Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

The Bible: The most loved and respected book in the world

Let's look at some indicators of the love, devotion or importance that people give to a book and see how the Bible measures up.

The number of times a single person reads the book

With most books, we read them once, and we don't want to pick them up again.

Most Biblical Christians keep reading the Bible again and again till death. I've read it from cover to cover more than a dozen times now (this includes only reading while traveling, not reading for personal devotions at home, church meetings, etc). This is typical of Biblical Christians.

George Muller read his Bible from end to end almost 200 times. [Arthur T. Pierson, George Mueller of Bristol and His Witness to A Prayer-Hearing God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1999), 287. Originally published as “Authorized Memoir” (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1899).]

When he was 71, years old, Muller spoke to a group of young people:-

"Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more."

As you can see, George Muller was not trying to make some world record. In case you want to beat him, remember he didn't just read the Bible - he distributed it - nearly hundred thousand copies! The image shows Muller.

The variety in its readership

"Years ago I heard the nurse reading a story to my child, and I asked: "What is that you are reading to the little now?" "I am reading the story of Joseph in the Bible", she answered. The little child cried, "Please don't stop her papa" as she listened with delight to a story that was written in Hebrew, probably 1500 years ago. And, not far away from this room, there sat one of the greatest of modern scientists, our foremost Canadian scholar, Sir William Dawson, President of McGill College, Montreal, reading with profound devotion, and a higher delight, the pages of that same marvelous book" - The Wonder of the Book, Dyson Hague, p10.
Children, great scholars - what other extreme can we think of? Illiterate adults! In rural India and Africa, most people are illiterate. However, the Bible is sufficiently popular for the mass production and distribution of audio Bibles
 
Now: can you think of any book that is cherished by children, great scholars and rural illiterates?
 
There is another remarkable class of Bible-lovers: former Bible haters. A few examples:
  • Bakht Singh: He once burnt all the pages of a Bible but kept the cover as it was beautiful. On one occasion, he was attracted to the word "Holy" on the cover; so he procured another Bible, read it and became a Christian. Bakht Singh later became a full time missionary and Bible teacher. He was known for having read his Bible hundreds of times, preaching sermons almost entirely consisting of Bible verses, and severely reprimanding Christians who came to meetings without their Bibles. In large meetings, he would invite the Bible Society of India to set up their counter; they would clear their stocks.
  • Sadhu Sundar Singh: He once tore up a Bible to express his hatred of all things Christian. After discovering that Hinduism is false, he prayed to "God" asking God to reveal himself or else he would commit suicide in frustration. He saw a vision of Jesus Christ, and became a disciple. His family threatened to excommunicate him. However, he loved the Bible more than his family; he became a traveling preacher.
  • R.R.K Murthy: He was a devout Brahmin. He became Christian by going through John's Gospel. He also was ready to leave the family for sake of Christ. After reading the Bible, he said "I read the Bible to find its faults. But it caught hold of my faults." 

The duration of the popularity of the book

The Bible was well read when it was completed in 100 AD. At that time, it faced competition from "Philosophy from Oracles" and "Against the Christians". Today, no one reads these, while the Bible continues to be well read. The same can be said of hundreds of other books that have bit the dust, while the Bible lives on. Voltaire, the eighteenth century French skeptic, predicted that within a hundred years of his time, Christianity would be but a footnote in history. In 1828, fifty years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his house and used his printing press to produce thousands of Bibles to distribute worldwide (just as one would expect from 1 Peter 1:24-25). During the 1960s, printing facilities in China were forcibly made to print Mao's Little Red Book and little else. But after Deng Xiaoping discredited Mao's economic policies, the book waned in popularity. Today, China is the largest producer of Bibles in the world!
 
