Major Priorities In Eradicating Bible Poverty

As we enter into discussion about the Scriptures and their place in mission, there are at least three major questions to ponder.

  1. Why are people’s lives not transformed as we might expect where Scriptures are available? 
  2. Why do one billion people or more not have Scriptures in the language that best serves them? 
  3. Why are the Scriptures that are available so often limited only to those that can read? 

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that the purpose of the Scriptures is to make us wise about the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to equip us for every good work as God’s people (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Therefore, the Scriptures are essential to sharing the good news found in Jesus Christ as well as to Christ-like transformation among his followers. 

Timothy was fortunate when he was young. The Scriptures were available in his community in a form and language they could use and understand. Paul mentions that Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had “sincere faith”, and that same faith lived on in Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul also mentions that it was “from infancy” that Timothy had “known the holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15). These three had come to faith in Jesus Christ. They had also engaged with the Scriptures. This led them to live with “sincere faith” in a society and culture that was not always friendly and accepting of their faith. They were being transformed as followers of Jesus Christ in a challenging context.

We know many people have been changed by the power of God’s word, the Scriptures. We ourselves have experienced that power in our lives. The Scriptures teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). However, as we look around us we see people who are not changed as they should be by the power of the Scriptures. We also know that in our own lives in not always easy to engage with the Scriptures and abide in them so they change the areas of our lives that need changing.

In these cases where the people are not impacted by the Scriptures or where the Scriptures are not available to them, we can speak of “Bible poverty”. When we refer to “Bible poverty” we are thinking of any context or setting that blocks or hinders people from having access to the Scriptures in a language they understand well and engaging with them in ways that transform their lives. Within these contexts or settings we can find various “barriers” that block or hinder the power of the Scriptures to make a difference in people’s lives.

So let’s return to our three questions above and ask what some of the more important “barriers” might be in each of these cases. In this blog we will consider the first question. In later blogs we will consider the other two. 

  1. Why are people’s lives not transformed as we might expect where Scriptures are available? 

Some of the related questions include:  Why do millions of Christians around the world neglect the Scriptures that are available to them? Why do people claim to be followers of Jesus but do not live according to the Scriptures? Why are there are so many who claim to be Christians and yet live no differently than those in the society around them? Their lives are not different, and they make no difference in their societies that honors God.

This question or set of questions is not specific to any particular location in the world. This question can be asked in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific Islands. A Nigerian pastor who has planted hundreds of churches asks:  Why do people in the newly planted churches not demonstrate changed lives in their society? Why does corruption and tribalism continue as if nothing has changed in their lives? Pastors in the United States ask a similar question: Why are followers of Jesus no different than the people in the society who do not follow Jesus? Why are our divorce rates and other behavioral issues the same as those in the larger society?

An amazing fact is that around five billion people speak languages in which the entire Bible has been translated. The Scriptures are available to these people in the language they understand well. Most Christians in the world today speak one of these languages. So the major barrier is not the lack of translated Scriptures. 

Some of the barriers that block or hinder people from being transformed by the Scriptures include the fact that they do not value God’s word above other things. They are distracted by the attractions of the consumer culture, even by other priorities, or even by other gods. They are seeking their own pleasure or their own security or their own significance. They are not enamored with the glory of God, in his greatness and grace. They do not find their security and significance in the God for their daily lives.

For others the stories and people mentioned in the Bible sound foreign. They are culturally distant from their local context. They struggle to apply the spiritual truths that are played out in the stories to the realities of their lives. In other cases, pastors are unable to show their congregations how to “live” in the Scriptures because they do not do it themselves. No doubt there are many barriers but the ultimate effect is that people are not dwelling in the very presence God with his word.  

The challenge we face is that we do not take the Scriptures seriously. We can be more impressed by our own words and thoughts, especially as preachers or evangelists. Many times we do not even know what the Scriptures say. We are not immersed in them. Do we have a sense of God’s glory, or his greatness, or his presence in our lives? Do we live lives dedicated to him, or are we more dedicated to our traditions and the values of our society? Do we solve the problems we have with other people in God’s ways or in the ways of our society? Do we seek to listen to God’s voice and to stay in his presence to hear it more clearly? Do we not see God’s beauty and goodness and grace around us? If we did, would we not transcend the values of our society and live life as though we were citizens of God’s kingdom, surrounded by the spiritual blessings that Christ has poured out in our lives (Ephesians 1:3-10)?

Question: Why do you think people and societies that have the complete Bible in their language are not transformed as we would hope and expect? 

May God direct our deliberations!