburg Address. Press reports of the speech differ, and there are multiple versions from Lincoln's own hand! The Library of Congress and Wikipedia summarize these versions and where Lincoln got these ideas. Knowing that variations existed would have discouraged me. I certainly would have wanted to recite the "real" Gettysburg Address. But which one was it?
Here is John 3:16 from an AD 420 copy, the Codex Alexandrinus, or "A" for short.
Words vary slightly among these old copies. For example, in John 3:16 the Bodmer copy (2nd & 3rd line) reads ton huion ton monogenay (the son the only-begotten). The Alexandrinus copy has ton huion auto ton monogenay (the son of him the only-begotten). The difference in translation is, "He gave the one and only son" versus "He gave his one and only son". For most Bible verses, the variations and ambiguities are likewise minor. Centuries of smart people have devoted their lives to organizing and reconciling these variations. They have left meticulous research notes that let dilettantes like me weigh the evidence for selecting variations other than the one they recommend. Just published is a new 28th edition of the Greek New Testament from which our modern translations derive.
Some believers hold that God would not let his words be lost or altered. A few insist that a specific playlist of these words, called the "received text", miraculously preserves in Greek what Jesus said in Aramaic.
Some non-believers shrug and observe that since obviously there exists variation among the texts forming the Bible we have, then God--if she exists--does not care about communication. Carl Sagan put it this way: “If God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job.”
I came to be glad that we have multiple perspectives. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are such. Then early commentators and later copies also help us see in 3-D as it were. With stereo. E pluribus unum.
What about, "my word will not pass away"? Did God protect the Bible? I don’t see guaranteed protection of several things God values. For example, God does not defend each of us his children from suffering and violent death. Some yes, many no. Places and things once holy—the Ark of the Covenant and the Temples in Jerusalem—are absent or destroyed. God's one and only son rose from the dead, but first he was beaten, spat upon, and executed. So should I be surprised that the scripture originals were not preserved for my convenience? More important, though bruised and abused, the words of Jesus have not been lost.
God created people in his own image. But that image now is marred. There exist both wheat seeds and weed seeds. Should I be shocked that in the publication we call the Bible there might be a quantity of non-inspired words mixed with God-breathed scripture? Life requires discernment. That's not news.
Do these behind-the-scenes looks at the Gettysburg Address and the Bible discourage you? I’m sorry, that has not been my intent. I don't mean to "argue about words, which has no value". My aim is to provoke you to focus on the ideas the words carry. Far from calling it quits, I study more. God's principles are irreplaceable. "Turn the other cheek, go the second mile." I would not have come up with that idea on my own.
In my amateur exploration, I have found this: What Jesus said and did, and what Jesus' people said and did pierces time itself to reach me. The Bible bears adequately reliable witness to what God does for me and what God wants from me. "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Who would die for words? But for such ideas, people have indeed sacrificed. Overcoming our poor power to add or detract, this good news has endured.