I Think I May Be Coveting the Bible

18 04 2008

There’s a hilarious – and tragically realistic – episode of The Simpsons which shows how the erstwhile Reverend Lovejoy moves from being an idealistic young minister, to being a hackneyed, cynical clergyman. The reason for all of it is Ned Flanders. The excessive conscience of Flanders, with his incessant questions about his own moral behaviour, wears Lovejoy down. Eventually he suffers from complete emotional fatigue, and settles into a long ministry of not caring.

A classic question from Flanders, which I find funny every time I hear it is:
‘I…I think I may be coveting my own wife!’

At the risk of sounding a little Flanders-esque, I have my own conscience qualm which may be justified, or which may be just plain stupid. Is it possible to commit the sin of coveting with regard to the Bible? I’m not thinking here of bibliolatry – a charge which misinformed non-evangelicals routinely level at evangelicals. Instead I’m thinking about the Christian mass media, and the marketing which goes on for Bibles of varying stripes and shades.

You see, there appears to be a different kind of Bible appearing all the time. Devotees of the MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV are tempted to repurchase when it appears in the NASB. Owners of the Reformation Study Bible in the NKJV are urged to update their old edition to the ESV. Those who have discovered the joys of the NIV Study Bible are invited to move to a more literal translation, even if that entails the loss of the very beneficial notes found in that edition.

And then, when things seemed as bewildering as they could possibly get, along comes the ESV Study Bible. What should owners of multiple edition MacArthur Study Bibles, Reformation Study Bibles, and secretive hoarders of the NIV Study Bible do now? Should they augment their already bowing Bible shelf with yet another edition? Should they give away all of the Bibles they already own and make the ESV Study Bible their version of choice? What does this mean for those who mark their Bibles, or who like the feeling of a Bible getting loosened up and used?

What compounds my malaise is the sense that this is a specifically Western problem. We have brothers and sisters living in the world today who don’t own, and can’t obtain, a single copy of the Scriptures for themselves in their own language. I have posted before about church leaders who are forced to resort to extreme measures in an effort to get a single page of Scripture. There are tribes and peoples, and entire nations, who have not heard of Jesus and where the Gospel Word has not yet been translated into their indigenous language. I’m not engaging in the ‘if you don’t eat your dinner, poor people will starve’ logic which was rammed down the collective throat of my generation in childhood. Instead, I’m just trying to divorce my emotional response to good advertising and marketing from conscientious Christianity.

Advertising relies on covetousness. The whole purpose of banners, billboards, commercials and pop-ups is to make us feel that we are not complete in knowledge, well-being, or identity without a certain product. It is to be feared that this can be true with regard to the Scriptures.

To leave these meditations hanging in the air isn’t entirely fair either, though. Many people will buy the ESV Study Bible, not because it is faddish or well-advertised, but because it will ultimately be to their spiritual gain to own it. They have a desire and hunger to learn more of God in His Word, and purchasing the ESV will be a step forward in their discipleship, and may ultimately be used by God to send them out to reach the very people groups which I have already alluded to.

Perhaps a practical suggestion is in order, one which my best friend brought to my mind. When purchasing a new copy of the Scripture it would be a great idea to take a vow not to buy any other editions until the present Bible has been read right through. This could stand as a safeguard against Bible covetousness, and lead to genuine growth and discipleship.

I pray that the ESV Study Bible will be a rich source of blessing to all who purchase it. I know that it will have been produced in good conscience, and with a sincere desire to benefit the body of Christ. I don’t doubt the good will of those who have endorsed its contents, nor their integrity as Christian leaders. I’m not even necessarily ruling out that I may one day own a copy for myself. I just have a fear that’s all. Maybe it’s a Flanders fear, perhaps it is well founded, but it’s definitely worth thinking about before buying another Bible.

‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’ 1Timothy 6:6