The Bible has long been the English-speaking world’s best selling book. Over 900 English translations have been produced, from the dignified prose of the Authorised or King James Version to versions which attempt to render God’s Word in colloquial street-slang.
In the United States a prayer book has been published which utilises the vernacular of hoodlums. For example it renders the well-known Twenty-Third Psalm in these terms:
“And even though I walk through
The Hood of death
I don’t back down
For you have my back.”
Efforts to make the message accessible to as many as possible are not limited to the production of modern translations. Parents can buy their children Jesus dolls that recite Bible passages, while one enterprising evangelist has developed a Bible-based juke box that allows one to select and play their favourite Scripture passage. In 2002 the well-known publisher Thomas Nelson began publishing Bible-zines – an amalgamation of the Bible and teenage magazines where Bible extracts mix with lifestyle articles for adolescents.
Many find the more colloquial translations and these commercial gimmicks disrespectful. There might
be some justification for them if they led to more people reading God’s Word. There is evidence, however, that this is not the case. In spite of the book’s best-seller status, Bible literacy is in decline around the globe.
Many of the largest and most respected publishing houses such as Oxford University Press and Collins
produce Bibles in a wide range of versions and styles. In addition to the major publishing houses there are organisations such as the Bible Society and Gideons International that foster the production and distribution of Bibles. In the United States alone more than 20 million new Bibles are sold annually, in spite of the fact that the average American home is estimated to already have at least four copies.
Understanding God’s Word
Despite all the Bibles in America,however, a recent Gallop survey confirmed that the average person has only limited knowledge of what the Bible says. The survey found that:
· Less than half could name the first book of the Bible (Genesis)
· Only one third knew who gave the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus). Billy Graham was a popular alternative!
· One quarter were not aware of the event commemorated by Easter, (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ)
· Twelve per cent were under the impression that Noah was married to Joan of Arc!
· The survey also found that sixty percent of respondents were unable to name five of the Ten Commandments.
George Gallup, founder of the polling firm behind the survey and a prominent American evangelical, was
dismayed by the results, concluding that it confirmed the United States as ‘a nation of biblical illiterates’.
On the Shelf?
The results of this survey might reflect the stringent measures taken by authorities to keep religion out of
American classrooms, but it is doubtful whether the result would be better if the survey were conducted in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia or other English-speaking nations.
Printing, selling and giving away Bibles will ensure an increasing stock of books, but if all those Bibles are left on the shelf they will have no impact on their owners. Dolls, juke boxes and other paraphernalia are no substitute for regular and committed Bible reading.
The Bible has a vital message for men and women. It offers peace of mind now, forgiveness of sins
and life eternal – but its message cannot be imparted unless it is read.We are very privileged to live in an age when Bibles are readily available to almost anyone who wishes to possess one, but reading God’s word is what is important.
Bible literacy is not just something that is desirable – it might literally save your life!
This article first appeared in the Glad Tidings Magazine. To view the current issue and/or order your free subscription, go to their website: https://gladtidingsmagazine.org/