“Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” Joshua 1:8 (NIV)
I have about seventy Bibles in my home and a number downloaded on my computer – a tad more than the average three Bibles per North American home. Now before you think I’m somewhat eccentric, allow me to point out that my collection of Bibles is probably not unusual, given that there are more than nine-hundred English translations of the Bible and my work involves Bible advocacy and encouraging Bible engagement in the Americas. What may be unusual is that I regularly read the Bible.
According to statistics gathered by Gallup, the Barna Group and others, while most North Americans own a Bible, most don’t read the Bible. Even though the Bible is readily available and sixty percent of North Americans agree it answers all or most of the basic questions of life, functionally the Bible is often little more than a shelf ornament. It’s no exaggeration to say that while the Bible is in our homes, it is rarely in our hands.
The lack of Bible engagement came into sharp focus for me in 2008 when, in a large Evangelical Protestant church, I asked the congregation to name the first book of the Bible. The first answer was, “The Old Testament.” I explained the Old Testament is the collection of thirty-nine books according to the Protestant canon. The second answer was, “The Book of Noah.” I explained that while Noah is spoken about in the first book of the Bible, the book is not named after him. Following a period of embarrassing silence another person tentatively raised their hand and asked, “Is it Genesis?” “Yes!” I replied with relief.
You may be surprised by the answers I received to my question and even more surprised to hear that less than half of all Americans can name the first book of the Bible, that more than fifty percent of people who regularly attend church never read the Bible from cover to cover, that twelve percent think Noah was married to Joan of Arc, that only thirty-three percent know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham is a popular answer), and that thirty-five percent of people who call themselves “born again” Christians do not read the Bible at all.
It’s time for a new invitation to be extended to read an old book. Why? Because the Bible is more than words! I don’t say that lightly. While I admit my first few readings of the Bible were heavy going at times, occasionally boring, and raised more questions than answers, I’ve nonetheless come to the firm conclusion that the Bible is the Book of books, the most powerful story ever given to humanity – quite literally words of life. So why not pick it up, curl up in a comfy chair, and start by reading the first book – Genesis!