My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Proverbs 4:20-22 (NIV).
I have at least seventy Bibles in my home and a number of versions downloaded on my computer – a tad more than the average North American home. Now before you think of me as somewhat eccentric or such, allow me to point out that my collection of Bibles is probably not unusual, given that there are more than 900 English translations of the Bible and my work involves Bible advocacy and encouraging Bible engagement. What is unusual, and for which I’ll gladly be labelled, is that I use some of my Bibles all of the time and others every now and again.
According to statistics collected by Gallup, the Barna Group and others, while most of us own a Bible, most of us don’t read the Bible. Even though the Bible is readily available and 60% of us agree that it answers all or most of the basic questions of life, functionally the Bible is often little more than a shelf ornament. It is no exaggeration to say that while the Bible is in our homes, it’s rarely in our hands.
The lack of Bible engagement recently came into sharp focus when, during a presentation in an Evangelical Protestant church of about two-hundred people, I asked the congregation to name the first book of the Bible. The first answer was, “The Old Testament.” My response was that the Old Testament is the collection of 39 books according to the Protestant canon and 46 or 47 books according to the Catholic canon which includes the Apocryphal books, and that I was looking for the name of the first book in the Old Testament. The second answer was, “The Book of Noah.” There is no such book so 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 silence that was long enough to be embarrassing, another person tentatively raised their hand and asked, “Is it Genesis?” “Yes!” I replied with relief.
You may be surprised that it took three shots to get the answer to my question and even more surprised to hear that less than half of all Canadians can name the first book of the Bible, that more than 50% of people who regularly attend church will never read the Bible from cover to cover, that 12% think that Noah was married to Joan of Arc, that only 33% know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham is a popular answer), and that 35% of “born again” Christians do not read the Bible at all.
All this to say; it’s high 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 somewhat heavy going at times, occasionally boring, and more often than not 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 … and much more. So why not pick it up, curl up in a comfy chair, and start by reading the first book – Genesis!