Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… Does anyone regularly read the Bible anymore?
What was once a daily practice in the early church and for generations after seems to be losing ground in recent years.
Bible Reading in the Early Church
In the Apostle Paul’s day, only 10-15% of people were literate, with a higher percentage among Jews. The fact that Jesus could read as a young boy was quite an achievement for a young Hebrew boy, as there were no vowels, punctuation, or spaces between words, sentences, and paragraphs. Generally, the average person relied on the “scribes” to read the scrolls. During the first century, 2% of the population was wealthy, 10% was middle-class, and 85-90% was poor. Virtually none of the poor could read, and so memorization became very important.
By 300 AD, in order to be ordained as a deacon in a church in Egypt a man would need to memorize one of the Gospels, some of Paul’s letters, the Major Prophets and even several Psalms. To become an elder, you needed to memorize even more than that. The bishop, Athanasius, reportedly had memorized the entire Bible.
This was an oral culture, not a literary culture. Because of this, the early church made sure that believers heard the entire Bible each year in order for people to hear the entire story. They didn’t have a Bible at home; instead they heard it in the worship gatherings. I’m told that a Bible would have cost approximately $120,000 in the first century. For this reason, it was viewed as apostasy to hand over any Bible to the Roman authorities — it likely would have been the only copy available in that city or region.
The Scriptures were viewed as precious, worth dying for. Time spent in the Word each day was viewed as the norm. What about today?
Bible Reading Today
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s (EFC) Research Director, Rick Hiemstra, recently presented findings on Bible engagement in Canada between 1996 and 2013. The decline in Bible reading among the average Canadian is staggering.
Note the massive growth of Canadians who “never” or only “occasionally” read the Bible. A shocking 86% of Canadians between the age of 18 and 34 barely crack open the Bible. This has significant implications for our Nation.
But, what about bible engagement among young, evangelical Canadians? Here are the findings from an Angus Reid/EFC Survey done in 2013.
Note that about one quarter of Canadian evangelical Christians read their Bible daily. Another quarter seem to be reading the Bible a few times a week, but I imagine this is still a significant drop from a couple of generations ago. And what about memorization? Does the average deacon or elder have a Gospel or Psalm memorized, as in the days of the early church? Should this even be a requirement? Likely not. However, in an ancient oral culture it was a requirement because of the high view given to Scripture as the Word of life and the means for transforming people’s lives.
If we could just get our people reading Scripture daily in a meaningful way… imagine the transformation that would take place! I imagine a spiritual revival would occur among our churches. Read and be transformed.
Have a blessed week,
Our 2015 Fellowship theme verse is:
“"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (NLT)