The Best Seller Nobody Reads
“Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.”
When graduating high school seniors were quizzed about the Bible, this was the answer a large number of them chose.
Less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible or the four Gospels of the New Testament. Almost two thirds of Americans can’t name at least five of the Ten Commandments. One in 10 adults who participated in a Bible literacy poll believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
All of these incredible facts are mentioned by Timothy Beal in his book The Rise and Fall of the Bible, published earlier this year. The sad fact is, biblical literacy is at an all-time low. In fact, it may be low to zip, as Beal points out in his book.
There is a real paradox here. The Bible is a top-selling book in Western society, especially in the United States. The Bible is big business. Bible publishing is a highly competitive and lucrative industry. Few realize that Bible publishing companies are not necessarily owned by the deeply religious. Zondervan, which sells over 500 different kinds of Bibles, was purchased in 1988 by HarperCollins, a part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corporation.
Bible sales figures are a highly guarded secret, but numbers that are available are interesting to study. “Reliable industry sources estimate that 2007 saw about 25 million Bibles sold, generating revenues of about $770 million in the United States alone,” Beal states. “That was an increase of more than 26 percent since 2005, which saw sales of about $609 million …. Even during the high point of the economic crisis in late 2008, when other book sales were hurting badly, Bible sales continued to boom, with an estimated $823.5 million that year.” Beal reports that Bible sales remain high during times of war and financial crisis, which means that the most current sales figures likely are still soaring.
Yet, the paradox doesn’t stop here.
The Book to Buy
Twenty years ago, a Gallup poll reported that only 35 percent of Americans believed that “the Bible was totally accurate in all of its teachings.” This was a saddening but not surprising report at the time: Americans’ close relationship with the Bible had been in decline for decades. But more recent polling data from the Barna Group reveals that now, about half of Americans agree with that statement.
At the same time, a recent Gallup poll found 65 percent of Americans believe the Bible “answers all or most of the basic questions of life.” Is it possible that reverence for the Bible is up from 1991? Some experts think so. Yet the pervasive Bible illiteracy within all age groups in the U.S. causes religious theorists to question what the polls are actually saying.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that 78 percent of Americans say the Bible is the “Word of God,” and of those, almost half believe “it is to be taken literally, word for word.”
Considering all this poll data, Timothy Beal concludes: “The Bible appears to be the most revered book never read.” That is a truly sad bit of humor.
So why do people buy Bibles if they are not going to read them? The fact that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire owns Zondervan should give us a clue.
In May, Time ran a short article in its “Culture” section on books congratulating the King James Bible for reaching its 400th anniversary. Rather than relating the history of the book, the article focused on who has used or is using a King James Bible, including King James, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Prince William and Kate Middleton.
A sidebar discussed the kjv’s offshoots, or progeny. The Green Bible, for example, released in 2008, is “Published on recycled paper with soy-based ink. Instead of Jesus’s words appearing in red, verses on caring for the earth are highlighted in soothing green.” The sidebar also featured The One-Minute Bible, for really busy people, and The Extreme Teen Bible, for teens who love living on the edge.
Are you beginning to understand? Bibles are big business. Costly market surveys are conducted regularly to uncover what causes a person to buy a Bible. Why? We are a nation of consumers. If the figures on Bible literacy are any indication, we can safely assume that many people buy Bibles simply because it is the thing to do.
The stark reality is that just having a Bible doesn’t do a thing for anybody. Many people refer to the kjv as a cultural icon. Unfortunately, what that actually means for most people is that the Bible has become a religious statue or symbol—some leather-covered god gathering dust on a shelf.
The Misunderstood Book
Think about and consider your own approach to reading and studying the Bible. It is the unique book. There is no other book like it on Earth. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It is a living, active book. You must interact with it to get true value out of owning one.
Yet the Bible cannot be read like any other book. It is this fact that gives people so much difficulty. You cannot read the Bible from beginning to end and come to an understanding of it. A close friend once said to me, “I’ve read and studied the Bible for hours and I cannot understand it, so what makes you think you can?” This is the typical complaint of the majority of people who own a Bible. People have been told they should read it to be spiritual. They have heard emotional-sounding talk about how inspiring Bible reading and studying can be. However, most have not been taught what is recorded on its pages or how to read it. Then, after buying several versions thinking that will help their understanding, many frustratingly put their Bibles (most American homes have more than one) permanently on their bookshelf and attempt to live life without the Bible.
Your experience with the Bible can be very different.
In his groundbreaking book Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong, one of the most important Bible educators of our time, wrote: “I found the Bible to be a coded book, with answers to the paramount mysteries confronting all humanity …. I learned that the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle—thousands of pieces that need putting together—and the pieces will fit together in only one way.” If you would like to receive a copy of Mystery of the Ages, one will be sent to you free upon request.
A Book to Be Obeyed
Herbert Armstrong taught that the Bible is approximately divided into thirds: history, prophecy and religious instruction.
