Monday, February 23, 2015

The Least-Read Book in America

In my first post I promised a few thoughts on the Bible. After some thought I realized that I would be insane to think I could even scratch the surface. Fortunately, I am a little insane. But where to start?

I could comment on the new trend of action-hero Biblical movies that bear no resemblance to the original story: Russell Crowe as a rugged Noah? Christian Bale as a sword-wielding Moses? What's next, Robert Downey Jr. as Jesus in The Savior Strikes Back? The less said about this development, the better.

Or maybe I should wade into the ongoing debate (at least within Evangelical circles) about which translation of the Bible is the "right" one. The danger in that is the risk of the King James Version Only faction coming after me with torches and pitchforks. Contrary to what they might tell you, it is not the version Jesus read, and the last edition of Webster's dictionary that contained all of the words in the KJV came out around 1850. It is an amazing, beautiful version that was written so that the common man could understand it...in 1611. My advice on Bible versions: get the one you will actually read.

Which brings us to the area of Bible discussion I have settled on for this post. If you ask people to name the best-selling book of all time, some will say The DaVinci Code or one of the Harry Potter books, but most will correctly name the Bible as the all-time best seller. The folks at Guinness World Records estimate 5 billion copies have been printed. Yet in spite of these mind-boggling numbers, it is also the least-read book in America today.

Don't get me wrong; most people in America own a Bible, and a large number own more than one. But to borrow the line from a less biblical question, 90% of people don't read the Bible, and the other 10% lie about it. Even many regular churchgoers in the Bible Belt only dust their copy off long enough to carry into Sunday services; they then toss it into the back seat of their SUV until the next week.

We weren't always biblically illiterate; only a generation ago most Americans were at least familiar with the majority of the Bible stories, if not the theology contained in them. That's not true anymore, and if you think I'm exaggerating, consider the following responses to some simple Bible knowledge questions:

In the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, "Am I my brother's son?"

Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients.

Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.

Samson slew the Philistines with the Axe of the Apostles.

Lot's wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire at night.

Noah's wife was Joan of Ark.

It was a miracle when Jesus rose from the dead and managed to get the tombstone off the entrance.

Keep in mind that these responses came from children ranging from elementary to high school, in Christian schools. How much worse would the average "man on the street" do, since many can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map of the U.S.? But that's another rant for another day.

Before you argue that Biblical literacy is irrelevant, consider this: many of our laws are based on the Bible, and much of the great art and literature of the Western world was inspired by the Bible. Not knowing anything at all about the Bible makes it impossible to really understand the Constitution, Shakespeare, or Michelangelo (to name only a few) since all three of these owe the Bible a debt for their content. And that's just looking at it from a practical standpoint.

There is also, clearly and most importantly, the spiritual aspect of Bible reading. I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and is nothing less than God's revelation of himself to us. I like the way The Message version translates 2 Timothy 3:16:

"Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way."

While God has never spoken to me audibly, He has spoken to me through the words of the Bible more times than I can count. And for those who say it's full of errors...show me some.

Here's a challenge: try reading the Bible for 15 minutes a day for 30 days. Start with Mark's gospel, then read Acts (not Axe). These will cover the story of Jesus and the early church, and don't have long lists of names no one can pronounce. Try either the New International Version or the New Living Translation as both are extremely readable. At the very least your literary, historical, and cultural literacy will improve considerably; the Bible has wars and romance and treachery and heartbreak and redemption, just like a good novel. Unlike a novel, though, it has so much more than that.

So be warned: once you start reading the Bible, it can be hard to stop. And if you're not careful, it just might change your life.

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