How Much Does A Bible Really Cost?


Johannes Wiclef by Johann Simon Negges, 18th century

You can buy a copy of the Bible at Walmart for $6. Pay a little more and several other versions or formats are available there.

The Bible Societies in Canada and the United States go Walmart one better. They distribute hundreds of thousands of free Bibles every year in places where people yearn for the Sacred Scriptures. The Gideons also offer Bibles free for the asking.

Whether purchased or received as a gift, to add up all the monetary expenses involved in producing a Bible is one way to determine its cost. That gives one a dollar figure.

Perhaps a more meaningful way to think about “cost” is to trace the personal sacrifice some of the Lord’s special servants throughout the centuries have made to make the Bible available to ordinary people like you and me.

Let’s start with Jesus’ Apostles — fishermen, tax collectors, zealots — all common men who responded without reservation to Jesus’ call to follow him as teacher and Lord.

They walked with him for three years, witnessed his miracles, heard his matchless parables, let him down seriously a time or two, and ended up believing from their hearts that, as their leader, he was the Son of God; he spoke the words of eternal life.

After his death they witnessed his resurrection and shared in his living presence for forty days. Two of them, Matthew and John, later took great pains to set down in writing what they had seen, heard, and come to believe about him. But the truth they believed put the rest of their lives at risk.

Ten of the original twelve suffered a martyr’s death. They would rather die than renounce their faith in their Lord. This apostolic faithfulness and consequent suffering must be factored into the hidden cost of the Bibles we own today.

After many generations of expansion, the developing church entered into a period often referred to as the dark ages – roughly 500 AD to 1500 AD. During that period church authorities determined that the Bible should be kept out of the hands of the laity and be reserved only for the eyes of the clergy. The laity, they said, could not be trusted to read and understand it correctly.

Into that atmosphere toward the end of the 14th century came a number of men — highly educated and devout Oxford scholars — who did not share such distrust of the laity. Led by the Holy Spirit they preached the Gospel and developed portions of the Bible in printed form. Foremost among these men was John Wycliffe.

With the aid of scholars around him, Wycliffe produced the first Bible in the English language. For doing so he suffered resistance and scorn. The reproach he bore must be added to the real cost of the Bible we read daily.

More than 100 years later, in the fifteenth century William Tyndale came on the scene at a time when the common man’s yearning to have in hand a copy of the Bible had grown even stronger. Pressures against distribution of the Bible increased as laws were passed forbidding private ownership.

William Tyndale, an Englishman, had to work in disguise on the continent of Europe to translate and print the results of his work. He had Bibles printed and shipped to England in bales of hay or loads of corn. The excellent translation produced as a result of his work was to some degree reflected in the King James Version.

But his identity was uncovered in Holland, and in a public execution he was strangled and his body burned at the stake. At tremendous cost, he too contributed to the placing of the Bible in the hands of the common English man or woman.

What causes this book to weather such storms and continue to hold a solid place in the minds and hearts of Christians around the world? It has the marks of sacrifice on it, and the glow of divine truth on its pages, illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

It is good for us from time to time to review these facts as we sit in the comforts of our home or dorm room, Bible in lap. The cost of that Bible when properly reckoned would be beyond anything we could pay. In those moments, we read from a priceless treasure.

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Let Us Give Thanks for the Book

2296855678_f348e0d954_zAmerican Thanksgiving Day is celebrated this week. Everywhere, let us pray that all expressions of thanksgiving, whether by reflection, conversation or prayers of gratitude, will prompt abundant thanks for “the most influential book ever published” — the Bible.

But if this book is “most influential” why in Protestant ranks on this continent do surveys routinely pinpoint so much biblical illiteracy, especially among the young even in the churches?

Potential reasons come to mind: the constant lure of electronic entertainment, engagement steeped in social media, on-demand TV and movies; the push for multiculturalism in the schools; and a decline in Bible-reading by the family.

Above all other causes, could it be that we have lost sight of what a treasure this most influential book is and how crucial its truth is to our joy in this life and our security in the life to come?

This “most influential book ever published” is rightly considered to be one book, but with a special feature: it has 66 clear divisions. It is really an anthology, a collection written by as many as 40 authors covering a span of 1500 years. Few of the authors knew one another and they wrote in different locations, often separated by time and distance.