Its history is primarily that of one nation—Israel—from its earliest beginnings with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with his 12 sons. In the Old Testament, the Bible charts the course of the 12 tribes as they journey through time—from their national slavery in Egypt through Joshua settling them in the Promised Land. We are given details of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from their golden years with David and Solomon to their demise and captivity. The New Testament gives us the history of Judah under the Roman conquest at the time of Christ.
Bible prophecy primarily concerns itself with the end-time events involving the modern nations of Israel and the Gentile nations that come in contact with Israel culminating with Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. Request your free copy of the book The United States and Britain in Prophecy for a full explanation of the identity of the modern nations of Israel.
The Bible’s religious instruction is a thorough listing of the God-inspired doctrines. It provides instruction for daily living. It explains the biblical way of salvation. It provides wisdom to meet life’s challenges. It emphasizes God’s incredible law codified in the Ten Commandments.
Basically the Bible’s history and prophecy reveal the painful outcome of disobedience to God’s laws. Only those people willing to listen to, learn from and obey God can understand the Bible. The Bible states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Psalm 111:10). Concerning unlocking the code of the Bible, Herbert Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages, “Then the picture becomes crystal clear to the one willing to believe what God our Creator says.”
Understanding the Bible is the most incredible blessing bestowed on those willing to read, study and do what the Bible says.
Beware False Teachers
One disheartening fact that all new Bible students must confront is that modern Christianity teaches doctrines that are not founded on the Bible. Mr. Armstrong experienced this phenomenon, and so have all God’s people in this end time. Once you come to know the Bible and how its truths are pieced together, it becomes clear that the Bible explains itself. The full explanation of a Bible topic comes by putting all the scriptures on a subject together. Often the verses on one subject are scattered throughout the Bible. God has designed the Bible so it takes a lifetime of real work to come to understand its invaluable treasure chest of knowledge.
So many sincere—but deceived—teachers have misled millions by limiting religious instruction on a subject to one or two verses. That kind of misuse of the Bible leads to spiritual destruction.
Understand, it is not our intention to point fingers at any human being. The real culprit is Satan the devil. This once awesome and righteous angel came to hate God, God’s truth and the awesome plan God has for all mankind. It is his ardent desire to spiritually destroy you. How? Our adversary has set out to take eternal life away from every man, woman and child through religion.
The devil began this effort with Eve by talking to her directly. However, today, he has organized his own brand of Christianity, leading it with his own ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13)—a carefully thought-out and well-planned counterfeit of God’s Church.
The Bible reveals that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (verse 14). He has successfully palmed himself off as God, making himself appear to be God to this whole world (2 Corinthians 4:4). This being is so crafty and powerful he has (because God has allowed it for His own purpose) been able to deceive the entire world (Revelation 12:9). How has he done this? Paul tells us that he “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Satan wants unsuspecting humans to have religion—just not God’s way! This is the only valid explanation for the widespread confusion being broadcast from the world’s various religions. And it is the only logical explanation for the huge doctrinal division within modern Christianity.
Be warned. Satan knows Scripture, and he will twist it to trip you up. Matthew 4 shows that he tried that trick on Jesus Christ, and he will work that same way against us. The Bible must become your only source of doctrine. Yes, you will need someone to teach you from the Bible, which puts the pressure on you to find the men God has specially trained to teach for Him. Your salvation depends upon it!
Read the Book
Jesus Christ came into a world of religious confusion much like our own. He conquered that world with the truth taken only from the Bible. When confronted with doctrinal controversy, Jesus Christ always went to Scripture for the answer. He was known to ask: “Have you not read?” (see Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31).
If you truly want to understand the Bible, you will have to work at it. In fact, there may be times when you will have to wrestle with the Bible to understand it. If you are not living by all of the Ten Commandments, you will have to make some changes in your life. This will not be easy because the majority of people really do not want to know what the Bible says and requires.
Herbert W. Armstrong College Chancellor Gerald Flurry recently discussed the importance of the Bible as the foundation for true education. Using an article from the religion section of the Dec. 27, 1982, Newsweek, he mentioned to the 2011 graduating class that historians recognize that the Bible—even more than the Constitution—was the founding document for the establishment of the United States of America. That Newsweek article said, “There were times, too, when Bible study was the core of public education and nearly every literate family not only owned a Bible but read it regularly and reverently.” Mr. Flurry then stated: “And so you would think that we would be doing some of that today, but what a change we have seen in our nation today.” Quoting again from the Newsweek article, he read: “Despite this publishing phenomenon, the Bible has virtually disappeared from American education.” “It’s virtually disappeared!” Mr. Flurry repeated with emphasis. He then showed that an individual cannot truly be well educated without the Bible. He read a quote by one of America’s greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is better than a college education.”
Herbert W. Armstrong College is a liberal arts college, not just a Bible school. Yet the Bible is the foundation of all of our education whether it be agriculture, art, dance, language, literature, math, music or science. College faculty help our students build their life around reading, studying and knowing the Bible.
Armstrong College is pleased to offer you, without cost, a 36-lesson Bible correspondence course. If you study this course with an open mind and a willingness to change your life where required, the Bible will come alive for you as it never has before. You will understand God’s truth, and the Bible will become a book that you will love to read.