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Bible Literacy

The Bible begins with the account of God creating the world, but there is something those first few verses in Genesis do not state.

Many of you that may be reading this today perhaps believe as I do that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. But wherever you may stand on the spectrum from devoted to disinterested, you should be able to acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without equal in the history of the world and in particular the history of this country. If you do not know of these things then for the next few minutes that you spend in reading this and the companion pieces to follow, you will be receiving a condensed version of it.

In an article for the Weekly Standard, David Gelernter noted some of the following items: “Historian Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch had said that the King James Bible, ‘influenced our literature more deeply than any other book–more deeply even than all the writings of Shakespeare–far more deeply…’ Abraham Lincoln offered a vision for the country following the civil war as stated in his second inaugural address–‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…’ Lincoln also called the Bible ‘The best gift God has given to man.’ ‘But for it we could not know right from wrong.’

“Ronald Reagan, paraphrasing Christ, once called America ‘a great shining city on a hill,’ and that was three-and-a-half centuries after John Winthrop (sailing for Boston in 1630) anticipated a new community that would be ‘as a City upon a Hill’(invoking Matthew 5:14), ‘You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.’ The King James Bible has been called ‘the noblest monument of English prose;’ and it has also been called ‘probably the greatest prose work in any language.’”

I have a question for you: What do you suppose was the foundation of the education of all of those quoted above and the greater part of all of our ancestors?

Most of these mentioned were each one seriously educated in the scriptures of the King James Bible. This is not to say they got it right or kept up with it, but without the fundamental right to hold it in their hand and to read it at all they surely would not have gotten as far as they did.

To continue with Mr. Gelernter’s thoughts: “Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation’s Founders so sure they were doing something unique and ‘right?’ What made them believe that they were starting something unlike anything ever done previously in the establishment of this government and this country?

“America has been and yet is the most powerful nation on earth, the most powerful in all history–and it is a model the whole world chooses either to fight against or to imitate, whether or not they may openly say so.

“What drove the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers? What made them so certain of what they believed? What made John Adams say, in 1765, ‘I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence?’ What made Abraham Lincoln call America ‘the last, best hope of earth’?”

Many things made all these Americans sure, even though to some extent they were truly all guessing and hoping. Yet they were deeply driven by a unified vision of a single goal. And there were uncounted thousands here and in Europe who did get it right, because they were straightly schooled in it and took it forward to its rightful end. So many got it right that by the census of 1900 an estimated two and one half million people out of a country of just slightly more than 40 million were worshipping in churches following that original pattern found in God’s word closely, much as it had been laid down by Christ and the apostles. There was one thing above all that made them what they were. They had been schooled in the scriptures and had studied the Bible in homes across this land and some through institutions principally founded upon its worth. And they believed they should have the right to worship God and to read his word .without hindrance.

“Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and many others found a destiny in the Bible and made it their own.” Now it was not perhaps the destiny that God’s book seeks for men, but turning in any form to God’s word is certainly a better start here than turning away. And without these and their nurturing and use of the scriptures and the intent of those who founded this country in making a place where the Bible could be read and practiced, likely none of us could have ever come into a place of worship in the manner in which we do so today.

“They read about God’s chosen people and many believed that they were in fact God’s chosen people, or–as Lincoln rightly put it–God’s “almost chosen people.” The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and should be.” And even when they got the intent or particulars wrong they still wanted it to be openly read and followed.

It was this type of attitude that was at work in the founding of this country, and it was this attitude that provided the opportunities that still abound – to gain the wisdom and knowledge of God word. “Therefore, I can say without hesitation that unless we read the Bible, American history is a sealed book.” And that unless we read the Bible we cannot grasp the importance that has been given freely to us in the granting that we have access as no others have had to the detail and importance of the word of God.

Evidently young Americans do not know very much about the Bible. Gelernter continues, “It is clear that any school that teaches about America should teach something about the Bible. But a greater problem is that the adults and parents who are given charge over the development of the minds of children don’t know much about the Bible either. Further, they have allowed and left off the teaching of the fundamentals of the founding of this great and unique land.” And if the blind should lead the blind then both shall fall into the ditch.