National Bible Week and the Hymnal
National Bible Week in the United States is annually observed from Sunday to Sunday of Thanksgiving week. It has been so observed since 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national proclamation. In the sixty-six years since, every president has issued a national proclamation, as have many governors and mayors, with U.S. senators and representatives also reading celebratory speeches into the Congressional Record.
At the local level, there are banquets and speeches. The National Bible Association, which originated and continues to sponsor the event, holds an annual gala awards dinner in New York City, this year at the Essex House just off Central Park, with tickets at $350, and a 7:00 p.m. dinner preceded by a 6:00 p.m. cocktail reception. It has become as much a civil occasion as it is an observance in the church.
According to Wikipedia, the Bible continues to be the best-selling book of all time. It is estimated to have sold between five and six billion copies. By comparison, the second all-time best seller is Quotations from Chairman Mao, with 900 million copies; third is The Qur'an with 800 million copies. The Bible's perpetual bestseller status has caused it to be eliminated from weekly and periodic lists of bestsellers. One atheist website observes that of all the books regularly appearing on such lists, the Bible is the only one that isn't read.
The emphasis in the local church has always been to encourage reading and study of the Bible and learning of biblical history and content. Our United Methodist Hymnal has a section called "The Book of the Church: Holy Scripture," numbers 594-603. Here's what the hymnal has to say about the Bible:
- 594, "Come, Divine Interpreter": This Wesley hymn (text only) opens this section of the hymnal and asks God to give us eyes to read and ears to hear the "mystic words," so that we can understand and obey them, so that we will be blessed and reign triumphantly with God. It is available on the Discipleship Ministries website in a musical setting for singing.
- 595, "Whether the Word Be Preached or Read": This poem appeared with 253 texts in Wesley's 1783 Scriptural Hymns, a collection on the Old and New Testaments. It articulates Wesley's belief that following the words of Scripture is not enough -- it must be accompanied with faith and Spirit-led actions in order to lead to "eternal gain." The hymn is available on the Discipleship Ministries website in a musical setting for singing.
- 596, "Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word": The Bible replaces our lack of knowledge, sense, and sight with unclouded truth; and Jesus' spirit works "all good within us."
- 597, "For the Spirit of Truth": This African prayer asks for deliverance from not facing new truth, contentment with half-truth, and thinking we know all truth.
- 598, "O Word of God Incarnate": Scripture guides our way in every age and shows the way to Christ for the whole world.
- 599, "Break Thou the Bread of Life": Often confused as a Communion hymn, this text uses the image of the Bible as the "bread of life" to be opened (broken) as Christ broke loaves beside the sea; and as Jesus often blessed bread for physical nourishment, so do we ask him to bless the truth that we find in Scripture, also to our nourishment, to the end of bondage, and to our finding peace.
- 600, "Wonderful Words of Life": Scripture contains "wonderful words of life" to be sung again and again by the believer, offered in love to the sinner, offering pardon and peace to all.
- 601, "Thy Word Is a Lamp": Jesus and God's word show us the way to follow, relieving our fear, and offering a close presence till death.
- 602, "Concerning the Scriptures": This prayer from The Book of Common Prayer acknowledges that God has provided the Bible for our learning and attaining everlasting life in Jesus.
- 603, "Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire": This Wesley hymn is really an exposition on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Stanza two speaks of the Spirit's moving the prophets to write and speak; and it is the Spirit who enables human understanding of the divine truth of Scripture.
Other hymns in the hymnal have more to say about the Bible:
- 178, "Hope of the World": Using the image of no. 599, Scripture brings "to hungry souls the bread of life."
- 191, "Jesus Loves Me": The Bible assures us of Jesus' love for us.
- 649, "How Shall They Hear the Word of God": The Bible is the instrument for proclaiming God's truth, consolation, salvation, repentance, and peace.
Singing ABOUT Scripture, of course, is neither the same as nor a substitute for actually READING it. National Bible Week encourages us to do both.
(For children, see the musical setting of all 66 names of the "Books of the Bible"on the Discipleship Ministries website. )