Complete with the 27 finalized books of the New Testament and Jesus’ words etched in red, this Bible was delivered to the church and has been studied in perpetuity by Christians around the world.
The reality is we didn’t have the New Testament in its complete form until 367 a.d. when Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria listed all 27 books of the New Testament for the first time.
That’s three centuries. 334 years to be exact.
Comparatively, that’s like Jesus showing up in the Jamestown colony when it had only 75 people in it, teaching, dying, raising from the dead, and then the Bible coming together in its final form this Thursday right before we head out to Applebees for lunch.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be a Christian without a Bible:
- 100 years after Jesus left it appears that some churches had copies of the collected letters of Paul and a gospel or two, but that’s it.
- Many had collections with books of debated authenticity that were later ferreted out.
- No-one had a final New Testament like we have today.
- Whatever copies existed remained in the possession of the local church leadership.
- No-one, it appears, owned their own copy of the Bible for personal “Bible study” unless they were wealthy enough to pay the substantial cost to have it transcribed (see Luke 1:3-4).
Besides, with the high rate of illiteracy among the social groups represented among the rank and file of second and third century churches, having a personal copy of the Bible would have been useless anyway. Most Christians wouldn’t have been able to read it.
I bring all this up to make one simple point: the modern-day church places a ridiculous amount of emphasis on studying the Bible.
It’s obvious, from historical observation alone, that one can be a sold-out, fully devout, willing to die a martyr’s death follower of Jesus and spend next to no time practicing the spiritual discipline of Bible study.
Do we think it’s any coincidence that the period of the church’s greatest growth and expansion (33 – mid 300’s ad) occurred during the time when there wasn’t (1) a Bible in every Christian’s hand and (2) an obsessive preoccupation with Christians clustering to study it word by word, line by line, and page by page?
Most Christians today assume that to be a Christian means to have a personal relationship with the Bible instead of the risen Jesus.
To be consumed with it.
To obsess over its details.
To memorize curiously meaningless trivia about it.
To study its root words and the historical data underpinning every sentence, every chapter and every book.
But what if we’re totally missing the point?
What if one of the reasons we’re so spiritually dead and the church is abysmally failing at its mission is not because we study the Bible too little, but too much?
Instead of being out and about extending the works of the kingdom, Christians are wasting precious time excessively “studying the Bible” in groups and feeling quite content that if they’re practicing the “spiritual disciplines” at home that they’ve done their duty and can call it a day.
Who gives a crap if I never open my mouth and share my faith today? Or forgive those who mess me over? Or share my money with those in need? Or my house with the homeless?
All is good.
I read my Bible today.
What do you think? Do I have a point? Missing the point?