I was listening back to a lecture I gave last year on William Tyndale, a man who devoted and, ultimately, gave his life to translate the Bible into English. Hearing my introduction reminded me of how we take the Bible for granted. I said:
Earlier this week, I went through the entire house to count the number of Bibles we own. I counted a total of twenty-four, not including digital or audio Bibles. We own multiple translations. They are bound in various materials. They are different sizes. Some have the text laid out on the page in two columns. Some have one column. We even have some Bibles with blank pages to take notes as we read.
If I count digital and audio Bibles, thanks to the Internet, I can access any translation I want. I hardly need those physical copies of the Bible that contain cross-references and study notes because those resources and many more are available with a quick search on my computer or phone. Thanks to modern technology, I am never without the Word of God.
This is what we refer to as an embarrassment of riches. Yet, if you believe the frequently taken surveys, we live in a time when biblical literacy is decreasing drastically. In this country, most families own a Bible. At the very least, they have access to the Bible. But owning a Bible and reading the Bible are two very different things. As Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “I venture to say that the bulk of Christians spend more time in reading the newspaper than they do reading the Word of God.”
It’s easy enough to glance at the Bible in your hand or the stack of Bibles sitting on your shelf at home and think nothing of them. The Bible is commonplace today. As I said, no one is ever far from a Bible. If you want it, the Word of God is probably in your pocket right now. It’s with you everywhere you go. But do we take advantage of this historically rare precious gift? Do we appreciate our embarrassment of riches as we should?
Lack of reading, however, is not the only way we take Scripture for granted. Have we ever stopped to appreciate that God inspired men to write his words in the first place?
Throughout the better part of human history, oral teachings were more popular and more esteemed than the written word. Papias of Hierapolis, a first-century student of the apostle John, once said, “I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and abiding voice.”
Even so, God committed his words to writing. Why?
In an ancient Sumerian epic dated as early as 2000 BC, King Enmerkar supposedly invents writing because his message is too complex for any messenger to remember and recite accurately.
[Enmerkar’s] speech was very grand, its meaning very deep; the messenger’s mouth was too heavy; he could not repeat it. Because the messenger’s mouth was too heavy, and he could not repeat it, [Enmerkar] patted some clay and put the words on it as a tablet. Before that day, there had been no putting words on clay; but now, when the sun rose on that day—so it was: the lord of Kulab had put words as on a tablet—so it was!
If Enmerkar’s message was too grand, too deep for oral transmission, we can hardly wonder why Almighty God would communicate to us through written words. Do you remember playing the telephone game in school? Do you remember how corrupted the original message would be after students whispered it from one ear to the next? Words on a page provide a level of accuracy that oral tradition cannot.
Open your Bible. Look at the words. Thank God for them.
As Peter Krol writes in his book, Knowable Word:
The Bible is a treasure. The infinite God has communicated truth to finite creatures, and he has done so in human language, not celestial. In the Bible, we have truth in a fixed form, in words that read the same from day to day. God has revealed all the truth we must understand to live in his world; we are not left to our own devices.