The Bible Relic or Relevant?
by Alan Allegra
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“Bible: A collection of fantastic legends without any scientific support ( . . . ) full of dark hints, historical mistakes, and contradictions” (Seldes, 1967, p. 78).
“The Bible is not just about salvation but also about correct daily living. It speaks to every human activity and creative Christians should be able to weave its insights into an appropriate context without appearing irrelevant” (Buchanan, 2002, p. 5).
As the above quotations suggest, the relevance of the Bible is an issue with opinions spanning the poles from storybook of lies to sourcebook of life. Some call it “Musty. Outdated. Irrelevant” while others consider it “timeless, its message vibrant and alive” (Reflections, 1999, p. 1). Is the Bible an ancient relic of a former civilization, or is it an appropriate rulebook for a fashionable culture? Allowed to speak for itself, it will be seen that the Bible is indeed, though ancient, certainly not outdated.
According to recent surveys, 9% of people in the UK say the Bible is not relevant to our culture (Buchanan, 2002). Last year, a survey by the Barna Research Group, a research firm specializing in religious issues, concluded that although the Bible is highly popular, few people are familiar with its contents, and most respondents believe it is irrelevant (ucg.org, 2000). Paradoxically, the Bible continues to be the best-selling book of all time, with estimates of $200 million in sales annually (Reaman, 1998). According to Bishop Richard Henderson of the Church of Ireland, “The Bible is still, even in the 21st century, a world best seller. It has been translated into hundreds of languages, and is available in many, many versions. It is on nearly all our shelves at home and most bookshops” (2002). In fact, its relevance is seen in the fact that heads of state are sworn into office by it, trial witnesses swear by it, and Bibles appear in nearly every hotel room in the West (ucg.org, 2000). Of the world’s six billion inhabitants, roughly one third claim to be followers of the Bible (ucg.org, 2000).
The antiquity of the Bible is no obstacle to its popularity, and with good reason: it addresses and answers issues about which sociologists surmise and speculate, such as the origins of cultures and customs. In an address given in 1900 by Benjamin Harrison, then Ex-President of the United States, before a missionary conference in New York City, he said, “If you can blot out of your statute books, out of your constitutions, out of your codes of morals, out of your social and family institutions all that is derived from the sacred Book, what would there be left to bind society together?” (Great USA Presidents, 2002, p. 6).
It therefore has become a part of our Western culture to an extent that may be unknown to the average person. As Chase says, “Think for a moment how in the course of a single day spent in the homely, necessary details of living, we clarify and illuminate our talk with one another by the often unconscious use of its language” (1962, p. 24). The following are just a few examples:
A thorn in the flesh
A millstone about the neck
The skin of our teeth
The sweat of our brows
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind
A little bird told me
Apples of gold in pictures of silver
Apple of my eye
The salt of the earth
The patience of Job
City on a hill
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
Nothing new under the sun
To every thing there is a season
An eye for an eye
Out of the mouths of babes
Am I my brother’s keeper?
The borrower is servant to the lender
Cut to the quick
Pearls before swine
Weighed in the balance
Not only has God woven his Word throughout our language, but the Bible is intuitively known to contain something deeper to meet human needs. In times of tragedy, sales of Bibles and Bible-based materials increase dramatically. For example, according to Les Dietzman, president of Family Christian Stores, Bible sales rose 27 percent after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and sales of Bible prophecy books surged up 80 percent (Bible Sales Skyrocket, 2001). “(People) turn to authors who can interpret scripture and prophecy to find some kind of comfort and explanation” (Bible Sales Skyrocket, 2001). So, despite the belief of some that the Bible is irrelevant, there are many who believe that it can provide comfort and enlightenment in perilous and uncertain times.
What about the feature of prophecy that has been mentioned above? Is this in any way relevant to modern times? Approximately one-quarter to one-third of the Bible is predictive in nature (Wood, 1973). Over 300 prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone; many more prophetic scriptures are awaiting fulfillment in world events to come. What is the relevance of these remaining prophecies? Space does not permit a catalog of future events, but the general tenor of accumulated predictive scripture is that God is in control and there is hope; although the world is seemingly racing toward annihilation, Christ will return to earth to establish a reign of peace and righteousness (McDowell, 1981). “The world is becoming more complex, and rapid social change seems to outstrip our capacity to make sense of it all (.. . . ) (I)t is little wonder that many people look to their faith for assurance and hope” (Macionis, 2002, p. 365). It is the Bible that provides the answers of hope in changing times, because “God’s Word was always designed to affect society—not to have society affect it” (The Bible, 1999, p.2).