What about recent times? In the last couple of decades, the "new atheists" tried their best to promote atheism using books: Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens wrote God is Not Great and Sam Harris wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. All three books made a big splash when they arrived. All three have seen their sales plummet in the last couple of years (as of 2015). Twenty years from now, no one will be reading these books. In contrast, Bible sales continue to be astronomical. Think about it: why do atheistic intellectuals, with all the linguistic and marketing resources at their disposal, get beaten hands down by a few barely literate Jewish fishermen who lived two millennia ago with no marketing strategies?! What about The Secret? That great self-help book that supposedly helped you tap the energy of the universe to improve your life? It topped the charts when it was released in 2006, but in a few years, poor sales forced the author Rhonda Bryne to write follow-up books The Power (2010) and The Magic (2012). Compare the Wikipedia pages of these three books, and the downward trend is evident.
 

Sales

The Bible is the best selling book in the world and continues to maintain that position without any close rivals. Annual Bible sales in the US alone are about 25 million. The most popular English translation of the Bible (the King James Version) is not copyrighted and so there are lots of "unofficial" sales. For this reason, total sales are impossible to estimate but there is enough information to know that they are in the range of several billion. Mao's (Outdated) Red Book is a distant second at about 800 million copies. According to Wikipedia, the best seller for which accurate sales information is available is The Lord of the Rings (150 million; incidentally, this book has Biblical themes in it).

The Bible's dominance of sales is all the more remarkable considering the restrictions that are placed on the Bible but not on other books. If you publicly sell Bibles in North Korea, you will be killed in the name of Atheism. In rural India, it will be in the name of Hinduism, and in Saudi Arabia, Islam. However, atheists, Muslims and Hindus have full freedom to sell their literature in Western Europe and America.

Efforts made at free distribution

If you endorse a book that claims to be extremely beneficial for humans but you're not willing to freely distribute the book, it proves one of two things:-
  • You're incredibly selfish
  • Deep down you know that the book is false
Think of all the enthusiasts for any belief system that you know: how much time, money and energy of their own have they devoted to its free distribution?
 
The Bible is the most freely distributed book in the world. The Gideons International, just one of many organizations devoted to the free distribution of the Bible, has distributed about 1.7 billion Bibles so far. Not only are efforts to distribute the Bible widespread, they are intense. People like Hans Christian, Brother Andrew and thousands of others have risked death to make the Bible available to others. Free distribution is not limited to hard copies. The Bible is the most downloaded book as an app, software or pdf. Just one of the many Bible apps in Google's Playstore (icon shown in the image) has had 50 million downloads!

Efforts expended in translation

The Bible is the most translated book in the world. The 2011 Scripture Language Report of the United Bible Societies reports that portions of the Bible have been translated to about 2600 languages. No other book comes close. Also note that for many languages, the Bible was the first book to be published. Missionaries designed a script and translated the Bible to the language. Afterwards, propagandists of other beliefs jumped on the bandwagon.
 
After his conversion to Christ, Samuel I. J. Schereschewsky, a brilliant Lithuanian Jew, went as a missionary to China. A paralytic affliction occurred confining him to a wheelchair for 21 years. He could move only the muscles of one hand and arm. Yet he translated and typed with one finger the entire Bible into a colloquial form of Mandarin Chinese. It was called “The One-Finger Bible.” 

Preparation of study resources

The Bible is the most studied book on the planet. To quote well known theologian Bernard Ramm:
“There are complexities of bibliographical studies [on the Bible] that are unparalleled in any other science or department of human knowledge. From the Apostolic Fathers dating from A.D. 95 to the modern times is one great literary river inspired by the Bible – Bible dictionaries. Bible encyclopedias. Bible lexicons. Bible atlases, and Bible geographies. These may be taken as a starter. Then at random, we may mention the vast bibliographies around theology, religious education, hymnology, missions, the biblical languages, church history, religious biography, devotional works, commentaries, philosophies of religion, evidences, apologetics, and on and on. There seems to be an endless number.”
More books have been written about the Bible than about any other book. To get a feel, one book (Many Infallible Proofs by Henry Morris) lists five books for further reading on just one small topic in the Bible: the virgin birth of Christ. The Bible tops the list in terms of number of software applications. The Bible also beats other books in the size of its software. You may find many apps to read a book with a handful of features, but Online Bible, one Bible software package has dozens of pages of downloadable add-ons. One symptom of the great study to which the Bible has been subjected to is the detail to which scholars have gone. For example, the Phd Thesis of well known scholar Daniel Wallace was "The Article with Multiple Substantices Connected by kai in the New Testament: Semantics and Significance".