Paul the Apostle wrote his letter to the church at Philippi from about 1000 miles away by sea, confined as he was in the Mamertine prison in Rome; Ezekiel wrote from beside the River Chebar in Babylon, 900 travel miles east of Jerusalem; the Apostle John wrote while confined on the Isle of Patmos 35 miles offshore from modern Turkey, then known as Asia Minor.

Yet all the writings had to do with the same God, Jehovah, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Precisely how all parts of the book were brought together is in some cases a mystery. For example, who gathered the 150 psalms in the psalter from many different periods and from diverse places, to form the hymnbook for the reconstructed temple? We can speculate the great scribe Ezra did, but that is only speculation.

The Old Testament (the first 39 books of the Bible) was assembled for the Jews as the canon (the measuring rod for authority) during the second century B.C. It was a library divinely inspired. It is known the extant letters the Apostle Paul had written to many churches were collected for their abiding worth from wherever they could be found about 90 A.D, almost a generation after his death.

Late in the fourth century, the books of the Bible as we have them today were recognized as authoritative for the church. However, it was not the church’s recognition that gave them authority. Their authority had been given by God and was acknowledged in this way by the church. The writings had been self-authenticating from the start.

Thus, St. Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the Gospel: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Also, St. Peter, wrote to believers who were suffering persecution for their faith: “Above all you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).

We give profound thanks for this Book!

Dear Heavenly Father: We are blessed that you should put this most precious book into our possession. Forgive us for treating it superficially. During this special season of thanksgiving may its influence be greatly increased in our lives, especially producing the fruit of holiness. And if in our troubled times it should become dangerous to honor it, give us the courage to do so bravely. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

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One Thing Fathers Must Not Do

3551019373_135ae07155_mIn Ephesus, a pagan seaport city on the western edge off what today is Turkey, attitudes toward children could be harsh and even brutal. That’s why it is noteworthy that Paul gives the following simple instructions to Christian fathers new to the faith living there: “Don’t anger your children.”

The New International Version translates it, “Don’t exasperate your children;” and The Message paraphrases it, “… don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.”

In all three treatments of the text it is evident that the Apostle is not so much counselling fathers to control their own anger as to be mindful of how their way of relating is affecting their children emotionally. They are to relate to them in such a way as to avoid creating unrelieved exasperation.

We can amplify this advice as follows: don’t ignore them when they need you or brush them off when they ask for attention; don’t reply at full volume when they need controversial questions addressed gently. Even when they are in trouble with the family over failed expectations, wait to talk to them about it until you can do it without rage because rage often begets rage and alienation.

Above all, even when disciplining them, treat them with the dignity God has endowed them with.

I recall spending time with a young man who suffered from an acute sense of alienation from his father. There was no active rebellion involved as yet, but he presented his situation with deep feeling. He sometimes sat rubbing his knuckles when he talked to me. He came for several visits, and each time uttered one sentence several times, his chin quivering with emotion: “I want my father; I need my father; I can’t have my father.”

The issue was not abuse or physical abandonment on the father’s part; it seemed emotional distance from his son was causing the son deep distress. I never met the father but got the impression that some important ingredient was missing from his emotional connection with his son.

On another occasion, a respectful young man in his senior teens said in exasperation and with tears in his eyes, “I wish my Dad would talk to me.” The family would pass general public inspection with good grades, but the father lacked the skill of interacting emotionally with the son on his level and this was proving costly. It was causing a breach of the Apostles instruction, “Don’t exasperate your children.”

Consider three reasons why the Apostle’s terse advice to Christian fathers is so important. First, the Christian family works best when reciprocity between father and children is practiced. “We are all members of one body.” This instruction to the church can be appropriated by the family, too (Ephesians 4:25). In fact, the Christian family should be marked by mutuality of respect because of the reconciling power of the Gospel.

Second, Paul’s advice speaks to the father’s need to manage male aggressions well. These are a gift from God. They can have an appropriate place in the everyday world and may be particularly important when father is called upon to protect the family from external threats, whether physical or emotional. And particularly when children are teenagers, the same male forcefulness is occasionally needed to maintain the order of the family.

