Forerunner, January 1994

Imagine the reaction in the household of an average Christian family if a friend were to burst in exclaiming, "I found a Bible! I found a Bible!" They would likely view him as somewhat peculiar or somehow disturbed. "I've got a whole bookshelf full of Bibles! So what, if you've found one?" would not be a surprising response.

Today, this retort would indeed be true: Most church families do have multiple copies of the Holy Scriptures. I have several different copies at home, plus one in my desk drawer at the office and one in the glove compartment of my car. Interlinears, paraphrases, annotated, amplified, and study Bibles, leather bound, hard bound, paperback, large print, red letter, wide margin, and many other renderings of the Bible abound. In such an environment, it is hard to appreciate the excitement described in the opening sentence.

Yet, in another time, just such a scene did arouse a great deal of excitement (II Kings 22:3-20). Of course, conditions were much different then. The average household did not have even partial copies of the existing Scriptures. Before the invention of the printing press, any written material was laboriously hand scribed. Even their handwriting implements were crude by today's standards, making writing doubly difficult.

Thus, when Shaphan, secretary to King Josiah, brought the newly discovered "book of the law" before his master, it elicited truly great exhilaration. King Josiah, proclaiming news of the discovery to all of Judah, was moved to repentance and rejoicing. It seems that even the royal line of David forgot God's commandment that each king "is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law. . . . It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life" (Deuteronomy 17:18-19, NIV).

Is it not strange that we, on the threshold of the twenty-first century, should have such ready access to the written Word of God, when our ancestors seem to have been denied this blessing?

From our modern American perspective, it can be truly difficult to conceive of anyone risking his life to possess even a portion of a book that is now so commonplace. Bible study today is easily supplanted by other "important" activities—sports, movies, shopping or just lying around. Yet it is historical fact that in other times and places, the mere possession of a Bible incurred great risk; people were severely persecuted—even to death—if caught with one.

Especially in the present day United States, we might do well to ask ourselves periodically, "What is this Bible worth to me? How much would I be willing to pay for one?" These are particularly meaningful questions since we seem so intent on measuring the worth of things in terms of a dollar value. In this regard, the following hypothetical analysis may be helpful in adjusting our perspective.

A Very Valuable Book

Suppose, instead of going to the local Bible book store and purchasing a complete Bible from a broad selection of mass-produced editions ranging in price from $5 or $6 up to, perhaps, $100, we had to go to a copyist who would hand write our Bible for us. What could we expect?

First, we would have almost a year to wait before the job was completed; it took a skilled and rapid writer about ten months to produce a copy of the Holy Scriptures (Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, 1968, Lesson 52, p.3). Nor would we get our Bible for $100 or less! Let's do a few calculations to estimate what the price tag might read.

Assuming—in today's terms—a five day work week at eight hours per day, ten months of labor equal sixteen hundred hours. If the writer were paid at the rate of $4.75 per hour, approximately minimum wage, his salary for this period would be $7,600. A very dear price for a book!

But the story does not end there; we said it took a skilled writer. Such a person would not be laboring for minimum wage. Rather he would be earning perhaps $15 to $20 per hour or more. If we assume a rate of $15 per hour instead of minimum wage, the price tag now becomes $24,000!

Another parameter has yet to be factored into the equation, that of burdened labor. For those unfamiliar with the concept, consider the situation in which you have had your car to the garage for servicing. Your bill would likely include an item entitled "labor." Even though the skilled mechanic who did the work was paid in the neighborhood of $12 per hour, you, the customer, were probably charged from $50 to $75 per hour, approximately four to five times the mechanic's salary!

The reason for the disparity is that the costs of doing business, employee insurance, facility rental, lights, heat, employee paid holidays, etc.—in general, costs associated with having and supporting the employee—must be considered, else the business suffers loss. "Burdening" the Bible copyist's salary now puts the price at $96,000 or more, a staggering amount! How many would, or could, pay this much? Is it worth that much to us?

Access Means Responsibility

True, the cost scenario and the calculations above are hypothetical and based on certain assumptions, and maybe even some flight of fancy. Nevertheless, they do dramatically illustrate the fact that today we enjoy a special privilege that is unique in history. Even as recent as a hundred years ago, though the printing process was reasonably mature, books, like the Bible, were neither so readily available nor so inexpensive as now. Why should we at this time be so blessed? Is the Creator trying to tell us something special?

We could ask many questions, perhaps without obtaining satisfactory answers. However, some things are sure. The real value of the Bible lies not in the time or skill required for a person to put it on paper; this is the very Word of God, of value beyond any calculation irrespective of human hypothesizing or assuming!

Also sure is the fact that with blessing comes responsibility. The ready access to the Word of God makes obvious our responsibility. From him to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).