The number of institutes to teach the book

Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton have one thing in common: they were founded to teach the Bible. Today, there are thousands of Bible colleges and training centers all over the world. People get PhDs studying what illiterate Jewish fishermen of two millennia ago wrote in the Bible. There will never be an institute or university set up to study The God Delusion.

The extent to which the book is quoted

Even if all the copies of the Bible in the world are destroyed, the Bible can be reproduced by its quotations in the books kept in public libraries. John Burgon, the nineteenth century British scholar listed 86,000 quotations of the Bible from early Christian authors who lived before 500 AD. As you can guess, since then the frequency of quotations has increased exponentially.

Adherence despite opposition or difficulty

More people have died for the sake of the writing and the distribution of the Bible than for any other book.

James Bainham lived in 16th century England. Tortured mercilessly by government agents loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and condemned to be burnt at the stake, James had a few words to say just before his execution:

"'I come hither, good people,' he said to the crowd, 'accused and condemned for a heretic, Sir Thomas More being my accuser and my judge.' He then spoke of the beliefs for which he was to die. 'First, I say it is lawful for every man and woman, to have God's book in their mother tongue. Second, that the bishop of Rome is Antichrist ... there is no purgatory, but the purgatory of Christ's blood, for our souls immediately go to heaven and rest with Jesus Christ for ever ...'” (Moynahan, God’s bestseller, p. 265)

William Tyndale (see image) is another famous figure from history who is known for his love for the Bible. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, in 16th century England. In those days only the priests were allowed to read the Bible. Appalled at the lethargy in the clergy, Tyndale decided to put translate the Bible into English and put it into the hands of the common people. Finding the climate in England hostile, he went to Germany in 1525 and translated the New Testament from German to English. These Bibles were smuggled into England. Of course, this enraged the Roman Catholic authorities in England, and a hefty reward was announced for the capture of William Tyndale. Betrayed by a false friend, Tyndale languished in prison for a year before being burned at the stake on October 6, 1536.

Tyndale is famous for the following quotes:

  • “To scatter Roman darkness by this light [the Bible], the loss of land and life I’ll reckon slight”
  • Responding to a Catholic scholar who said that people are better off without God’s laws than the pope’s, Tyndale said: “I defy the pope, and all his laws;” and further added, that if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough, to know more of the Scripture than he did” (Foxe, Acts & Monuments, vol. 5, p. 207)
  • When he was burnt at the stake, he prayed "Lord, open the eyes of the king of England." This prayer was answered within a year by the issue, under royal authority, of the whole Bible in English.

Tyndale was certainly not alone. Even today, there are scores of people who risk their lives smuggling Bibles into communist and Muslim countries. Down through history, and even today, hundreds of thousands of people are choosing to face imprisonment, torture or death than deny the Bible. We also have poignant examples of people who yearned earnestly for their Bibles:

Mary Jones, a Welsh 14 year old girl, walked barefoot for 25 miles to buy a Bible. When she found that the last copy was booked, she started crying. Touched, the owner, Thomas Charles, gave her one of the Bibles reserved for someone else. 

William McPherson lost his eyes and hands in an accident. How would he read his Braille Bible? He found that he could use his tongue, though the metal type left it sore and bleeding. In the next 65 years, William painstakingly read the Bible four times through with his tongue.

This unparalleled devotion to the Bible makes it unique and shows that the Bible comes from God. Only God could write a book that would come to be so cherished.

Tributes by qualified or eminent people

The worth of a book can be judged by the tributes it receives. Whose tributes carry weight?

  • People who have accomplished much – they tell us what helped them to become great or come out of their former sorry state
  • People who have expertise in a particular area. For example, a historian or archaeologist would be qualified to comment on the historical accuracy of a book
  • People who have helped others – they see what works for others.

