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What has been the influence on society by the Bible? (Part 1)

It is virtually impossible to fully reflect the influence that the Bible has had on so many nations around the world.   Many books could be written on this subject and still not exhaust the many ways that God’s Word has influenced so many people and nations over a long and sustained period of time.   However, in an increasingly secular and disbelieving world, its contents are ridiculed by many as being irrelevant and out-of-date, but how wrong are they who believe such things.   The Word of God has much to say to those who would mock and ridicule its relevance and veracity. We read in Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Because of the enormity of the subject and to help us achieve this in a relatively brief way, we will quote selectively from different sources to make the point that the Bible has impacted society enormously; much more than we may at first realise.

The Guinness Book of Records states as of June 2020, the following:

“Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion.

“By the end of 1995, combined global sales of Today’s English Version (Good News) New Testament and Bible (copyright for which is held by the Bible Societies) exceeded 17.75 million copies, and the whole Bible had been translated into 349 languages; 2,123 languages have at least one book of the Bible in that language.”

The influence of the Bible on society has been important throughout history. As the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “The existence of the Bible, as a book for people, is the greatest benefit that the human race has ever experienced.  Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”

On the website crossfire-it.info, we read the following:

“The Bible in English Culture”:

“A unifying factor

“The Bible has been a significant component of English life for many centuries, particularly since the publication of the Authorized Version of the Bible in 1611, with which every citizen was expected to be familiar. It has contributed to developments in civil life, the arts and science.

“Influence on the law

“The Bible features heavily in the architecture and decoration of the Houses of Parliament paying silent tribute to its significance in English jurisprudence. Many old parish churches still have copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls, underlining the importance of the Bible for providing the moral cohesion of society. Most British law is ultimately derived from the codes of law within the Bible, of which the Ten Commandments is pre-eminent. The equality of all people before the law is another of its legacies.

“Cultural influence

“The Bible has for centuries fired and filled the imaginations of artists of all genres. The great masters – the painters of the European Renaissance and those who followed them- frequently re-presented the great stories of the Bible, including the annunciation, birth, baptism, and temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, the Last Supper and the crucifixion, followed by scenes of his resurrection. Sculptors have portrayed its characters such as Michael Angelo’s David or Epstein’s Jacob.”

To clarify at this point, we are in no way endorsing depictions of Jesus Christ, as they violate God’s Second Commandment. We just quote these excerpts to show the influence the Bible has had even on artists, however inappropriate their depictions might have been. Continuing:

“Words and music

“The Bible is the main source of inspiration for some of Britain’s greatest works of literature such as Milton’s Paradise Lost or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The foundations of English theatre were laid by medieval plays based on biblical events. Frequently biblical teachings are the sub text of Shakespeare’s plays, which often refer to them. Even when authors may have been hardly conscious of the connections, the Bible’s phrases have enriched their language and its themes provided them with avenues of exploration.

“Many composers have produced major works exploring biblical accounts, such as Handel’s Elijah and The Messiah, or more recently Jesus Christ Superstar, GodSpell and Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat.”

Again, this is just quoted to show the impact the Bible has had on composers, without endorsing some of those pieces. Continuing:

“The Bible and science

 “Most people imagine that there is an inevitable conflict between Genesis and Darwin’s theory of evolution, but right from the start there have been ministers and biblical scholars who have supported his essential insights, and scientists who have challenged them, as continues today.

“More fundamentally, there is a strong case for claiming that it is the consistency and coherence of the biblical understanding of God, and the reliability of the universe which follows from this, which provided a substantial contribution to the development of the Enlightenment and the sciences which have flowed from it. From a philosophical standpoint these fundamental assumptions are a necessary foundation for science.”

There can be no doubt, however, that Darwinism and the teaching of the Bible are incompatible. Any attempt to reconcile the two is doomed to failure. Continuing:

“Wider social impact

 “The Bible has also contributed to the wider cultural and social context in the United Kingdom.  In short the social institutions and safeguards, as well as many of the benefits people take for granted, were supported by the understanding of human life which was found within the Bible. In this sense, the foundations of Britain’s culture and society can truly be said to be biblical.

“The Bible and the environment

 “Today, as people are facing ever more clearly the perceived threats of global warming (there are protagonists on both sides of this argument), the Bible, with its vision of man’s position within creation and responsibility under God to care properly for it, still has a major contribution to make to the future of all humankind.”

However, society in the 21st century has strayed so far from the ways of God that even the very basic understanding of biblical knowledge seems far beyond the man in the street.   We read the ideal in Joshua 8:35: “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.”

It is worth mentioning that a programme on BBC radio called “Desert Island Discs,” which was first broadcast on 29 January 1942, is still running today. The format is that each week a guest, called ‘a castaway’ during the programme, is invited to choose eight pieces of music, a book (in addition to the Bible – or a religious text appropriate to that person’s beliefs – and the Complete Works of Shakespeare) and a luxury item that they would take to an imaginary desert island, where they will be marooned indefinitely. In 1942, a copy of the Bible was considered a necessity, and even in 2020 where our society is much more secular now, the Bible is actually still on the list to be given out!

The following was taken from an article in the Washington Times on Thursday, December 11th 2014:

“Every year two million visitors file past the famed Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. As they look at the cracked bell, they read these words: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” The inscription comes from the Bible (Leviticus 25:10).

“When presidents of the United States raise their right hand to take the oath of office at their inauguration, they place their left hand on a copy of the Bible.

“When Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., and delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, he said, ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ Those words come directly from the Bible (Amos 5:24).

“Why does the Bible appear in these places? Because it is the central and foundational book of Western culture, including American culture. Everywhere we turn in the cultural past, we find the Bible. We cannot avoid it if we tried, and we will not understand our past without a knowledge of the Bible.

“George Lindbeck, former professor of theology at Yale University, once described the cultural position of the Bible in American culture this way: ‘Its stories, images, conceptual patterns, and turns of phrase permeated the culture from top to bottom. This was true even for illiterates and those who did not go to church, for knowledge of the Bible was transmitted not only directly by its reading, hearing, and ritual enactment, but also indirectly by an interwoven net of intellectual, literary, artistic, folkloric, and proverbial traditions. There was a time when every educated person, no matter how professedly unbelieving or secular, knew the actual text from Genesis to Revelation.’

“The evidences of this cultural influence permeated every sphere of life. Theodore Roosevelt correctly observed of the English Bible that ‘no other book of any kind ever written in English has ever so affected the whole life of a people.’

“When American pioneers rode westward with two books in their covered wagons, they signaled the foundational importance of those two books for the civilization that they hoped to preserve amid circumstances that threatened it. The two books were the King James Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare. Part of what was being preserved was a standard of excellence for the English language.

“Among the cultural influences of the Bible, none is more obvious than literature. English and American literature scarcely exist apart from the Bible. Titles of literary works can be regarded as the tip of the iceberg: The Power and the Glory. Measure for Measure. The Sun Also Rises. East of Eden. Absalom, Absalom. Evil under the Sun. Literary scholar T. R. Henn has written that the Bible ‘becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source.’

“An obvious conclusion to be drawn from the centrality of the Bible in literature is that the Bible should be part of every literature curriculum. In fact, Northrop Frye, the most influential literary scholar of the second half of the twentieth century, believed that the Bible should form the basis of literary education. He famously wrote that ‘the Bible should be taught so early and so thoroughly that it sinks straight to the bottom of the mind, where everything that comes along later can settle on it.’ Frye’s vision was never fully realized, but it remains a beacon toward which we can aspire.”

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)