A parishioner of mine has a collection of old cylinder-type phonograph recordings—rather than the flat discs we are used to, these are sized and shaped like a soft-drink can. You wind the machine up, lower the needle and horn onto the cylinder, and out comes sound! We listened to a cylinder made over a century ago—a comedy routine called “Uncle Josh Buys an Automobile,” by the then-famous Cal Stewart. I’m sure it was funnier then.
Other more familiar voices were also preserved through early recordings, such as Thomas Edison (who advanced the technology), Tolstoy, Tennyson, Florence Nightingale, assorted American presidents, even Queen Victoria. What particularly impresses me about these recordings is how they provide not only a sonic but a physical connection to the people speaking. Their voices caused a needle to vibrate, inscribing physical patterns in the cylinder grooves, which, when replayed, duplicated the sound on the other end—no electronics involved. Even the process of making copies from the original was entirely physical. In our highly digital MP3 world, these old Edison cylinders seem to me like time machines, connecting me tangibly to people in the past.
Imagine if this kind of recording technology existed for many centuries. Whose voice would you most like to hear? An ancestor telling a family story? An artist, Shakespeare say, reading a sonnet? A figure from Christian history? Perhaps Luther or Calvin preaching or teaching?
Or how about Jesus? Can you imagine hearing the voice of Jesus? Wouldn’t you give anything to hear that voice speaking to you?
Well, the good news is the voice of Jesus was recorded using the newest and most advanced technology of the day—a format called the gospels.
Comprising greatest hits collections of the words and deeds of Jesus, compiled by those close to him, and authenticated by those who knew him best, the gospels have carried the voice of Jesus throughout time and across continents in countless languages and editions. When you read the gospels, when you listen to their words, it is the voice of Jesus you hear in the most original source available to us.
Some tried to mimic the voice of Jesus with gospels of their own invention, but those who knew first-hand the authentic voice quickly discounted them and they fell into well-deserved obscurity. Others, to this day, attempt to discredit the gospels as inaccurate and far-removed from the original voice, compromised in quality by errors in transmission and manipulation of the original Master. However, as Emil Brunner pointed out, when playing an old phonograph record of a great voice like Caruso, replete with scratches, clicks and pops due to age and wear, only a fool listens to just the clicks and pops and misses hearing Caruso altogether.
There are countless voices clamouring for attention in our world. Why not take time to listen for the voice of Jesus through reading the gospels on your own or with others through Bible study? What will the voice of Jesus say to you?
Phonograph image by Archives New Zealand via Flickr (Creative Commons)