Back to the Bible

Published November 1, 2012

“The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”
“We account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authen
ticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.”

The above remarks were penned by a) an evangelist, b) a professor of divinity or c) the leader of an online Bible study group.

I expect you’ll say “none of the above,” and you are right, of course. The first remark comes from the 18th-century German metaphysician and philosopher, Immanuel Kant; the second from the English 17th-century scientist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton.

But today, despite its profound spiritual, ethical, artistic and cultural relevance, the Bible seems to have fallen out of favour with Christians as an object of study. Back in the late-1960s, I spent a year as the fledgling Classics mistress at a large Anglican girls’ school, teaching Grades 10 to 12. The vast majority of students came from Christian families, attended chapel every morning and studied scripture, too (mainly New Testament).

Even back then, I was struck by how much more the girls knew about the culture and stories of classical antiquity than the Bible, particularly the books of the Old Testament. After their ninth-grade English-lit module in Greek mythology and their beginners’ study of Latin poets such as Virgil and Ovid, they knew all about the rod of Mercury, but not the rod of Aaron. They were very familiar with the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, far less so with the tale of Joseph and the coat of many colours. They could recount in detail the legend of Icarus’s fatal flight toward the fiery sun but had never heard of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s deliverance from Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. The only Old Testament story they really knew was that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden-and that had all the elements you’d expect to pique the interest of romance-reading teenage girls: seduction, rebellion and gender politics in a tropical paradise.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. All I can say is that if those students went on to study English literature at university, many references in the writings of Milton, Bunyan, Spenser, Dryden and Donne-to name a few-would have been lost on them. And I can’t think of a better basic model for good English writing style than the majestic simplicity of the King James Bible.

Where the girls of that school stand today in their knowledge of the Bible is anyone’s guess, but I’m glad that innovators in the Anglican Church of Canada have now developed a new Sunday school curriculum to help today’s children explore the New Testament. (See The Compendium of the Church Mice, p. 7.) I only hope that similar educational efforts will soon help kids and adults alike explore the many-layered tapestries of the holy book from Genesis onward. Its poetry and philosophy, its laws and morality, its reason and revelation, its visceral tales of human transgression and divine forgiveness. Whatever your religious identity, in the West, these 66 books are woven into the very heart of the civilization you inhabit.

Diana Swift is an interim staff writer at the Anglican Journal and a contributing editor to the Report on Education.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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