Third, a father’s attention to how he is affecting his children contributes a gentle strength and a sense of order to the family that give evidence that the Gospel makes life radically better.

(Adapted from my book, God’s House Rules)

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Re-post: The Little White Church on Third Street

(Note: This is not the actual church!)

The congregation that gathered in the little white church on Third Street in Estevan in the 1930s loved to sing. My mother had a rich contralto voice and my father a pleasant, light tenor. Elsewhere in the congregation one could pick up additional voices, sopranos carrying the tune and two or three men booming out the bass.

At one period in my childhood, once a year our minister exchanged pulpits with the Baptist preacher in town. I remember his saying to our congregation that he loved to preach at the Free Methodist church just so he could hear the people sing.

From 1910 forward there was the little black hymn book without musical notes. Later during my childhood a book with notes was added called the Worship In Song – a good collection of gospel songs. The hymn book was used for morning worship and the gospel song book was for less formal Sunday evening services.

Much simpler choruses were reserved for Sunday School. Their lyrics were generally not as good as today’s more Bible-based words, although some of the earlier choruses have been shown to have staying power. There was “Deep and Wide,” and “Wide, Wide as the Ocean” which many can still hum.

Then there was the more novel action chorus: “Dig them up, get them gone/ all the little rabbits in the fields of corn;/ envy, jealousy, malice, pride,/ and all the other sins that in my heart abide.”

There was neither organ nor piano, even though Ruth Holmgren was an excellent pianist and had her piano teacher’s certificate, from the Toronto Conservatory. There were no guitars or brass instruments or drum sets. No choirs. No public address system or microphones. Our singing was a cappella, and it was always hearty.

The absence of what was sometimes referred to humorously as “the wooden brother” (the piano), and choirs, traced back to historical realities at the time the Free Methodist Church came into being as a denomination at the mid-1800s. Choirs, the leaders saw, had become centers of pride, conflict, and formality in the mother body. The founding fathers said the new body would do better without such distractions in worship. That may have been extreme but necessary at the time.

The minister simply announced a hymn, someone “raised the tune” and the congregation was off, singing their hearts out to the glory of God. This congregation of the Prairies was made up of business people, housewives, auto mechanics, and farmers. One member, Pete Holmgren, was the mayor of Estevan for a period. His son, Cliff, was the volunteer driver of the larger of two fire trucks.

If there was “special music” a quartet might go forward, stand behind the pulpit, hum a note and sing. On occasion there was a second or even third start because the pitch wasn’t right or the lead singer had momentarily strayed from the tune, but the false start, except for a moment’s embarrassment, did not seem to be a lasting concern for anyone. And those numbers were usually excellent. It was all a part of the emphasis on simplicity in worship.

It was in this environment that I developed a strong sense of pitch and learned early to sing all four parts by reading the notes in the Worship In Song. I can still close my eyes, and hear my home congregation singing with verve in all parts that more complex gospel song, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” How the men loved to boom out the moving line in the chorus!

On a few occasions, my younger sister, Eunice, and I were put forward to sing together, usually in Sunday School. I was about eight and she five. She had a sweet, true soprano voice and I could sing an alto by ear. This was unusual enough that the congregation approved heartily. At that time, there were no commercial cassettes or CDs or DVDs to be measured against, and no high-fidelity public address systems to enhance the sound. We were appreciated as home grown talent.

The lack of musical instruments in the little white church on Third Street seemed only to enhance love for music. I grew up with a passion to become a gospel singer as a vocation (later revised to becoming a minister with musical ministries on the side). And my sister became a piano teacher and mothered a musically well-trained family of four.

I cherish this simple but earnest heritage. At the same time, I can see that it would not meet my current needs or those of my extended family. That heritage was for those times, those people, and that place. Life moves on and so does church culture.

I only pray that whatever the future changes in public worship, one thing will not be lost: the keen and uncomplicated sense I absorbed on the prairies of Saskatchewan, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As I see it, that’s what every aspect of public worship should be about – from the opening greetings to the offertory to the number before the sermon and the closing prayer.

