"Bible" by Shakespeare

by Gavin  

"Bible" by Shakespeare



Before Surinarayan Venkatrathnam was released from Robben Island in 1977 he asked around 30 fellow inmates to sign the book he called his Bible.  Incarcerated as a political prisoner, Venkatrathnam had managed to source a copy of the “Collected Works of William Shakespeare,” which was illicit contraband for a political prisoners.  To keep possession of it, he carefully disguised it as a holy book, and called it his Bible: “I took my Diwali greetings cards that my family had sent me and I stuck the cards on the front, back and the spine of the book and when warders asked me what it was I told them that it was my Bible.”  He is quoted as saying that the Afrikaans guards were afraid of 2 things – lawyers and the Bible – and so he got away with it.   Venkatrathnam’s copy of Shakespeare was his only source of comfort during his long imprisonment.


That famed volume has toured the world, and is a prized exhibit.  It contains the signatures of some famous South African political prisoners.  It is most surely a treasure, and something that is significant in our nation’s history. That is not disputed.


But, I did have a deep moment of sadness as I read that story about Venkatrathnam and his “Bible.”  So much emphasis was placed on Shakespeare, who was indeed a literary genius, and someone who has made an immeasurable impact on English development.  To be sure, there is value in Shakespeare – both in the reading and the studying.


But, there is infinite value in God’s Word.  How might Venkatrathnam’s life, and the lives of others with him, have been radically changed if they were to have access and a desire to read God’s eternal truth?  Instead of disguising mere human words (profound as they are) as a holy book, what if he, like Augustine, took up and read the inspired biblical Scriptures and found total transformation?  Instead of some short-term hope and brightness in a prison cell from Shakespeare, might he not have been set free in his soul forever by the power of the gospel?  As Steven Lawson says, “


God is the one Source and sole Author of truth. Sin is whatever God says it is. Judgment is whatever God says it is. Salvation is what God says it is. Heaven and hell are what God says they are. It matters not what man says but simply what God says. One word of what God says is worth more than ten thousand libraries of what man says. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4).


Shakespeare disguised as a holy book is an interesting account of national political history.  But reading great literary masterpieces doesn’t change lives.  Reading and responding to God’s truth is of infinitely more importance!


We as believers need to be supporting Bible translation, Bible distribution, Bible reading and Bible preaching – so that the lost can find true hope and lasting joy through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That gospel is contained in the Bible, God's full, final, authoratative and complete Word. 


The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)


and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15–17, ESV)

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