How important is the Bible? A snippet from my reply to Niels Peter Lemche

From my longer reply to Niels Peter Lemche, due out tomorrow in Bible and Interpretation. Biblical scholars like to claim that the Bible is vitally important in the modern world, Lemche included, which of course inflates their own importance. I have been guilty of the same, especially when pitching for some cash. Not quite as important as we like to think, it seems:

Let me offer a few sobering statistics from a country close in demographics to Denmark (where Lemche teaches), namely, the Netherlands. If the Bible is read at all, it is by a highly educated, Protestant minority. (By contrast, if the poor read any scripture, it is the Qur’an.) Both possession and use of the Bible continue to decline sharply in what has been termed “Bible fatigue.” A paltry 13 percent of the Dutch population read the Bible on a regular basis. Further, 87 percent of those who do not read the Bible want to have nothing more to do with it. Of the dwindling group of those who read the Bible, only a quarter regard it as offering moral guidelines as to how one should live and act, and even fewer see it as a source of inspiration. And if we focus on that even smaller group of those who do seek inspiration, then they simply do not see the Bible’s central message as either world domination or transformation, a call to end inequality or poverty. Instead, they are interested in personal security, salvation, Jesus as the truth, Jesus as the light in the world, a handhold and a lesson for life.

Assuming we can extrapolate the Dutch results to Denmark, then Lemche is a scholar of a text that has appeal to a rapidly shrinking minority of wealthy Protestant individuals. Not quite the superstitious hordes rushing from the jungle to seize the world that Lemche imagines.


9 thoughts on “How important is the Bible? A snippet from my reply to Niels Peter Lemche

    1. The next part goes on to compare a place like China, where more than 110 million (mostly Reformed) Christians who are more than keen. That’s more than the total population of the largest country in Europe, Germany (80 m) and the whole of Scandinavia thrown in (25 m for 4 countries). Unfortunately for Lemche, they probably count as the monkey-like hordes who still dwell in the jungle of superstition.

      So … instead of looking for positions in western institutions with dwindling interest in the Bible, I keep mentioning places like China. But for some weird reason, people still keep giving me blank stares.

  1. Appreciated! Seeing as you’ve been on mine, it’s only fair. Also, did you get the email with the link to the “Is This Not the Carpenter?” volume over at Equinox?

  2. Well I doubt posting at will help advance the visibility of biblical studies (or calls for its demise)–site looks like a Geocities homepage circa 1999.

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