Besides the events of tomorrow, the Bible speaks loudly and eloquently to the events of today. Were the ancient authors and audience to read today’s newspapers, they could well exclaim, “I knew that!”
All eyes these days are on the Middle East as turmoil brews and talk of war dominates the headlines. Israel is at center stage, fighting for its existence. Israel is also, of course, in the middle of the Bible narratives and God’s eternal plan, and not only did He give the Israelites the land, but He predicted its future and has it under His control. Note the following passages:
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth ( . . . ) to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you ( . . . )’” (Gen. 12:1, 2, New American Standard).
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about ( . . . ) and in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people ( . . . ) all the people of the earth will be gathered against it” (Zech. 12:2, 3).
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ’ and will mislead many. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars ( . . . ) for nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:5–7, 9, 12).
The above passages not only predict that Israel, particularly Jerusalem, will be center stage in world history, but that God’s people will be persecuted for Christ’s sake. In fact, Christians are the most persecuted group in history and in the world today. Note these statistics from the ncubator.com website:
• More than 43 million Christians have been killed for their faith since the crucifixion of Christ;
• More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in the prior 1,900 years combined;
• There were more than 26 million documented cases of martyrdom in the 20th century alone;
• More than 200 million Christians, 60% of whom are children, face persecution in over 60 nations;
• 150,000–165,000 are martyred each year (Kazenske, 2000).
As Jesus said, “(A)nd you will be hated by all on account of my name” (Luke 21:17).
The Bible also has much to say about every aspect of life, death, and the afterlife, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). According to Macionis (2002), science cannot explain the ultimate meaning of existence; therefore religion is left to provide the answer. The writer of Ecclesiastes, after cataloging the pleasures, pains, and puzzles of life, states the crux of the issue: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13). The following are just a few examples of the Bible’s answers to man’s needs, interspersed with stories and statistics from today’s culture, most of which need no explanation:
“Cardiac patients that have a strong religious faith have greater confidence in their ability to perform tasks and complete their rehabilitation ( . . . ) (Lewerenz, 2002, p. A32).
“Bless the LORD, O my soul ( . . . ) who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2, 3).
“A joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22).
“Over the last fifty years, the growing influence of psychiatry and medicine has led to the medicalization of deviance, the transformation of moral and legal deviance into a medical condition” (Macionis, 2002, p. 141).
“Jesus, the apostles, and the early church did not send the sheep out to feed in other pastures. They did not turn to man-made systems either to understand the nature of man or to discover answers to the problems of living” (Bobgan, 1987, p. 6).
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
“If only you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, and your righteousness lid the waves of the sea” (Isa. 48:18).
“‘There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the LORD” (Isa. 48:22).
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1).
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick but desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12).
“(They) show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:15).
“Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
“( . . . ) sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (Jas. 4:1, 2).
“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:1, 2).
“(Y)ou shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:23–25).
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6).
“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil” (Ecc. 8:11).
“Today the priest is required to make a vow of celibacy by which he renounces marriage for the more perfect observance of chastity” (Brunini, 1961, p. 235).
“(I)n latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods ( . . . ) (1Tim. 4:2, 3).
“But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2).
“None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD” (Lev. 18:6).
“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22).
“Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion” (Lev. 18:23).
“Sexual activity ( . . . ) can transmit more than fifty kinds of infection (. . . . ) some people regard venereal diseases not only as illnesses but also as marks of immorality” (Macionis, 2002, p. 386).
“(T)he men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Rom. 1:27).
“We feel very strongly ( . . . ) that we should do everything in our power to make [state stores] (sic) consumer-friendly. We feel it’s going to benefit the public” (Staff and wire, 2002, p. 1).
“Woe unto him that gives his neighbor drink, that puts the bottle to him” (Hab. 2:15).
“Alcohol is the greatest factor contributing to crime, with police, judges, and prosecutors saying it is involved in at least 80 percent of crimes” (Campbell, 2002, p. 1).
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
“But I say unto you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Prov. 25:21, 22).
