I would boldly assert that the Bible is the most widely translated, published, and printed book in the history of mankind. I also freely admit that actual publishing/printing statistics for a book like the Bible are very difficult to establish.
Other religious or ideological texts, ancient and modern, also no doubt share a top billing for popularity, the Qur’an, the Gita, the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, as well as The Communist Manifesto and Quotations of Chairman Mao. (Remember how large the modern Chinese language publishing market is!) Check out Wikipedia’s international list of top selling books: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books.
Having said this, I would remind you that the Bible used to be the most read book in the Western “Christian” world.
Sadly, not any more.
Bible literacy has fallen to an all time low. Most people in our culture do not recognize references to the Bible. (“He couldn’t decide what to do, so he put out a fleece in the following way…”—recognize that reference?)
Today the Bible, for its ubiquity, is probably the least read book. In fact, many people today complain that they do not read books at all or that they never finish books they read! (There are, of course, people who do still read either widely or deeply and perhaps both.) This is particularly ironic considering that with the internet, written texts are far more available than they have ever been, and often for free!
So here is the irony: We live in a relatively literate world with abundant information all around us, and at least some of that information is in all probability helpful to us, maybe extremely helpful to us, and most of us do not access or make use of that information at all!
The Bible is the heart and core of our Christian Faith. Period. If we claim to be Christians, then, to be consistent and avoid hypocrisy and to follow the practices of many, many generations of Christians, is it not in our best interest spiritually and intellectually to actually read the Bible?
I often instruct people to begin doing this by simply reading the daily Gospel lectionary, a short passage each day. But, you might say, I don’t have time. Even for a short passage each day? A few minutes? Nonsense. You are not serious.
If you ever hope to accomplish anything in life, if anything is important to you, you have to make time for it. But, you might object, I don’t understand the Bible! In fact, you have to learn to read the Bible.
A couple of years ago I taught a course at this Parish called “How to Read the Bible.” It was 12 weeks long, and it was only a basic introduction. The Bible, or “Holy Scripture,” is a rather extensive library of books composed over the course of about 1,500 years in three languages.
The Bible is long, over 2,200 pages in my New Revised Standard Version New Oxford Annotated Bible, the Bible I read the most. Study editions like this are longer because of the introductions and notes, but those notes are really helpful.
The Bible represents a number of different types or genres of writing: history and law, prophecy, poetry, biography, letters, aphorisms, etc. The Bible represents at least two ancient traditional cultures. The Bible presents a pre-modern, pre-scientific worldview. The Bible is both simple and complex. Scholars dedicate their entire lives to biblical studies! It is, over all, a story about God and His interaction with human beings. It has a beginning, and it develops over time, and it also has an end. And you will never understand this amazing story unless you begin to try.
Here is a challenge as we approach the end of this year: Daily spiritual work is absolutely essential for us as Christians, and reading the Bible is an important part of that. If you are reading the Bible on a regular systematic basis, then great. I know some of you do that. If you are not reading Holy Scripture now, try just reading the daily Gospel lectionary. These readings are listed on our parish calendar that you receive each year, or you can access the readings via our Archdiocesan website or even have them emailed to you (www.goarch.org.) If you do this in combination with what you hear or read in Church on Sundays, you will, in the course of one year, read through nearly the entire four Gospels! How about that? On top of that accomplishment, what you read will challenge you, comfort you, disturb you, and generally function to change your life! Open your heart and let God speak to you through His Holy Word.