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The Holy Spirit Untangles Our Prayers

3407518201_7b7eedd96a_mLast week, I wrote to counter the notion, apparently prevalent in evangelical circles, that the Holy Spirit is a mere impersonal “force”. I attempted to show from Scripture that he is a person, the third person of the Godhead, who lives in and among us to guide, correct, and comfort.

This week, I write about the remarkable way the Holy Spirit — God forever with us — helps believers in their weakness. Who of us doesn’t need such help?

According to Christian understanding, as a result of the Fall, although the universe has all the marks of being God’s creation, nevertheless a tragic disorder runs through it. Every aspect of human existence is marked by a taint that can only be treated as an invasive evil that resists what is good.

Even though as believers we are already redeemed and made heirs of salvation, we recognize within ourselves weaknesses of body, mind and spirit and those weaknesses may at times cause confusion in our prayers. They may even limit our prayers so that, to quote the Apostle, “we do not know what we ought to pray for.” Our innate God-sense is dampened.

But the Holy Spirit comes to our aid in this very sphere. In his letter to the Roman church, St. Paul writes, “ … the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he [that is, God the Father] who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26,27).

So God is mindful of these weaknesses, compassionate toward us, and by his Holy Spirit helps us overcome them. The personal presence of the Spirit who is in all true believers takes over our times of anguish and perplexity and, in a profound way, makes our groans and sighs his own. Again Paul assures, “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Said another way, the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — unscrambles our sometimes confused prayers and presents them to the Father coherently. The Father in turn knows our hearts because he is “the searcher of hearts” and “he knows the mind of the Spirit”.

Our prayers, now reordered and made clear by the Holy Spirit, can be answered appropriately because they are offered “in accordance with God’s will”.

The Holy Spirit’s personal attention as he enters our lives in such deep intercessory ways may surprise us. But when seen from the perspective of a loving Heavenly Father, we understand that we are loved with a love as deep as Mount Calvary — and as unfathomable. God is for us.

Ponder the ends to which the Father goes to assure his followers of a safe journey through this life to the next. Because we believe that Jesus Christ gave his life to redeem us, within our own beings we are given assurance of forgiveness and salvation.

As well, the Holy Spirit who bears witness to our salvation dwells in us. He counsels us consistent with the Christian Scriptures and, as the continuing source of our new redeemed life, makes intercessions for us in our moments of weakness.

Thanks be to God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

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Are Evangelicals Losing An Orthodox Understanding of the Holy Spirit?

Holy SpiritImagine a typical American evangelical congregation of 200. How many of the 200 do you guess would say the Holy Spirit is accurately characterized as a “force?”

“Force” as a noun in this case would mean an influence or movement of raw power without personal attributes like will or intelligence or wisdom — as in Star Wars with its greeting, “May the force be with you.”

Living Research, a careful Southern Baptist organization put the question about the Holy Spirit as a force to 3000 believers. Sixty-four percent responded they would “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that the word “force” adequately substituted for the Holy Spirit.

Apply that percentage to the above imaginary evangelical congregation of 200 and 64 percent or 128 members would be in some measure accepting of “force” as an adequate synonym for the Holy Spirit.

Would their response be in keeping with the best reading of the Christian Scriptures? And how would it fit with the convictions of the Christian church across the centuries?

In his letters, the Apostle Paul makes reference to the Holy Spirit by name at least 163 times. One might find among those numerous references a verse here or there where the meaning of “Holy Spirit” might be attributed to a mere impersonal “force.”

For example, Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “My message and my preaching were … with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). One could argue in this case it is not necessary to consider the Holy Spirit as manifesting the attributes of personhood.

But when one weighs that reference, and a scant number like it, against all the references in Paul’s letters, the Holy Spirit has the attributes of a person. “Force” as an alternate title falls far short of New Testament truth.

The great majority of other references to the Holy Spirit show him as the personal agent of God most closely involved in human life on behalf of the godhead. A particularly rich source of understanding of the Holy Spirit is found in the account of the early church, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In that book, the Holy Spirit is described unmistakably as a person. Recall that Simon Peter charged Ananias with lying to the Holy Spirit and thus to God (Acts 5:4). One cannot lie to a force, or an inanimate object, or even an animal, but one can lie to a person.

