Christian Life & Discipleship Church & Missions

How You Got Your Bible and 3 Ways to Treat It like It Actually Matters

What if I told you that you are sitting on top of hidden treasure?

That right there, within arm’s reach, you have full access to something that hundreds of people have given their lives for just a fragment of?

It has been at the heart of executions and revolutions, it has been smuggled and burned; but now lies forgotten, hidden in plain sight. In fact, there’s a good chance that most people you know have one. And yet not so long ago, people were fighting to keep it out of your hands.

I’m talking about the Bible. And now you’re thinking I’m being dramatic.

I’m talking about the Bible. And now you’re thinking I’m being dramatic.

But actually I’m not. While the thought of every Christian having access to the Bible seems to be a given nowadays, there was a time where it was not only unavailable, but forbidden by the leaders of the Church! Take a look at this statement from Council of Toulouse in 1229: “We prohibit also that the laity [non-clergy] should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament… we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.” Pretty clear, right? Only the Priests spoke Latin, and the Bible was only for the Priests, so the Bible was in Latin. And the Priests were determined to keep it that way.

Thank God that changed! There are a lot of better places you can go to read about a history of Bible translation into the language of the common people, so I won’t go into it further here. But if you look at the lives of people like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and William Tyndale, you’ll see that challenging the status quo wasn’t smooth sailing. Rough enough, in fact, to cost many translators their lives.

So why did they give so much to translate the Bible? Because they believed that scripture was incredibly valuable, but more than that – they believed it was meant for everyone. Everyone should have it, and everyone should read it, because it would benefit everyone. Erasmus of Rotterdam summed up their dream like this: “I wish that the Scriptures might be translated into all languages, so that not only the Scots and the Irish, but also the Turk and the Saracen might read and understand them. I long that the farm-labourer might sing them as he follows his plough, the weaver hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveller beguile the weariness of his journey with their stories.” They struggled and toiled to make it possible for anyone and everyone to become familiar with God’s word.

Now fast forward 500 years. Part 1 of their dream isn’t entirely complete, but it’s well on it’s way. The entire Bible is currently translated into over 500 languages, and Wycliffe Bible Translators estimate that a project to translate the Bible will have been started in every language in the world by 2025. Which, by the way, is a staggering 7000 translations! The Scots, Irish, Turks and Saracens are covered, and the remaining 180 million people without access to the scriptures have something to hope for.

The phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ would fit perfectly… if we were actually familiar with our Bibles.

But Part 2 of their dream is sadly lacking. Having the Bible in their own language has unfortunately not translated to reading it, let alone understanding it. While the average American household owns multiple Bibles, the average American rarely reads them. It seems that this trend is true across the western Church as a whole. The Bible is more accessible to us than it ever has been, yet we are becoming progressively less Biblically literate. The phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ would fit perfectly… if we were actually familiar with our Bibles.

Fortunately, Part 1 is actually the hard part! The Bible is now in our hands, so we can read it. We can know it. We can understand it. Like the people in Erasmus’ dream, we can weave it into our life. All it requires from us is a little effort.

This generation is becoming increasingly accustomed to digesting information in bite sized snippets, which is crippling us when it comes to engaging with the Bible. Although you can cut the Bible up to fit that format, you can never really understand the full picture that way. If we want to make Part 2 of the dream a reality, this is what we need to do:

1) We need to read the Bible. All of it. Whole books. Cover to cover. And not once every 20 years.

2) We need to study the Bible. We need to not be satisfied with someone else’s interpretation without considering it. We need to look for meaning and application. We need to pound away at passages until we understand them. We need revelation, so we need to put ourselves in a position to get revelation.

If the Bible isn’t the primary thing shaping the way we think and act, we need to go back and align ourselves with it.

3) We need to internalise it. The Bible is not true within the confines of ‘spirituality’, it’s true in all of life, so it needs to be applied in all of life. We need to know it well enough that we remember it when we put the book away! We need to sing it, talk about it, dwell on it as we follow our plough – or whatever our equivalent is. We need it inside of us. If the Bible isn’t the primary thing shaping the way we think and act, we need to go back and align ourselves with it.

Looking back gives us perspective. Seeing the lengths people were willing to go to in order for us to have the Bible reveals to us just how valuable the Word of God was to them, and should cause us to see it in the same light. Instead of treating it casually, we should be treasuring it the way it deserves to be treasured. We have the Truth – in our language, in our hands. We need to learn to handle it.