Ignorance of the Bible: It Doesn't Take Long

Harry Osborne


WHILE ON A MEETING IN Akron, Ohio a few years ago, I had time to go into West Virginia one morning. Lewis Willis offered to show me the home of Alexander Campbell. I had studied about Campbell in Restoration History in college. We took off from Akron early on a Wednesday morning and arrived in Bethany, West Virginia by mid-morning. We went to see the Campbell home and his study where he stood at a desk from 4:30 a.m. until his classes with young preachers started a little later in the morning. We went to Bethany college which Campbell founded in 1840. The college, now run by the Disciples of Christ, was started for the purpose of teaching the Bible. Among its early faculty were men whose written works on Bible subjects are still considered classics.

In Search of James

Needing to find a book for some writing I had undertaken on the book of James, Lewis and I went to the library of the college. As I came into the library, I was shocked to see a rather revealing portrait of a woman without much clothing hanging in the entry staircase. That should have given me a clue about what was coming. After walking quickly past the staircase, I found the card catalog a confusing mess and the computer files even more confusing. With no other choice, I decided to ask for help.

Upon arrival at the librarian's counter, I explained that I was looking for a "Bible commentary on the book of James." Since she looked puzzled at the term "Bible commentary," I further explained that it was a book which discussed the meaning of a particular book of the Bible in a verse-to-verse style. It was obvious that she still had no clue about my inquiry.

After some further discussion, I asked to be pointed towards the section of the library that contained books dealing with the Bible. She rubbed her forehead and said, "I am not at all certain where that might be found." Then she added, "However, this is a far more interesting request than that to which I am accustomed from the students. Come with me and we will find out." The woman was articulate and very well educated, judging from her speech. As we walked to another part of the building, she also proved to be very friendly.

Upon arrival in another section of the library, we resumed the hunt. She picked up a large book and asked, "You say this 'commentary' is a book about one of the books of the Bible?"

"Yes," I replied.

"And what was the name of that book of the Bible?"

"The book of James," I answered.

She looked up with questioning eyes and asked, "Is that a non-canonical book?"

"No," I replied, "it is a canonical book." Now I knew we were in deep trouble if she did not even know that James was a part of the accepted books of the Bible.

"It must be an Old Testament book," she said.

"No ma'am, it is a New Testament book," I responded. "It is the book after Hebrews and before First Peter," I added hoping to jog her memory. However, one cannot jog a memory never implanted. She remained without a clue.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got to the section of the library dealing with the Bible. Upon arrival, she beamed with a sense of accomplishment and said, "I don't believe I have never had reason to be in this section before."

What Happened in 150 years ?

I could not help but think of the change a century of time had wrought. About 150 years before, men whose focus in life was on the word of God began that library. Now, its caretaker feels comfortable sitting across from an indecent portrait and does not even know what books are in the Bible, much less what they say. It is a sad commentary on what has happened in between. Campbell and his fellow faculty members began the downward spiral that has come to this point. Campbell was the chief architect of the American Christian Missionary Society which destroyed congregational autonomy and brought local churches under a denominational arrangement of church government. Some of the other faculty members of Bethany college helped introduce instruments of music into the worship in churches of Christ. Such innovations were not authorized in God's word, but were of human invention. When human invention was allowed to replace Bible instruction in one area, it set the pattern for such in every area. In that climate, ignorance of Scripture abounds.

God said of Israel, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you. Because you have forgotten the law of your God. I also will forget your children. The more they increase, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame" (Hosea 4:6-7). Could any words better describe our society's condition or the end of any digression away from truth?

Jesus noted the same thing about the people in His time. They had violated God's law and sinned against Him. Why? Jesus said, "You do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matt 22:29). One cannot obey that which he does not know. When one does not know God's commands, he will always err from the truth.

In an age that rejects Bibles in schools, but demands the theory of evolution to be taught, can we honestly say that things are better than that which Jesus described? When Bible principles regarding morality are denied a place in discussing current policy, should we be surprised when young people are totally ignorant of such principles? When a person quoting the Bible is always scorned on television, do we expect knowledge of the Bible to increase? No, ignorance of God's word will continue to grow worse.

While the ignorance of Scripture in our society is troubling, it is absolutely alarming to see a growing ignorance of Scripture among God's people in many places. While the New Testament demands diligence in study and use of God's word, it is obvious that many have not made it a daily part of their life (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14, etc.). Some brethren have even justified the ignorance of some doctrinal truths saying that they "lack clarity" despite the command of Scripture that we can and must understand the doctrine revealed therein (Eph 5:17; 2 Peter 1:3).

When those who should uphold a clear standard of truth instead aid confusion, ignorance of Scripture is the result. At Bethany College, a growing number of "Doctors of Divinity" proclaimed a growing number of "gray areas" and a shrinking number of sure truths. They were unsure of the truth about creation. When the beginning of revelation was opened to re-interpretation, changes soon followed in scriptural worship and church organization. Then came the call for a broader fellowship of saints. Do we see any similar problems today?

A failure to know God's will as it has been revealed has always brought the ignorant to destruction. This is true with nations (Prov 14:34). It is true with families (Psa 127:1). It is true with eternal consequences for the individual (Acts 17:30,31). If we are to avoid such destruction and be received by God, we must study and learn our Bible. If we are to help others, we must both learn and teach the Scriptures. Human philosophy, innovation, and "feel good" preaching will not meet their true needs. Preach the word. (2 Tim 4:1-5).


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