Later in this book, while the church at Antioch was worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to the believers, instructing them to launch the first missionary journey (Acts 13:2). In doing so they believed they were responding to the prompting of an unseen presence — the Holy Spirit of God.

At the close of the first church council in Jerusalem, after long discussion and weighing of issues, the leaders of the church wrote their conclusions to be shared among the churches in the following words, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us … (Acts 15:28).

They gave the Holy Spirit priority! And they believed they had discerned and shared his wisdom as a personal, leading presence.

Among Free Methodism’s three articles of religion on the Holy Spirit we find affirmations like this: “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, he is one with them, the eternal Godhead, equal in deity, majesty and power.”

Historic Christianity has long held that the Holy Spirit is the third “person” of the Trinity, and the executive of the godhead in carrying out the will of God in the church, while at the same time bringing conviction of sin in the world.

When we look at the almost immeasurable dissimilarity between his scripturally-described nature as the “Holy Spirit,” and the term, “force”, we feel a great perplexity that 64 percent of a representative group of evangelicals could settle in some measure with the latter.

The fathers of the church throughout history would call it heresy.

How much more appealing for awakened and instructed believers to live with the confidence that we are indwelt by the ever-present God in the person of his Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit is God’s way of living among his people to teach, direct, comfort, and keep them accountable.

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Grammatical Slips and Rebekah’s Language Breakthrough

7956999330_b790e43033_mA piece in the Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2015) raises the question again: is human language a richly endowed gift, one of humanity’s most elevated, and to be used with care and respect? Or is it only a rough tool to be used well enough merely to “get the job done”?

According to WSJ, the dating site, Match, asked more than 5000 singles in the US what criteria they trusted most when deciding whether to go forward and date persons first contacted by means of the internet.

Eighty-eight per cent of women and 75% of men in the responses received said they cared most about the careful use of words. What the singles saw written on the computer screen shaped their opinions to a degree before any meeting took place.

What bothered both men and women had to do with such details as carelessness in the misspelling of common words, the misuse of semicolons, lack of proper capitalization, etc. They were just grammatical errors but errors that colored expectations unfavorably.

In the minds of the singles these careless slips by the unseen respondents lowered their grades although, for reasons of courtesy, the receivers would never disclose this mark-down.

Personally, I see language as a gift from God so my vote is on the side of care and accuracy — though I sometimes slip in spite of my best efforts. Nevertheless, as I see it, the gift of good speech is to be honored.

Amazingly, the workings of this great gift manifest themselves very early in life. I confess it’s fun as a great grandparent to listen to the oncoming generation’s earliest efforts to communicate using this rapidly unfolding gift.

When our great granddaughter, Rebekah, was three, she was in the early stages of mastering by trial and error the basics of the English language. Whatever she mastered she applied to new and untried situations.

For example, already at three years of age she had apparently discovered the prefix, “un”. She grasped, for example, that when you get up in the morning you dress, but when you go to bed at night you un-dress. Doors that are locked may be un-locked, and shoes that are tied must be un-tied.

Once, while carrying her own food tray across the dining hall at a summer camp she suddenly signalled for her grandmother’s help. She said, “I want you to hold my tray so I can un-itch my nose”. A few moments later she needed help again to un-itch her arm.

Although such irregular use was novel, when uttered experimentally by a three-year-old it was fresh and wonderful to the ears of a grandmother, and later when I heard of it, wonderful to my ears too. It was language in progress. I thought it deserved three cheers.

Three short years earlier, as a helpless infant she had only been able to communicate by crying, burbling or smiling. Now she was handily on her way to the day when she will make the subtlest thoughts clear by delivering them in words with prefixes and suffixes of all kinds.

Rebekah’s growing mastery of language is obviously grounded in an innate gift. She doesn’t know yet that it is a gift implanted in her by God — one aspect of his beautiful gift of humanness. But she will know soon.

Even so, I shudder to think that some day, under the wrong influences, her language may become strewn with the clutter of meaningless verbiage. Like, will she, like, lace her sentences, like, with the muddle of verbal redundancy? If so, this may limit her in many ways, as the research done by “Match” showed.

But, on second thought I believe her parents will make sure she understands that such misuse will always be un-seemly and thus un-acceptable.

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