“Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it is God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it.”
– Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today
If you google “biblical illiteracy” you will find numerous surveys and stats (largely from the US) about the lack of biblical knowledge amongst those who claim to love God and the Bible.
Not only does it seem that Bible reading is on the decline in churches, even some preachers seem to use the Bible as merely a springboard for their own human opinions. God’s Word has been silenced and replaced with self-help sound bites.
By contrast, I’m always challenged by the seriousness with which Muslim children approach the Quran. Many Muslim children memorise the entire Quran, even though they cannot understand what they are reciting because it is in Arabic! Those who have accomplished this amazing feat are called, “Hafiz” (a memorizer) and are highly respected in their communities. Hours of practice and endless repetition is required to be able to learn and recite the Quran perfectly in a language you may not know. Imagine passing a test where you have to continue reciting a passage that has been chosen at random from the Quran, and which you might not even understand! I’m told that in Pakistan alone, 1 million children have gained the title “Hafiz” over the past number of decades.
It has been shown that memorizers of the Quran who have never studied Arabic, actually perform better in demonstrating the rules of grammar than other groups of memorizers who first study Arabic! How is this possible? Through memorization alone, they learned patterns of grammar without even realising it! The study revealed:
This knowledge was not explicit; they could not explain how pronouns, verbs, and nouns worked, but they could judge whether a sentence they had not heard before was correct or not with accuracy. Surprisingly, the memorizers with no classroom Arabic did better than those who had had lessons.”
What of our diligence, as Christians? Over the years, as I have led various Bible Studies, taught at a Bible college, etc. I have often conducted my own experiment to see how well we know the Bible. I will ask a group of believers to add up the years that they have been Christians. I then challenge them to give me 3-5 facts about a particular book of the bible – the author, some verses, content, characters, events, etc. and if they can do so, we will assume that they know what that book of the Bible is about. If not, we will mark the book as: unknown. Now keep in mind we are doing this as a group, not just as individuals. I then read the list of Bible books … Genesis … Judges … 2 Kings … Amos … Obadiah … 2 Corinthians … 1 Thessalonians … 2 Timothy … Titus … Jude. We simply see if we can list a few things about each book. In one group, the total years we had known Christ was 150 years. To our shock we discovered that we didn’t know what 80% of the Bible was about! We could only give a few facts about 13 of the 66 books of the Bible – the rest were pretty much unknown!
We claim to believe that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness …” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then why are we not reading, studying and preaching all of it? Are we not silencing the voice of God by neglecting certain books of the Bible?
Michael Philip, head of communications at RUC recently compiled the graph above of all the sermons we have preached since 2009 (the past 10 years). We were encouraged to see how widely we have preached both Old & New Testaments – we have a legacy of consistent expository preaching – but there are still some gaps. 1 & 2 Thessalonians is a case in point, and I am glad that we were able to preach through 1 Thessalonians earlier this year, without even realising it was “unknown”.
Beginning on the 8th September 2019 we are starting a new sermon series entitled: God’s Forgotten Postcards. We are going to look at the shortest, most forgotten books of the Bible. These books are so short that it is easy to gloss over them. Most Bible colleges don’t delve into these books and few will ever hear a sermon from these books. We will study one book per week – Obadiah, Philemon, Haggai, 2 John and 3 John.
We want to allow God to speak to us through His Word. Our goal is not to rattle off some interesting Bible trivia, nor do we want to read the Bible in a haphazard way that ignores the flow of Scripture – we want to be changed by God’s Word!
Hugh Whelchel writes in an article on Biblical illiteracy:
“It’s not just that we don’t know
our Bible but that we have so fragmented, dissected, and compartmentalized the Bible that we have lost sight of its great overarching story. As a result, bits and pieces of the Bible are absorbed into the prevailing cultural story, which then supplants the authority of the Bible in shaping our lives.”
We want to be different as a result of God’s Word! These 5 short books will hopefully whet your appetite to venture into uncharted waters of Bible reading on your own and to discover rare islands of beauty where God will speak deeply into your soul!
God is waiting to speak in all of Scripture … will you come ready to listen and obey!