Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.
Yes, we live in a consumer-oriented society. Yes, each one of us is a unique individual. But do I need a Bible entitled “Heart of the Outdoors Bible”? Do you need a Bible entitled “Path to Victory,” with pictures of sporting activities on the cover?
Perhaps you have a problem. “The Journey of Recovery” New Testament is just for you, since it provides “real-life help and lasting hopes to free the addicted.”
Or is your home on the highway? Do you need “The Road Home New Testament”? It “steers truckers to Christ.” Maybe you are young and require the “aka The Bible.” This is the Bible for teens and tweens! “For those who didn’t want the simple black cover.”
Do you require a different Bible if you are presently incarcerated? “Free on the Inside”—it “unlocks hope to prisoners.” Or do you have Jewish heritage? The “New Covenant Prophecy Edition New Testament” is just for you. It uses terms familiar to Jewish culture to help readers recognize that Yeshua (Jesus) is their true Messiah.
There is a Bible that is designed to speak to unbelievers. This one “engages the Bible from a non-believer’s perspective who may be cynical towards Christianity.”
Also, with permission of the U.S. Army, the International Bible Society has developed a “military Bible,” using the new digital camouflage design. This is perfect for one of my young grandsons!
The first color he learned was “camouflage”—(his dad enjoys hunting). This is just a sampling of the “Bibles” available today in a multitude of versions and paraphrases. Those mentioned above are advertised in a recent International Bible Society catalog.
In the May 31/June 7, 2008 issue of Worldmagazine, Janie B. Cheaney comments on this in an article entitled “Comfort Seekers,” subtitled “But everyone’s favorite book is more about transformation.”
According to a Harris Poll conducted in April, the Bible remains the all-time favorite book of a majority of Americans, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. (For those who are wondering, fave No. 2 is Gone with the Wind, followed by The Lord of the Rings trilogy.)
This news is heart-warming, but mind-troubling. For few Americans seem to read their favorite book.
Biblical illiteracy is growing, especially among the young. A 2004 Gallup survey of teens revealed that two-thirds couldn’t place “Blessed are the poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount, or recall what happened on the road to Damascus. An earlier poll conducted by George Barna showed an ignorance or rejection of basic Christian doctrines (such as the sinlessness of Christ) among a significant number of self-identified Christians.
Imagine a Margaret Mitchell fan who can’t identify Ashley Wilkes or recall who said, “Tomorrow is another day.” In defense of the average reader, the Bible lacks the narrative drive of a novel, the focus of a self-help book, and the chronological order of a biography. In an age of declining literacy and short attention spans, it’s no wonder such a demanding book loses readers.
And in an age of public license, it’s evident that even those who read do not heed.
But that doesn’t explain why the Bible remains so popular, No. 1 on a list that includes such anti-biblical titles as The Da Vinci Code (No. 6) and Atlas Shrugged (No. 9). Its sales regularly outstrip not only the latest Harry Potter (No. 4) but any phenomenal seller of any given year.
Part of the reason must be its talismanic quality. Even nonchurchgoers pick up a Bible now and then for a perusal of
or to look up those passages listed under “When You’re Feeling Alone.” It’s a point not lost on Bible publishers, who have become ever more creative at packaging.
What began as accessibility with Good News For Modern Man (Today’s English Version) and The Way (Living Bible paraphrase) is now big business. Around the turn of this century came an explosion of new formats (glossy-paged, laminated, color-coded, personalized) aimed at niche markets; teens, dads, married and career women; surfers, hikers & bikers; health nuts and executives. There’s even a paraphrase called The Voice, tailored for the emergent church movement and “re-authored” by novelists and artists as well as scholars.
The word is the word, and does not return void. But trendy packaging obscures its purpose: not to meet the felt needs of a particular group but to transform individual lives. Sidebars by celebrity Christians or bite-sized scripture applications amount to spot-cleaning, when what we need is a daily bath . . . .
… A few years ago Paul Caminiti, head of Zondervan’s Bible division, explained his company’s mission by citing Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. The evangelist “provides just a little bit of color commentary, and the light comes on…. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re coming alongside the text and providing some color commentary.” Perhaps the eunuch could have used a Chief Financial Officer’s Bible, with daily planner sidebars and money-wise tips.
An acquaintance once told my daughter that he didn’t go to church but reading the Bible gave him comfort. Her reply: “It shouldn’t.” If that’s the only reason they read it, maybe the Bible shouldn’t be Americans’ favorite book, either.
Cheaney makes several important points. How true it is that there is a grievous ignorance of Holy Scripture in our day. Hosea 4:6 resounds throughout our world, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
Obviously it is not “the law of thy God” that attracts people to the Bible. For the precepts of our God are trampled underfoot as never before. Yet there is an almost superstitious attitude toward the Bible that yet remains for many—what Cheaney refers to as “its talismanic quality,” a magical or protective property. In other words the Bible is considered a good-luck charm for many. It is the old “fox-hole theology”: if you’re in a pinch, pick up the Bible and read a classic verse and feel better.
It is certainly true that the “trendy packaging” obscures the purpose of the Bible. To my mind it trivializes the Bible. It certainly detracts from a proper respect for this Book as the very Word of God. It makes the Bible look like a multitude of other books. As far as its appearance is concerned, the distinctiveness is gone!
