Archive for November 13, 2008
Many people believe that the Bible is from God, but people believe it for different reasons. One of the reasons is the alleged freshness of the Bible:
“One of the first facts which arrests the attention of the student of God’s Word is that, like the widow’s oil and meal which nourished Elijah, the contents of the Bible are never exhausted. Unlike all other books, the Bible never acquires a sameness, and never diminishes in its power of response to the needy soul which comes to it. Just as a fresh supply of manna was given each day to the Israelites in the wilderness, so the Spirit of God ever breaks anew the Bread of Life to them who hunger after righteousness; or, just as the loaves and fishes in the hands of our Lord were more than enough to feed the famished multitude—a surplus still remaining—so the honey and milk of the Word are more than sufficient to satisfy the hunger of every human soul—the supply still remaining undiminished for new generations. Although one may know, word for word, the entire contents of some chapter of Scripture, and although he may have taken the time to ponder thoughtfully every sentence therein, yet, on every subsequent occasion, provided one comes to it again in the spirit of humble inquiry, each fresh reading will reveal new gems never seen there before and new delights will be experienced never met with previously. The most familiar passages will yield as much refreshment at the thousandth perusal as they did at the first. The Bible has been likened to a fountain of living water: the fountain is ever the same, but the water is always fresh.”
- Arthur Pink, The Divine Inspiration of the Bible
This argument—that the Bible must be God’s Word because it stays fresher and is less exhaustible than other books—is extremely weak. People who say such things do not seem to have ever met a true lover of literature. The very definition of a literary person could be someone who is continually re-reading and re-relishing great works. And those re-readers are by no means confined to professionals. Christopher Lee, for example, is an actor by profession, and actors are not usually known for being avid readers. Yet he, since the publication of The Lord of the Rings in the mid-fifties, has re-read the book on an annual basis. That means he has read The Lord of the Rings about fifty times by now, and to all appearances he has not yet grown tired of it.
Other people read and re-read Homer as if the Greek Muses themselves were present and breathed divine life from the lines of the poet. What the Bible is to the Church, Homer was to the Greeks. There are those who can read Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy again and again without ever growing weary of them. For one it is Milton and for another it is Virgil, and for many today it is perhaps Harry Potter, but all of them have one thing in common: They re-read their favorites many times without exhausting them. They find in the above description of the Bible’s freshness a fitting articulation of their own experience—only not of the Bible. They would say, “Like the widow’s oil and meal which nourished Elijah, the contents of The Lord of the Rings are never exhausted. The Lord of the Rings never acquires a sameness, and never diminishes in its power,” etc.
My own experience, for what it is worth, also confirms this. There are books that I am coming to appreciate more every time I read them; there are others I try to re-read, but then discover that the first reading has already exhausted them. The books of the Bible fall into both groups. Some of them I can re-read endlessly; others have yielded only little fruit after the first reading. I have found myself repeatedly working myself with great labor through certain chapters of the Bible, and skipping them altogether after a few re-readings, because their freshness, the information they contain, and their applicability had been exhausted after the first reading.
The statistics, too, contradict the notion that the Bible stays fresher than other books. According to one statistic, 98 percent of all people that say they believe in Jesus Christ have never read the Bible through once, and even more astonishingly, 90 percent of all pastors have never read the Bible through once (Information taken from http://www.parentalguide.com). Although I cannot validate the accuracy of this information, it seems safe to say that most people who call themselves Christians have not read the Bible through once. It is doubtful that a similar number of professed Harry Potter fans have failed to read every book in the Harry Potter series, or that a devotee to Jane Austen has not read all of Jane’s Austen’s novels, or that an enthusiast of Greek philosophy has not made it through Plato’s dialogues, or that a staunch Thomist has only read bits and pieces of the Summa Theologica.
Now it might be said that if the people who failed to read through the whole Bible had persevered, they would in time have found the Bible as inexhaustible and ever-fresh as described above by Arthur Pink. Perhaps some would. But if we again look at the statistics, that does not seem to be the case for the majority of people. Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission, once mentioned in a lecture that most Bible students are less passionate about the Bible at the end of their studies than at the beginning. Part of that can be explained by the curriculum of the Bible schools and the attitudes of the students. But is that explanation enough? Does the Bible itself play no part in the lack of enthusiasm of Bible students? It appears that even those students who genuinely want to love the Bible find themselves being tired of it at the end of their studies—not only because of the lecturers, but also because of the Bible itself.
I am not, however, trying to prove that the Bible stays less fresh than other books. That might or might not be the case. All I am saying is that there is no indication that it stays fresher than other books. Therefore an alleged freshness cannot be taken as proof of its divine origin. Otherwise Homer, Plato, Virgil, Milton, Austen, Tolkien, Rowling, and scores of others would be as much divinely inspired as the Bible.
(Read more about reasons to believe or not to believe in the Bible in my new book The C. S. Lewis Book on the Bible: What the Greatest Christian Writer Thought About the Greatest Book.)