Bible Matters

by Joseph Bentz

Kenneth Briggs, author of The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America (Eerdmans, 2016), told The Colorado Spring Gazette in 2016 that “people aren’t reading [the Bible] very much, and it just doesn’t show up in . . . public discourse.” The public education system devalues biblical literacy, and many churches downplay Scripture because their congregations are unfamiliar with the Bible.

And yet, as a literature professor and Honors College faculty fellow at APU, I see the influence of the Bible every day in the texts I teach, from Dante to Hemingway and everything in between. It may not be surprising to see the Bible in the great works of literature and philosophy, but it also continues to have a grip on popular culture, including film, music, art, law, and social media. It profoundly influences even those who have never read it.

Take Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. This story, which takes up only six verses of the Bible (and never uses the term “Good Samaritan”) is so popular that people have named countless hospitals, ministries, clinics, churches, and educational institutions “Good Samaritan” to connect their mission to that selfless person. Governments have enacted Good Samaritan laws to protect those who act courageously to help others. Throughout the centuries, artists have depicted him and songwriters have celebrated him.

And how about Jesus’ prodigal son parable? Like the Good Samaritan, the “prodigal son” (another term that doesn’t appear in the Bible) is one of the most famous fictional characters in history. People can relate to the prodigal son concept, the rebel who comes home needing love and forgiveness. Rembrandt, among many other famous artists, painted his version, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which inspired a book of the same name, by renowned Christian writer Henri Nouwen. This concept also shows up in sports stories, films and novels (A River Runs Through It, Legends of the Fall, Iron Man), songs, and a ballet (Le Fils prodigue).

Other passages are equally famous. John 3:16 has influenced everything from football games to WWE wrestling. The Last Supper has been celebrated across the world and even on the moon. The Lord’s Prayer has been prayed perhaps more than any other in history. “Judge not” is a New Testament phrase that has been endlessly debated, and Romans 8 and Acts 2 have inspired billions.

For every trend that shows the Bible’s influence declining, another shows its reach increasing. The YouVersion Bible app has been downloaded by more than a quarter of a billion people worldwide, according to the Association for Christian Retail. One study showed that in 2016, users read and listened to more than 13 billion chapters; created more than a billion highlights, bookmarks, and notes; and shared verses a record 230 million times. Wycliffe Bible Translators USA reports that 5.8 billion people now have access to all or some of the Bible translated in their first language.

I hope my new book, 12 New Testament Passages that Changed the World (The Foundry Publishing, 2019), will bring renewed appreciation for the power of the Word of God. I am grateful to teach at a university that not only reveres the Bible, but also leads students into careful study of it.

Joseph Bentz, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of English and the Honors College.