Robert Dick Wilson was truly a remarkable gentleman. Bible students are indebted to him for the masterful work he did in helping to confirm the credibility of the Old Testament.
Robert Wilson was born in 1856; he graduated from Princeton University at the age of twenty. He went on to earn both a Masters degree and a PhD. He then did further post-graduate work in Germany for two years. He was a brilliant language student; when he was still in college he could read his New Testament in nine languages.
Wilson was but twenty-five years of age when he determined that he would invest years of careful study in the text of the Old Testament so that he could speak with authority as to whether or not it has been preserved in an accurate format.
The body of Old Testament literature was completed by 400 B.C., and yet prior to 1946 (when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered), the oldest copies of the Old Testament Scriptures we possessed dated to about the tenth century A.D. There was, therefore, a gap of some twelve hundred years between the last of the Old Testament books and the extant manuscripts.
Could we be sure that the writings at our disposal had been faithfully preserved? After all, even if one is confident that the original Scriptures were inspired of God, that would amount to little if they have been grossly corrupted across the centuries. This was the task, therefore, to which young Wilson dedicated himself. And he was a wonderfully disciplined person.
Based upon the longevity of his immediate ancestors, Robert Wilson estimated that he might live to about seventy years of age. Since he was twenty-five at the time, that would give him about forty-five years remaining to accomplish his goal. Accordingly, he divided his projected remaining years into three periods of fifteen years each. Here is how he would pursue his plan:
For the first fifteen years, he would study every language that had a bearing on the text of the Old Testament. He set himself to the task. During that time he mastered forty-five languages! He not only became an expert in Hebrew and its kindred tongues, but he learned all the languages into which the Scriptures had been translated down to the year A.D. 600.
During the next fifteen years Wilson dedicated himself to studying the text of the Old Testament itself. He looked at every consonant in the Old Testament text (the Hebrew Old Testament has no vowels)—about one and a quarter million of them. He made a thorough scientific investigation of the Old Testament text, as compared to other writings of antiquity.
Wilson noted that there are twenty-nine ancient, pagan kings of various nations which are mentioned in the Bible. Their names are also found in the writings of their own lands. The names of these kings consist of 195 consonants. He discovered that in the Old Testament there are only two or three letters—of the entire 195—that are in question as to spelling. By way of contrast, in the secular literature of the same period, the names of those rulers frequently are so garbled that one can scarcely identify the person.
For example, Ptolemy, an ancient writer, drew up a list of eighteen Babylonian kings, and not a one of them is spelled correctly. The text of the Bible was amazingly precise.
Wilson then spent his remaining years writing down the results of his long research. He authored a marvelous book titled, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament, in which he confidently affirmed “we are scientifically certain that we have substantially the same [Old Testament] text that was in the possession of Christ and the apostles and, so far as anybody knows, the same as that written by the original composers of the Old Testament documents.”
We ought to be grateful for those who have gone before us, and who have provided us with evidence for the integrity of the biblical text. By the way, Wilson died at the age of seventy-four.