Presidents, monarchs and judges place their hands on it when they swear into office. Witnesses in trials place one hand on it while they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Many brides carry it at their weddings.
It sits unobtrusively in desk and dresser drawers of many hotels and motels. Most residences have at least one, and often it occupies a place of honor on the mantel, coffee table or nightstand, where it gives the impression of being read daily.
If it were listed by booksellers, it would perpetually make the best-seller lists, with millions of copies sold and given away year after year. It has been translated into more than 2,000 languages and dialects.
This book is, of course, the Bible.
But, popular though it is, how many people ever take the time to read it?
Last year a survey by the Barna Research Group, a research firm specializing in religious issues, found that only one in three Americans read the Bible regularly or could name the writers of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Not even half of those surveyed could name even five of the Ten Commandments. Most indicated they find the Bible irrelevant.
Although Bible sales in recent years have surged among some publishers, and dozens of varying versions and translations line the shelves of religious and secular bookstores alike, surveys like this show that relatively few take the time to actually read the Scriptures. Even fewer understand them.
What a remarkable turnaround from earlier generations!
Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, said of the Scriptures: "Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face. The Bible can touch hearts, order minds, and refresh souls."
Only a generation ago Dwight D. Eisenhower, president from 1953 to 1961, extolled the Scriptures with these words: "The Bible is endorsed by the ages. Our civilization is built upon its words. In no other Book is there such a collection of inspired wisdom, fealty and hope."
The legendary Winston Churchill firmly believed in the accuracy and integrity of the Bible. "We reject with scorn all these learned and labored myths that Moses was but a legendary figure," the British statesman wrote. "We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally."
Many other great leaders have likewise believed in and tried to order their lives according to the Bible's instructions.
Queen Victoria, who ruled Great Britain at the height of its power, exclaimed, "That book [the Bible] accounts for the supremacy of England!"
Abraham Lincoln, who led the United States through the Civil War as its 16th president, perhaps summed it up best when he said: "I believe that the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man."
George Washington, Revolutionary War commander and first president of the United States, said: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."
Substance or show?
What about you? How much attention do you pay to the Bible?
Of the world's six billion inhabitants, about a third claim to be followers of the Bible. But how many follow Jesus Christ's advice to read that Book? (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31; Mark 2:25; 12:10, 26; Luke 6:3).
Notice God's view of those who outwardly adhere to His words but neglect to live by them: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).
God is neither impressed nor pleased with empty outward appearances of religion. He is pleased, though, with those who deeply respect His Word: "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2, NIV).
The choice is up to you
How does God view our choice of whether to live by His Word or not?
When He revealed His instructions to ancient Israel, formerly a slave people in Egypt, He wanted the Israelites to serve as a model nation to the other peoples around them. Through His servant Moses God told them: "See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' What other nation is so great as to have ... such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?" (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, NIV).
God intends that His way of life be a shining example. When we live by them, His laws are a model of wisdom and understanding to those around us. Christ Himself made it clear that we are to live not only by physical food "but by every word of God" (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
But it is up to us whether we will take the initiative to study and live by those words. When God revealed His instruction to the Israelites, He set before them a choice: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you ...
"But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, ... I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; ... I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:15-19).
In other words, God promises great blessings for those willing to study His Word and put it into practice. Failing to live by it will bring its own punishments in the sorrow and suffering that inevitably follow breaking God's laws.
More reasons to read the Book
Besides these reasons straight from our Creator, there are many other reasons we should read the Book:
- It is the basis for Western civilization and Jewish and Christian culture and society.
- It is a unique historical document spanning some 4,000 years of history.
- It is a remarkable literary work, studied in thousands of college and university classes for its value as literature alone.
- It offers straightforward, practical advice on every aspect of life.
- It is a consistent best-seller year after year.
The early-American patriot Patrick Henry, famous for his stirring cry of "Give me liberty or give me death!," said that the Bible "is worth all other books which have ever been printed."
Where to begin
If by now you see the value in discovering the treasures of the Bible for yourself, you may wonder where to begin. The answer is to begin at the beginning, with the first chapter of Genesis.
Some Bibles contain only what is called the New Testament, plus perhaps Psalms and Proverbs. By omitting the Old Testament, such Bibles leave out about three quarters of the material God inspired to be written and preserved through the ages for us.
Be sure you have a Bible that contains both the Old and New Testaments. After all, the Old Testament writings were the "Holy Scriptures" to which the apostle Paul referred when he wrote to Timothy: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is 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" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The writers of the New Testament understood the Hebrew Scriptures to be inspired by God. They included about 300 quotations from the Old Testament in their writings as well as hundreds of allusions to it.
Read and learn
If you spend only 10 to 15 minutes a day reading the Bible, you can complete it in about a year. Initially you need not be so concerned with studying the Bible or solving problems as much as simply reading through it. At other times you can sit down with The Good News, some of our booklets or our Bible Study Lessons and study the Scriptures in much greater depth as you examine various topics.
As you read you'll discover many fascinating stories involving history, romance, danger, violence, intrigue and even prophecy. You'll quickly encounter men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Miriam, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter and Paul-along with the biographies and teachings of Jesus Christ. Their stories were written down as examples for us, preserved so we could learn from their many and varied experiences (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6-11).
The Bible explains things as they really are-the good, the bad and the ugly. It presents a clear picture of human failings and gives the solutions.
If some passages are unclear, you may want to compare one or more Bible versions to clear things up. Used-book stores are a good place to find inexpensive Bible translations. (To understand the differences in approach among various translations, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet How to Understand the Bible.)
Try to read with an open mind and fresh approach, as though you were reading every scripture for the first time. You'll be surprised what you'll discover. Some scriptures, for example, may directly contradict what you always believed the Bible said. Be sure to rely on what the Bible says, not what someone says it says.
Questions may come to mind as you read along. Jot them down before you forget. Feel free to write us with any questions you may have. In many cases your question will be covered in detail in one of our booklets or an earlier Good News article. Or you may find the answer later as you continue to read the Scriptures.
First things first
If you apply its words, reading the Bible can be the most rewarding thing you ever do. Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president from 1913 to 1921, compared his success to the application of God's Word. "There are a good many problems before the American people today, and before me as President, but I expect to find the solution of those problems just in the proportion that I am faithful in the study of the Word of God." No doubt much of the success of the American experience can be attributed to its leaders' familiarity with God's Word.
By studying the Bible you'll gain wonderful insights into your relationships with family, friends and others. You'll far better understand why our world is in the condition it's in. You'll come to understand yourself far better than you ever did.
The Bible records a lasting compliment to citizens of Berea who, on hearing the apostle Paul's teaching, "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). They wanted to be sure that what they were learning was really what the Scriptures said. They set a commendable example for us.
How about you? Where do you fit in? Do you search the Scriptures to discover whether the words written there are true? If you do, you can share the joy of discovery experienced by the writer of Psalm 119, who praised God and His eternal Word:
"Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies ... I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (verses 97-103).