Do you own a Bible?
If Daniel Radosh’s numbers were right in 2006, ninety-one percent of American households own at least one Bible.
So, chances are nine out of ten of you have one somewhere. Rodash goes on to state: “The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.” Nicky Gumbell sums this idea up very simply when he says the Bible is Uniquely Popular.
In the year J.K. Rowling was selling over ten million copies of The Goblet of Fire, there were over twenty-five million Bibles sold. Over the fifty-year span in which my parents went from grade school students to empty-nesters, the Bible was published and sold 3.9 billion times worldwide. The next most published and sold book across that same span was "Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung" at a frequency of 820 million copies.
We can say that the Bible is not just popular; it is truly uniquely popular. Do we appreciate just how pervasive this book has become? If we don't, it's like having been in the presence of a well-known historical figure, a celebrity or professional athlete and not recognizing them. ‘You were with who?!? And you didn’t think to ask them about their experience?! Come on!’
There’s a story in the New Testament book of Acts that includes a man named Philip. He was one of the first Christians. At the time, he was wandering around desert places near Jerusalem. Oddly, Philip came across a man from Ethiopia reading a scroll of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. It appears the book of Isaiah, while not published and sold at a clip of 3.9 billion per year, was popular enough to make its way down to a different continent in the first-century world. While the man struggled to understand what he was reading, at least he had enough sense to bring the Scriptures with him and read them.
I'm not sure how this Ethiopian was reading a Hebrew text. Did he read Isaiah in the Hebrew? Had a scroll of Isaiah been taken to Ethiopia and translated for the man? Whatever the case, this distinguished official from Ethiopia was riding along and reading Isaiah aloud to himself.
This brings up another facet of the unique popularity of the Bible: It is also the most translated book.
If Carlo Collodi claimed his book was the most translated, he’d be lying to you and his nose, like his famed character Pinnochio, would be perceptively longer. Collodi’s book is the second most translated book of all time. It has been translated into 300 plus languages.
Of the 6,000 plus languages in the world today, at least one book of the Bible has been translated into 3,312 of them. The whole Bible has been translated into 531 languages.
I include this information about the Bible’s pervasive translation, along with the story from Acts, to emphasize that its unique popularity is not solely due to our consumer culture. Many people across history have gone to great lengths to make this uniquely popular book available and understandable.
Popularity is not without its difficulties. In 2016, the American Libraries Association received enough reports from libraries and other book repositories of attempts to challenge and ban the Bible that this uniquely popular book came in at number six on the year’s most challenged list. Most books in the top ten of this list are challenged due to sexually explicit material. The Bible is one of the very few challenged simply for 'religious ideas.' In the words of Eric Metaxes, it would seem "many find Scripture more dangerous than explicit sex."
Whether we own a Bible, would prefer to see the Bible burned, or are indifferent to the Bible, it appears this is a most important book. My point about popularity is this:
If we're surrounded by such a uniquely popular book, why not learn how to read it well? The Bible is resilient and seems to have a life of its own. Read it and be patient enough to read it slowly, thoughtfully and regularly.
A second point is this:
A uniquely popular book like the Bible is surrounded by profoundly strong opinions. If I pretend to know the Bible but don’t really read the Bible well, someone’s going to expose me, misinform me, or make a fool out of me.
So read the Bible. If you don't have one, get one. And if reading this book intimidates you, there's a reason the story of the Ethiopian man is in the Bible. We all need to ask for help so we can read the Bible well. It always helps to read it aloud and read it with someone.
Thank you for reading! What book of the Bible are you reading now?