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A Workingman’s Bible

by Darren Johnson

On my office desk sits the world’s most valuable Bible. It’s a family heirloom once owned by my grandfather, Luther “Doc” Johnson. And to me it’s priceless.

More than once I’ve thought about having it placed behind protective glass like some rare artifact on display at the Smithsonian. But that’s not how my grandfather would have handled it. A carpenter by trade, he treated that Bible as though it were a pair of beige coveralls or a trusty lunchbox. This was a workingman’s Bible. Tucked between its yellowed pages are several church bulletins, a Word and Work Quarterly, an insurance bill, and a through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plan which he had nearly finished when he died on Thanksgiving Day 1992. Judging from the checked-off boxes, he hadn’t missed a single day.

My grandfather wasn’t what you would call a biblical scholar. He didn’t boast a Ph. D. in religious studies, although his friends all called him “Doc.” Yet each day without fail he immersed himself in the pages of Scripture. It was the staple of his Christian diet, the spiritual equivalent of rice and gravy (or “meat and potatoes” for those of you in and around Louisville). From the looks of this raggedy old Bible, I’d say he devoured it. Every ripped page and dog-eared corner represented the bite mark of a hungry soul.

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On my desk sits another Bible. It’s brand-new, never opened, with that fresh from the publishing house smell. Its prospective owner, a newly baptized Christian, hasn’t returned to pick it up. I’m hopeful that it will find a good home. But some Bibles never do.

In the church’s library is a shelf full of baptismal Bibles that weren’t so fortunate, abandoned like orphans on our doorstep. We know who the owners are; their names are lovingly inscribed on the dedication page. I can only hope that their names are written elsewhere.

Most of these Bibles are in pristine condition. They show no visible signs of wear, no teeth marks on the covers. Some of them might fetch a decent price on Ebay. But I’d rather give them away to folks who are starving for words of life (John 6:68) —folks like my grandfather, willing to toil for their daily bread.

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Someone once said, “A Bible that is falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn’t.” It’s true—spiritually speaking, of course. Reflecting on the hardships of the mission field, the apostle Paul declares, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). From all outward appearances, the aging apostle was falling apart at the seams, like a tattered leather Bible held together by duct tape and dental floss. But you can’t judge a book, or a believer, by its cover.

Earlier in that same passage, Paul compares himself to a fragile jar of clay that houses a luminous treasure—the gospel of Jesus Christ! Filled with God’s personal, living Word, the aging apostle sees his life’s story in a new light. He recognizes that the scars of his ministry are actually windows into the good news, the cracks and fissures through which the light of Christ escapes its confines of clay (2 Corinthians 4:1-12). Cracked vessels and worn-out Bibles go hand in hand.

Imagine being able to hold the very Bible that the apostle Paul toted around on his journeys. Every gash and blemish would tell a story about God’s sufficient grace: “See that blood stain on the opening stanza of Psalm 1? That’s from the beating I took in Lystra. And the water-damaged section of Leviticus? That’s from my most recent shipwreck.” No doubt, it was a workingman’s Bible (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15).

Granted, Paul didn’t possess a “Bible” as we know it today. What he called biblia (or books) were actually scrolls made out of animal hides or pressed papyrus (the ancient ancestor of “paper”). He refers to these scrolls in 2 Timothy, his last “will and testament” before suffering a martyr’s death. Writing from some dank corner of the Mamertine Prison, Paul asks Timothy, his true protégé in the faith, to stop by Troas on the way to Rome and pick up “my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).

Let that sink in for just a moment. Paul’s dying wish is for Timothy to bring along his favorite copies of the Jewish Scriptures, the scrolls and parchments that have nourished his relationship with God and sustained him through three decades of service. Most death-row inmates order up a final meal, but Paul hungers for more of God’s truth.

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I’m still not sure what to do with my grandfather’s beat-up Bible. It’s so fragile, I shudder to think what might happen should my two-year-old twin daughters get their sticky paws (or teeth) on it. But Bibles aren’t meant for gauzy display cases or lost-and-found shelves in church libraries. They’re meant to be internalized, devoured, eaten (Ezekiel 3:1). In the words of another carpenter, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Come to think of it, maybe my girls should get their hands and teeth and lives on this old book. It’s a workingman’s Bible, after all. “Daddy Doc” wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Darren Johnson lives in Caitlin, IL and  is the  Minister of the  First Church of Christ

 




2 Responses to “A Workingman’s Bible”

  1. Katherine Johonso Erwin says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Dad. Yes, Darren Dad was not a man of eligant words or writings but his life was a reflection of a simple hard working honest man who loved the Lord and ate from the word daily. I guess his life puts meaning to the saying “you are what you eat.”

    Keep the Bible for the girls and as they grow older tell them about Daddy Doc and the life he lived as found in God’s Word. He would have loved and enjoyed the twins.



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John 10:10