IT is subversive literature. It has led to the overthrow of
govern-ments,sparked mass migrations across oceans, and more than
once has changed the course of history.Governments -- from the
16th-century English monarchy to theCommunist Soviet Union -- have
gone to great lengths to restrict or even prevent its printing and
distribution. Yet it has always outlasted its enemies.It is the
most popular book ever printed. No other has been translated into
so many languages and few have had such impact on the development
of those languages.It is the Bible -- the scriptures of the
Christian religion, comprising the Hebrew writings known as the Old
Testament, which recount the creation ofthe universe and the
history of the people of Israel up to the Greek and Roman
conquests, and the Greek-language New Testament, which tells the
story of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians believe is the Messiah,
and of the early Christian church.
This report is a review of the Bible's role in society, both
historically and today. It explores the development of the English
Bible, looks at the importance to scholars of original copies of
Bible versions, and reviews Bible translations available today.
Articles also examine the meaning of the Bible for the great
Protestant reformers, the role of scripture in Islam, Hinduism, and
Buddhism, and a recent excavation of a Philistine city in modern
Israel. The report concludes with a look at two individuals who
tell why the Bible is important in their daily lives.
Interest in the Bible today remains strong. Worldwide, the
member organizations of the United Bible Societies distributed
639,249,849 Bibles and Scriptural selections in 1990. Bible society
distribution accounts for most of the Scriptures available in the
third world. The figure does not include the millions of Bibles
sold by other religious and commercial publishers, especially in
Europe and English-speaking countries.
Eugene Habecker, president of the American Bible Society, says
Bible distribution figures "have been holding steady ... and
showing some increases."
"Worldwide, our biggest increases have been in Eastern and
Central Europe, and in the Asia-Pacific area," Dr. Habecker says.
Distribution in Africa and the Americas is holding steady, he says.
There are about 5,000 languages spoken in the world; the Bible
or portions of it have been translated into 1,946 of them. This
includes 318 languages in which the complete Bible is available,
726 in which the New Testament can be read, and 902 in which some
portion of the Bible has been translated.
"I know of no other book that even comes close to those
numbers," Habecker says.
The collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe has led
to a hunger for the Bible that "has been described by many people
as without precedent," says the ABS president. In China, he notes,
the Amity Press has just printed its 3 millionth copy of the Bible
in Chinese. "We anticipate that Cuba will be one of the very strong
fields of interest in the Bible in the decade of the '90s as that
country reassesses its future."
In the United States, interest in the Bible is on the rise after
falling off in the 1960s, Habecker says. During his recent
cross-country media tour, "the vast majority of the contacts were
all secular," he says. "If the response on the part of the secular
media to this subject is any indication, there is growing and very
active interest in the Bible from the secular marketplace."
Habecker also points to a 1990 Gallup poll, "The Role of the
Bible in American Society," which compares responses of those
interviewed with responses obtained in a similar poll in 1978:
*Asked if they view the Bible as "God's Word," 42 percent of
respondents answered yes in 1990 compared with 38 percent in 1978. …