The imagery the Psalmist is drawing in our minds is that of a “skilled copyist.” What made copyists skilled back in those times? After all, the only way to reproduce a document back then was to handwrite another exact copy. In response to that question, at least one skill was the accuracy of the copy. How did copyists check their accuracy? They employed simple mathematical checks and balances to ensure that nothing was missed. One such check was to count not only the words in a line but even the characters--each and every letter--both in the original and the copied documents. The count should be exactly the same. The fewer mistakes made by a copyist, the more “skilled” he was considered. Perhaps the best were judged not only by their accuracy, but also the speed and legibility of their output.
Back when the official language of the peoples of Israel was Hebrew, there was no need for “translations” of the writings nor updated versions. It was all word for word. However, when the people were conquered by various nations and they subsequently came out speaking other languages (one example being the Aramaic books of the Bible), translation did become an issue. In that case, conveying the intent of the Word of God became critical. Copyists at that time could not rely merely on counting letters and words.
By the time Christianity came on the scene, the Israelites were scattered to many different lands. Especially the ones recorded at Acts 2:5-11 would have had to possess scrolls written in their own tongue. So a skilled copyist would need to know both Hebrew and the language it was being translated into. In that situation, the main skill needed by a skilled copyist would be accuracy of thought (again, coupled with speed and legibility). To that, they would need to add integrity and uncompromising devotion.
Today, we can demonstrate these qualities with our tongue when we accurately relate the message of the Bible to others. Like the copyists that would have had to both know and study not only Hebrew but the language it was being translated into, we realize that attentive study of the Bible is necessary to sharpen our skills in our zealous efforts to spread the Word of God. So our tongue first becomes taught through study, then it becomes skilled through constant refinement, knowledge growth, and skill in reaching all sorts of people.
- Accuracy: We become adept at explain the truth correctly to others.
- Legibility: This is required for others to understand what was written. Likewise, we need to reason with people in ways that help them understand the value of what we are saying. We use simple illustrations and avoid long, rambling, convoluted reasoning points and illustrations.
- Speed: We keep what we have to say concise, in small mentally-digestible bites.