This is my latest piece for OnFaith. In an era when we have more Bibles than ever, Bible reading is in serious decline. Maybe all those Bibles are part of the problem.
I was standing in the ruins of one of the world’s oldest synagogues when I realized I didn’t want to be a Bible publisher anymore.
The epiphany came at a rather inconvenient moment, since the whole reason I was there was to convince our guide, a respected Bible teacher, that he should do a study Bible. Or, as they like to say in the publishing business, I was trying to “acquire” him.
I’d been working for an evangelical publisher for almost five years. I loved my job. I loved publishing Bibles — and I published a lot of them. Study Bibles. Youth Bibles. Audio Bibles. We had a Bible for everyone…or at least we aspired to.
We wanted more people to read the Bible. And for a time, I thought publishing more Bibles was the best way to make that happen.
But standing in that synagogue — hearing about the role scripture played in the lives of those who had gathered there — I started to question that assumption.
At synagogues in and around Galilee, young Jewish children would memorize large chunks of scripture. We’re not talking about your average memory verse; we’re talking whole books. In truly exceptional cases, a student might memorize the entire Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Each Sabbath, the community would gather for worship. They would celebrate as whatever scroll they had in their possession was carefully unfurled to show everyone that the words were still on the page. God was still speaking to them.
They had nothing like our access to the Bible. No one dreamed of owning his own personal copy of the scriptures. Most rural synagogues were lucky to have one or two scrolls, and whatever they did have was likely shared on a rotating basis with other nearby synagogues.
Yet they loved the text. They couldn’t get enough of it — literally.
Standing in that synagogue, it occurred to me that we have the opposite problem today. We have more Bibles than ever. I had never stopped to ask whether this was a good thing. I just assumed more was better. Yet for all the Bibles out there, one thing we don’t have is more Bible reading.
What if that’s not just coincidence?
What if the proliferation of Bibles is part of the reason we’re reading scripture less?
What if familiarity and abundance breed indifference?