“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV).
“We present you with this Book,
the most valuable thing that this world affords.
Here is Wisdom;
This is the royal Law;
These are the lively Oracles of God”.
The Bible was presented, along with this exhortation, to the Queen of England, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland on the day of her coronation. How right they are!
I recently bought a new Bible – possibly the tenth one I have owned over the last thirty years. After years of carrying around a heavy wide margin Bible, I was looking for something smaller. So now I have an English Standard Version (ESV) – a Cambridge Clarion Bible in brown calfskin which despite being rather small, has a very nice layout and an easy to read font. I visited a very interesting bible design blog before placing my order.
Until 2013, I was a New International Version (NIV) reader, and enjoyed its simple, clear and beautiful language which made it the most popular version in our time. I was, however, unhappy with their 2011 version, viewed by many as a capitulation to the modern trend of political correctness in language. The translators’ shocking disregard for the language and culture of the original writers went beyond their use of gender neutral language and corresponding changes from singular to plural (‘them’ replacing ‘him’); whole verses such as Isaiah 19:16 were changed to suit modern sensibilities. Definitely not my cup of tea.
Anyway, this sad betrayal by Zondervan meant that I, like millions of others, were forced to look elsewhere, and after vacillating between the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), New King James Version (NKJV) and the ESV, for a year, I settled on the last. Initially, I missed the smoothly flowing language of the NIV, but after 2 years of using the ESV, I now find it rather beautiful. Besides it is a more literal or ‘word for word’ translation, which means it is more true to the original than the ‘thought for thought’ NIV.
Now all this talk about Bible translations, the font, covering and design might seem frivolous to some. And rightly so. Although, there has been a glut in Bible production, it is not associated with an increased reverence for the word. Many people own Bibles they never bother to read. Online stores offer every possible variation of cover and design to suit all possible tastes. I still struggled to find the perfect one – my present purchase does fall short in some ways – customised to my own preferences.
Over the years, I regret to admit, I have often taken the Bible for granted. I could always buy a new one if I wished, and never worried about being without one. My grandmother probably used just one Bible for most of her life, and it was treated with great respect. People then considered the idea of buying several copies of a single book a silly waste of money. Sometimes a family owned just one Bible, and a young person leaving home for university was presented with a new one by their parents, in the hope that it would be treasured and read, rather than pushed to the corner of a shelf and allowed to gather dust.
The first bible I owned as a teenager was the Good News NT, and despite it being considered a poor translation, I was deeply moved by the words of Jesus particularly in the gospel of John. As I got to the last chapter, I remember being drawn into a place – or rather a deep inner space – of peace, power and holiness.
This book that we are so privileged to read is the the result of blood, toil and tears. So many died violent deaths upholding its truth, and its translation into various languages in the past, has required courage and patience, as well as a degree of contempt for the powers that were, on the part of those who undertook such labours.
The true value of a Bible was once again brought home to me recently at a Christian event called ‘Hallowed‘ in London. One of the sessions included a brief, but very impactful interview of a Polish pastor, Piotr Kirklewski. He spoke briefly of his coming to Christ as a teenager in Communist Poland. What struck me – although I had read of such things before – was the absence of Bibles in his country during his youth. On becoming a Christian, Piotr asked his mother, who considered herself a Catholic, if she owned a Bible. Her reply moved me to tears; she said, “Child, years ago, I saw a Bible in the hands of a priest in the church. I have never seen one since”.
And these things had happened in Poland – not in Saudi Arabia or a remote part of India or Africa – a formerly Christian nation. It never ceases to amaze me how much enemies of the gospel and people who dismiss the scripture as superstitious nonsense fear its power. The Bible was banned in homes, schools, libraries and possibly even in the few churches that were allowed to exist. The erstwhile leaders of eastern Europe thought that the best way to control the minds of the people was to suppress the truth found in the word of God.
Yet, thank the Lord, such oppression has now come to an end. The wheel has turned in eastern Europe, as newer regimes have replaced the former dictatorships, and many young people who grew up during that dark period are, today, zealously proclaiming the truth that was denied them in the past. How true are the words of Christ – the gates of Hades will never overcome His church.
Since then, I have become much more conscious of the value of this life transforming book and hopefully will treat it with a lot more respect than I have in the past.
Father, thank You for the gift of Your word. Help us to study it, meditate on it, and live by it, each day that You give us on this earth.