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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Who actually reads this stuff anyway?

This morning my inbox had a message from a Swedish-language prayer list. It wasn't very uplighting because it confirmed something I've believed for some time. The headline was depressing "Sex av tio tycker inte om att läsa Bibeln" (literally Six out of ten do not think to read the Bible). Okay so I guess this would be true for those outside of the church or those of other faiths but the really depressing thing is that the newspaper article this message repeated is reporting on church people. You can read the article for yourself here.

The Swedes have three Bible versions to choose from. A 1917 highly formal version after the style of the English KJV, an equivalent of the Living Bible paraphrase and a new translation Bibeln 2000, which came out in time for the Millennium. Now I happen to like the Bibeln 2000 translation. More idiomatic than the 1917 version and closer to the Swedish I learnt. That there's nearly 90 years between them says a whole lot for that 1917 edition though. I also happen to like other projects that the Swedish Bible Society are undertaking. But it seems that Swedish church-goers are not reading the text for themselves.

With friends in Sweden I would love to move there from Britain if only my work wasn't with users of a minority language indigenous to Great Britain. Such a move would not really alter the situation there or here. Occasional postings to the Bible Translation email list have reported similar statistics gathered by Gallup for the US. Bible readership is in decline. The situation in Great Britain probably is the same. Except that unlike the Swedes we in the US and UK have a plethora of translations to look at.

As I write two things went through my mind. One is some verses from the book of the prophet Isaiah 29:11,12:
To you all these visions will be like words in a book that is closed and sealed. You give this book to someone who can read, saying, "Please read this." He answers, "I can't read it. It's sealed." Then you give the book to someone who can't read, saying, "Please read this." He answers, "I can't read." [God's Word translation]
Just so happens that I recently started reading J Alec Motyer's commentary on Isaiah and he says of these two verses:
The double illustration covers those who can but cannot be bothered and those who cannot and do not care. Basic to both is a spirit of unconcern. The one will not exert himself to break the seal and read, nor does the other urge him to do so.
My second thought was a line from a song by my fellow English man Matt Redman "Lord send revival; start with me."

Does this news report mean I'm going to give up wanting Better Bibles? No way. What it does do is to make me even more passionate that the Bibles people have in their hands are the best we can produce. And also to continue reading the Bible myself and simultaneously get out there and urge other people to read the text for themselves.

Let us hope and pray that Isaiah's follow-on words (vv13,14) are not true of this generation.
The Lord says, "These people worship me with their mouths and honor me with their lips. But their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is based on rules made by humans. That is why I am going to do something completely amazing for these people once again. The wisdom of their wise people will disappear. The intelligence of their intelligent people will be hidden." [God's Word translation]


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