Americans and the Bible

Robert Frost had a favorite Bible verse:

''Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.''

A fitting prayer for a poet. But also, if you stop and think about it, an encompassing one for anybody.

Right now Americans have particular reason for stopping and thinking about the Bible and its relevance to every human need and aspiration. This is the 200 th anniversary year of the first printing of the complete King James Version in America. The impetus for printing on the spot came when the importation of Bibles from Britain was interrupted by the colonists' fight for freedom. Somehow it is appropriate that the theme of the current National Bible Week should remind Americans to ''read it for yourself'' - even as the redoubtable Scot, Robert Aitken of Philadelphia, started Americans printing it for themselves despite the strains of war two centuries ago.

More than a century before 1782, of course, America published its own Bible - that extraordinary translation by John Eliot into the Natick dialect of the Algonquin Indians.

Now at least some parts of the Scriptures are translated or being translated into more than 460 languages. The better for all to read it for themselves.

The American stress on reading the Bible comes happily during Thanksgiving week, which also happens to be National Family Week. In many households the reading of the Bible knows no season. There is no date on ''This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.''

Yet in the afterglow of yesterday's festivity - and in continuing awareness of those with nothing to be festive about - it is natural to recall the grateful but struggling Pilgrims. Their best dish to give friends, according to William Bradford of Plymouth, was a piece of fish ''without bread or anything but a cup of fair spring water.'' He wrote that God showed them ''by experience'' the truth of the Word: ''. . . Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.''

Whether sharing abundance or sharing the Word, readers of the Bible know that what people do unto ''the least of these my brethren'' - the stranger, the prisoner, the hungry, the naked - they do unto the Lord. An America with so many facing dire need - in the shadow of plenty undreamed of by the Pilgrims - must hear the Scriptural command to love thy neighbor not only during Bible week but every day of the year.

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