“Never take your own revenge ( . . . ) ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
GENETICS AND DESCENT
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind ( . . . ) and God saw that is was good” (Gen. 1:11, 12).
“And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25).
“(A)nd He made from one blood every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).
(Speaking of the Arab nations descended from Ishmael): “And he will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12).
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
“A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Prov. 28:16).
“The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Prov. 29:4).
“If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, all his ministers become wicked” (Prov. 29:12).
“If a king judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever” (Prov. 29:14).
“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
“But Peter and the apostles answered and said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).
“Correct your son and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul” (Prov. 29:17).
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).
“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her ( . . . ) so husbands ought also to love their own wives as their bodies. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband” (Eph. 5:22–25, 28, 33).
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
“You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’” (John 11:25, 26).
“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment ( . . . )” (Heb. 9:27).
“Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and way Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22, 23).
Hundreds more examples from dozens of categories can be drawn from the multiplied thousands of Bible verses to prove its relevance to the issues that face modern society and every individual on earth. If nothing else, the very fact that the Bible is so overwhelmingly popular speaks to, if not its actual relevance, its perceived importance as a sourcebook for answers to the inquiries of today’s seekers after truth and comfort.
It is unfortunate that so many feel the Bible is outdated. Skeptics charge, “How can that ancient book be of any value to a society that has put man on the moon?” or “The Bible doesn’t provide any concrete solutions for the problems of today’s complex world.” Nothing could be further from the truth! For only in the Bible can man find lasting solutions to the problems of life. Stop and think for a moment how man’s needs have changed in the last 2000 years. Cars have replaced horses and computers make life easier, but man himself has not changed one tiny bit. The things we do for employment have changed but the problems of the workplace are the same. The appliances in our houses make life easier, but the challenges of marriage are identical. The games children play have changed (i.e. Nintendo) but children still need the same love and support. TV may beam in to every home but man still gets lonely and feels hopeless (Does the Bible).
Is the Bible relevant for today’s societal needs? Once again the book will answer for itself:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Bible Sales Skyrocket Following Attacks. (2001, October 3). Retrieved November 13, 2002, from http://www.local6.com/orlpn/news/stories/news-10014942001003-081049.html.
Bobgan, Martin & Deidre. (1987). Psychoheresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity. Santa Barbara: EastGate Publishers.
Brunini, John Gilland. (1961). Whereon to Stand: What Catholics Believe and Why. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
Buchanan, Ian. (n.d.). The Bible: privately engaging but publicly irrelevant. Retrieved November 13, 2002, but no longer available.
Campbell, Timothy W. (2002, September-October). The Next Time You See A Beer Or Wine Commercial. The Biblical Evangelist, pp. 1, 7.
Chase, Mary Ellen. (1962). The Bible and the Common Reader. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Does the Bible provide practical solutions to 20th century problems? (n.d). Retrieved December 6, 2002, from http://www.bible.ca/S-benefits-Now.htm.
Great USA Presidents Speak About the Value of Missions! (2002, September-October). The Biblical Evangelist, 6.
Henderson, Bishop. (2002). The Bible is Still a World Best Seller. Retrieved November 13, 2002, from http://www.Ireland.Anglican.org/pressreleases/prarchive2002/tkasynex.html.
Kazenske, Donna. (n.d.). Persecution—Then and Now. Retrieved December 9, 2002, from http://www.ncubator.com/CSW/PersecutionThenNow.htm.
Lewerenz, Dan. (2002, November 23). Study probes link between religion, cardiac recovery. Morning Call, A32.
Macionis, John J. (2002). Society The Basics. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
McDowell, Josh. (1981). Prophecy: Fact or Fiction? San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers.
Read the Book. (2002). Retrieved November 17, 2002, from http://www.ucg.org/articles/gn27/read.html.
Reaman, Denise. (1998, June 7). Bible Boom. Morning Call, A01.
Seldes, George (Ed.). (1967). The Great Quotations. New York: Pocket Books.
Sunday liquor sales law signed. (2002, December 10). Morning Call, pp. A1, A3.
The Bible. Reflections, September 1999. Retrieved November 17, 2002, from http://www.rome4christ.com/reflectn/ref9909.html.
Wood, Leon J. (1973). The Bible & Future Events. Grand Rapids: Academie Books.
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