A couple of years ago, I had a memorable conversation with someone during an airplane flight. It didn’t take long to get to the “What do you do?” question. I talked about Wycliffe’s work to translate the Bible into thousands of languages around the world. But just as I began to think he was interested, my fellow passenger stunned me with his next question: “What other books do you translate?”
I quickly retorted, “As soon as we finish with the Bible, we’re going to translate Moby Dick into every language.”
I’m kidding—actually, I was speechless.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised, because survey data has suggested for years that Canadians think the Bible is just another book. The recently-released Canadian Bible Engagement Study confirms that only 18 per cent of Canadians strongly believe the Bible is the Word of God, a number that has dropped by half in two decades. Again, it’s not surprising, because of falling trends in church attendance. It follows that when Canadians set aside church, their respect for and confidence in the Bible plummets.
Sooner or later, these non-attenders and non-readers begin to forget what the actual message of the Bible is. They offer platitudes about it. Some say it’s a well-written and compelling work, but they can’t point to specifics. Or they decide it’s full of contradictions without being able to point to any.
As one who has read the Bible cover-to-cover on at least three occasions and has spent months of my life studying it, I have a different view. I think it’s a fractured work, as any book would be if completed by a lot of different authors over a period of centuries. I think it has a lot of confusing passages that still baffle me. But I have not gone a week without reading my Bible since I was five. I can’t tear myself away from it. The Bible is life to me.
During the past two decades as Canadian church attendance numbers fell, there has been one constant: rate of attendance equates to confidence in the Bible. While the numbers in church each week have fallen precipitously, the confidence-in-Bible rates haven’t. Of those who attend church weekly, three out of four still strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God. Of those who seldom attend, one out of four still strongly agree. These rates are the same today as they were in 1996. Remarkable!
So what does this tell us? When we’re not reading something or hearing it discussed, our memories of it grow foggy. We remember a feeling or a general sense of the story that misses all the intricacies. That’s how I feel about Moby Dick, Grapes of Wrath, The Odyssey and all those “other books” we could be translating.
But the Bible brings surprises, penetrates my defenses and resonates with my condition. Why? Because its text is dynamic; it has a pulse: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 ESV).
In the hours and days after that conversation with my neighbour on the airplane, I’ve thought of a number of great responses to his question. But the straightforward answer is best: “The only book everyone needs is God’s Word.”
The Bible transcends cultures and eras, and it’s still relevant today.