“Jesus replied, ‘Your problem is that you don’t know the Scriptures…'” (Matthew 22:29 NLT).
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV).
There was a time not too long ago in the English speaking world that to be considered educated, one had to know at least two books well. What were they? The King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare. And even Shakespeare was dependent on the KJV, so really the Bible stood alone in its importance as the foundational book that shaped the Western world.
From poetry to politics, the Bible was the common language from which we were once able to understand the extended metaphors of Milton, the biblical allusions of Melville, and the speeches of Lincoln. Today, who would recognize that one of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speeches was actually borrowed from the words of Jesus found in Mark 3:25:
“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Yet, in Lincoln’s day, his habit of peppering his speeches with Scriptural allusions gave them both power and immediate understanding with his audience. Since the Bible was both well known and well believed, using it in his speeches was a stroke of genius.
It’s difficult today for a president or a preacher to find a common language with his audience. Should he refer to Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, or Star Trek? To choose the wrong one (my list of three obviously dates me) is to cause one’s listeners to either dismiss you as irrelevant, or misunderstand you completely.
That our culture has lost a common foundation for understanding is a great loss, but an even greater one is that those who call themselves Christian are nearly as biblically illiterate as those who don’t. It’s ironic that our grandparents had only one version of the Bible and perhaps only one copy in their house (a large family Bible with births, marriages, and deaths recorded inside) and yet, they knew their Bible. Whereas today, we have dozens of modern English translations offered in every type cover from paper to leather, and in every type medium from written to audio to digital, and yet, we don’t know Samson from Solomon nor Moses from Matthew.
Speaking of digital and audio versions of the Bible, I read in this month’s edition ofChristianity Today that digital versions of the Bible are breaking through barriers that once prevented people from having access to a Bible. According to the article, the most read and listened to translation of the Bible after English is Arabic.
“The fastest-growing areas for digital Bible reading are where access is restricted. This is especially true in traditional Muslim countries where the average listener listens three to four hours at a time– far more than the average three to four minutes in developed countries” (Christianity Today, Jan/Feb 2013, p. 15).
Perhaps if we had fewer Bibles and less access to biblical teaching, we would spend more time in the reading and study of God’s Word.