Christians are book people. Many of us have heard the claim before and it makes a certain sense. Christians worship a speaking God–an authoring God who reveals himself in the script of history as well as in the scriptures. That being the case, they ought to care about the written word. Now, being an avid reader myself, I’m inclined to agree. Still, we might wonder at times if the claim’s been exaggerated, especially given the fact that a vast portion of Christians throughout history have been illiterate. Apparently not. According to Robin Lane Fox we’ve been book people from the beginning:
…from a very early date there were Christians able to communicate with the literary culture of their age. As a “religion of the book,” Christianity had a particular relationship with texts. In Rome, several paintings in the burial chambers of the catacombs show Christian arriving at the Last Judgement clutching their books. When the governor of Africa asked a group of Christian prisoners what they had brought with them to court, they replied, “Texts of Paul, a just man.” One of the fundamental contrasts between pagan cult and Christianity was this passage from an oral culture of myth and conjecture to one based firmly on written texts. In the first communities, there had already been a significant break with contemporary habits of reading: Christians used the codex, or book, for their biblical texts, whereas pagans still vastly preferred the roll. The Christian codex was made of papyrus, not parchment. It was more compact and better suited to people on the move, and it was an easier form in which to refer to and fro between texts. This Christian revolution lies at the beginnings of the history of the modern book; for scriptural texts, on present evidence, it seems to have been universal…Gradually, this concern for the book extended to pagan culture too.
—Pagans and Christians, pg. 304-305
A few take-aways from early Christian history:
- We are book people. I mean, not to be a hipster about it, but we were reading books before everybody else got into them.
- Building a personal library is the Christian thing to do. I do not have a book problem. 😉
- Apparently the NRA stole “..from my cold, dead hands.”
- On a more serious note, the early Christians knew where their strength and hope was: the word of God. When facing the judgment of men, or of God, they clung to the promise of the Gospel in the scriptures. May we do the same.
Soli Deo Gloria