The Single Greatest Influence of Our Time, of All Time

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Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – April 2017

By Pastor Lloyd Pulley

“We will NOT be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

On August 28, 1963, standing before an audience of 250,000 with millions more watching on television, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered these words during his immortalized “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  

Those in attendance may have recognized King’s words as a direct quote from the biblical book of Amos (chapter five, verse 24).  As a pastor and a preacher, Dr. King frequently quoted the Bible and relied on it for direction as he led the Civil Rights Movement.  In fact, a visit to King’s childhood home in the Auburn District of Atlanta, GA tells the tale of a young man who grew up steeped in the Scriptures, and how Biblical principles shaped his views of justice and equality.

Dr. King was not the only great leader in history to look to the Bible for direction.  The Bible has influenced kings, presidents, revolutionaries, and statesmen.  In fact, President Teddy Roosevelt once exclaimed, “No other book of any kind ever written in English has ever so affected the whole life of a people.”

The Bible’s impact does not end with politics.  The Scriptures have inspired poets like Emily Dickinson, novelists like Charles Dickens, painters like Leonardo DaVinci, sculptors like Michaelangelo, and composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, to name just a few.  

The Bible has even changed how we speak.  Some of the most common idioms in the English language come from the Bible.  Linguist David Crystal details 257 idioms that find their roots in the Bible, twice the number introduced by Shakespeare.  Some of these idioms include:

  • Salt of the earth (from Matthew 5:13)
  • God forbid (from Romans 3:4)
  • Out of the mouth of babes (Psalm 8:2)
  • My brother’s keeper (from Genesis 4:9)
  • Gave up the ghost (from Genesis 35:29)

The impact of the Bible on Western language, culture, politics, and thought is irrefutable.  Yet sadly, Biblical literacy is at an all time low.  According to the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.  Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put it this way, “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Such biblical illiteracy is an educational dilemma, affecting students’ abilities to fully grasp various literary references, cultural milieus, and even the foundations of American government and politics.

Each year, I challenge our congregation to read through the Bible from cover to cover.  In particular, this year we have embarked on an incredible journey known as the One Year Bible Challenge.  The program, created by The Bible Project, includes daily Bible readings and incredibly helpful videos explaining the books and themes of the Bible (ccob.org/biblechallenge2017).

In the few months since we began this Bible Challenge, something incredible has happened, even among non-Christians who have joined us in the journey.  Readers are closely examining their attitudes, their relationships, and especially their preconceived notions about God and the Bible.  One participant puts it this way, “I have been challenged on how much I let fear and worry dictate my life.  The Bible is full of accounts of REAL people, facing REAL problems, and overcoming fear with REAL faith.”

Even secular writers agree with the importance of getting back to Biblical literacy.  Former Harvard Professor and literary critic Northrop Frye said, “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.” Especially at this time of year when we look forward to Good Friday and Easter, with the respective messages of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this nation needs to get back to the Bible, whether we believe in its author or not.

An old legend tells the story of a selfish, short-sighted king who had every single songbird in his kingdom killed, simply because he did not want the birds to eat the cherries on his cherry trees.  In no time at all, insects, with no birds to eat them, overran the orchards, eliminating the very same fruit he was trying to protect.  Could it be, that in our effort to be politically correct and to separate religious thought from the public domain, we have eliminated the Bible’s song – and vitality – from our very culture?

Aaron Salvato