Here are some tributes:-

"The Bible is...the best gift God has ever given to man ... but for it we could not know right from wrong...Read this book…and you will live and die a better man" – Abraham Lincoln, former president of the United States.

"The longer I study the New Testament the more convinced I become of its absolute trustworthiness…Christianity is the religion of truth; it is founded on truth, absolute and perfect truth"  – William Ramsay, Oxford archaeologist and skeptic-turned-Christian.

"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" – George Washington

"I accept…the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. I have studied every jot and tittle of the Word of God, and after these fifty years I see no reason for changing my position." – Thomas Newberry

"I have spent 70 years of my life studying that book to satisfy my heart; it is the Word of God. I bank my life on the statement that I believe this Book to be the solid rock of Holy Scripture." – William Gladstone(1809-1898), the leading British statesman of the 19th century. He served in the British government from the 1830s to the 1890s, and as Prime Minister of Britain on four occasions he reformed both British government and society. He wrote "The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture" to defend the authenticity of the Bible.

“The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its Author, salvation for its end, and truth without mixture of error for its matter" - John Locke, English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers

"I believe the Bible is the Word of God whereby His will is revealed" – Francis Bacon

"The Bible is the one book to which anyone can go with life's great questions to find God's answers" – John Ruskin, one of the most influential art critics of the 19th century

"I have come to the conviction that no man knows enough to assail the truthfulness of the Old Testament." – Robert Dick Wilson, one of the world's greatest Hebrew scholars (he also knew 44 other languages). He devoted 15 years of his life to Middle Eastern language studies, and the next 30 years to researching the accuracy of the Old Testament. The next time you meet a skeptic of the Old Testament, find out how his credentials compare with those of Wilson.

"I am convinced that only God could have written a book so marvelous in its suitability." – Evangeline Booth. Along with her parents William and Catherine Booth, Evangeline Booth used the Bible to help thousands of alcoholics, orphans and slum-dwellers come up in life.

"The New Testament…I was greatly moved by the Sermon on the Mount" – Mahatma Gandhi, when asked which book had influenced him the most

"The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all that oppose it" – Napoleon Bonaparte 

"The Bible is worth all other books which ever have been printed" – Patrick Henry

"In my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength" – Robert E. Lee

"Bible-reading is an education in itself" – Lord Tennyson

"All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths contained in the Sacred Scriptures" – William Herschel

"The New Testament is the best book that ever was or ever will be known in this world" – Charles Dickens 

More tributes

Also see the book "From a Cloud of Witnesses: 309 tributes to the Bible" by David Wasgatt Clark (available online for free)

Conclusion

It is worth noting that (unlike Mao's Red Book or the Koran) none of the popularity of the Bible has been achieved by force. Even when the Roman Catholic Church was powerful enough to dictate what common people should read, it used its power to ban and destroy the Bible, not to disseminate it. The Bible was written thousands of years ago. What makes it so widely used today? I once asked this question to my friends in university. The responses were I received were:--

  • “The Bible is a very interesting story book with lots of action, drama and so on. This makes people want to read it.” But this does not explain why people like William Tyndale would risk their life translating and distributing it. Besides, there are many other books written with the aim of entertaining people – all such books become chart busters for a few weeks and then get forgotten.
  • “Christians contribute money to make the Bible very cheaply available.” Needless to say, this begs the question: Why do these “Christians” spend so much money trying to distribute the Bible? It’s because they’ve been transformed by the Bible and they want others to experience this joy as well! Nothing prevents YOU from contributing money to make any other book easily available. But you don’t bother because those books have not transformed you.
  • "The Bible is required reading for Christians". The only agent that "requires " reading of the Bible is the Bible itself. Bible reading by Christians is completely voluntary.

The conclusion is inescapable – the Bible is the most loved book in the world because it is God’s word, doing what it claims to do: “converting the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, illuminating the eyes… profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – Psalm 19:7-8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17