What is of far greater concern, however, is what Cheaney touches on when she speaks of “accessibility” with reference to modern versions and paraphrases. The purported purpose of the plethora of Bible versions/paraphrases is to make the Bible accessible. The concern of these is not in being thoroughly faithful to the infallibly inspired Word of God. No, reading the Bible must be made easy. Some of them stoop to using the everyday language of the street, even slangy, vulgar language. The Bible, it seems, must be “dumbed-down.” It must be filled with “color commentary” so that it meets “felt needs.”
The most extreme example I have seen arrived as a sample from the Bible League of Canada a few months ago. The introductory letter explains:
We live in a world where engaging young people and adults in the Bible and the Christian faith is increasingly difficult. The Bible League of Canada is pleased to introduce a brand new publication called Manga Messiah, which has taken steps to bridge that gap.
Manga Messiah has intersected faith and culture making the Gospel message relevant, world-class and simply remarkable. Manga Messiah uses the four Gospels (adapted from ancient texts) and develops for the reader the life of Christ in such a way that the plot thickens as Christ’s life unfolds.
Young people and adults alike have found it difficult to put Manga Messiah down once they begin to read.
Manga Messiah is illustrated in the genuine Japanese Manga style, and is unlike any other Christian resource in today’s marketplace . . . .
. . . Manga Messiah is an excellent way to introduce children, young people and adults to the Bible. It is compelling and highly engaging. Pastor, please do not miss this opportunity to share the Gospel in a culturally relevant way with your community.
The accompanying publicity explains the “highly popular Japanese ‘Manga’ comic style art form.”
MANGA (pronounced ‘Mahnga’) is the Japanese word for comics. A huge hit with North American teens and ‘tweens, the Manga graphic novel format has emerged as one of the most popular genres in present day publishing. Appealing to kids and adults alike, the edgy rendition of the Gospel is both compelling and highly engaging. This authentic art style combined with fast-paced story-telling delivers timeless biblical truths to an ever-changing culture.
What a travesty of the gospel of Christ! What an abomination in God’s eyes (and ours, I trust) is this freaky, comic-book portrayal of the Christ of God! The “Manga Bible” is to be available soon.
One item of good news in this regard was reported in World magazine (May 17/24, 2008). Good riddance to the TNIV:
Ever since Zondervan and the International Bible Society published the TNIV (Today’s New International Version, with gender-inclusive language), observers have been waiting for a verdict. Would evangelical readers and churches go for the neutered version or not? According to Christian Retailing, the TNIV’s biggest success has been a “celebrity-driven audio Bible.”
Sales have been slow in Christian bookstores that cater to the evangelical base. “We… are not content with the current level of awareness and adoption,” Zondervan’s Paul Caminetti told Christian Retailing. Booksellers interviewed by the magazine characterized TNIV sales as “very little” and “pretty unimpressive.” One retailer told the magazine, “We hardly even stock that version any longer, having sent most of them back and declining to bring in most of the newer ones presented simply based on past sales history of the translation.”
Make no mistake, the doctrine of Scripture lies at the very heart of the faith of the church of Jesus Christ. We should not be surprised that the devil and his allies attack at this point. All our faith stands or falls with the answer to the question: Is Scripture the infallibly inspired and therefore authoritative Word of God?
If it is not, whether in whole or in part, it is reduced to merely a human book. Then we can consider it useful for encouragement when we’re depressed, or as a moral guide for troubling ethical questions, or as a fascinating source of ancient belief. Then we may legitimately put it into a comic-book form or the language of the street. Because then its authority is gone, and we can take it or leave it. But then we may not try to pass it off as God’s Word.
This makes the matter of which version of the Bible we use very important. It must be a translation that is thoroughly faithful to the Word of God, i.e., faithful to the very words (not just the idea or meaning) that God inspired. Whatever lacks this faithfulness is worthless—it is in fact a threat, a danger!
In addition, my Bible must be clear, understandable. And, in close connection, it must have a smooth-flowing, readable style. But because it is God’s Word, that style must be dignified. It must foster proper reverence for the majestic, glorious God whose Word it is. I remain convinced that the Authorized (or King James) Version continues best to meet these qualifications. Using it we may have confidence in our Bibles!
But then, we must use them! God forbid that we be numbered among the multitude that have Bibles but are biblically illiterate. The problem is not that the Bible is deep and dark and difficult to understand. The problem is that all too often we are not faithful to read, study, and meditate upon it as we ought. The appalling ignorance of the Bible today is not an intellectual problem, but a spiritual one. God gives knowledge and understanding of His Word through diligent, prayerful study, memorization, work!
Does your Bible remain on the shelf? Let us endeavor to be diligent in using the Bible in our personal devotions. Let us prayerfully listen while God speaks to us from His Word. And let us not be the generation that lets that blessed Reformed practice of family devotions pass away. Let us work to make our family worship meaningful and not just a superficial routine. Finally, let us take advantage of opportunities to join together with our fellow saints to study the Scriptures.
Do not be confused by the virtual flood of Bible translations in recent years. Do not be swept along by the spirit of novelty, the craze for new things, also with regard to Bible versions. Consistently using our same old, trustworthy Bible leads to spiritual growth and steadfastness for the people of God in every age. It leads to a vital knowledge of the Scriptures, “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:15b).