Years ago, I determined to learn the truth about some unanswered questions I had in the back of my mind about various doctrines. I knew the answers would come from the Bible, but I had investigated these doctrines for years, and kept arriving at similar conclusions without an overwhelming sense of confidence about them. In hindsight, those questions did not get answered overnight, because they had been ingrained into my thinking over a period of many years. But I had to start somewhere.
Keep in mind, that by this time, I had accumulated several Bibles, which most of you will recognize as the “recommended” ones in the sect. The Thompson Chain Reference Bible and the Dixon Study Bible were my two favorites, with my Thompson winning out between the two. I still like the look and feel of my Dixon, but the Thompson I had marked up pretty well with my own notes, underlines, and cross references, and there was comfort in familiarity.
Then it dawned on me: I was creating ruts in my mind. All those chain references, notes, cross references, and underlines were simply men’s opinions obscuring the plain and simple reading of the Word. I wanted to see the big picture. What followed was my own journey to understanding the paradigm shift from law to love that Jesus taught
I can look back now and tell you what set into motion the confidence I now have in my faith. It was that reading of the Bible with a fresh pair of eyes. I realized that I had become like a beast of burden, trodding the same old ground, wearing a rut along the path, with blinders on that wouldn’t let me see beyond it.
There was fear in stepping off the ground I had already trod. It shook me to the core. What would my parents think? What would my wife think? What about my in-laws (my father-in-law was an elder in our congregation) and my church family?
But I knew that if there was one thing that was true, it was that the Word alone contained my answers. So to it, I turned, and made a commitment to follow what I learned without prejudice and without fear of men.
I told my wife I wanted to read a clean copy of the Bible, with no chain references, no cross references, no doctrinal presuppositions. Just sola scriptura
, scripture alone.
I went out and bought a clean copy of the Bible, which I still have today, free of notes and underlines, just for reading. I then used my lunch hours and downtime to read through the Bible fresh. I did this several times, although I “cheated” by doing the New Testament scriptures an extra time or two.
This experience made reading the Bible a pleasure, and it was like reading an entirely different book than I had ever read before. I could gather the meaning of verses in the actual context that they were written or spoken. I could see who the words were addressed to, and why. Was it a speech to Pharisees? A historical documentation of the first century church? A letter to a church? A letter to an individual?
I want to issue this challenge to you today. Go pick up a clean copy of the Bible, one that is attractive that you’ll actually enjoy picking up and reading. Then read it as if it’s a new book to you. Don’t be afraid to step outside the ruts your mind has created. You won’t be disappointed.
What translation should I use?
I am anticipating this question, because I know it will come up. I personally like the NIV or NKJV for this type of reading (I’m shielding myself from some rocks getting thrown at me right now), but feel free to stick with KJV if that’s your conviction. I personally believe the KJV is quite accurate, and is most useful for detailed word-for-word study, but not for casual reading. It is not infallibly translated by any means (to wit, the use of the word “Easter” in reference to Passover), and you are deliberately putting some fog on your windshield, since the meanings of words and phrases have most definitely changed dramatically in 400 years.
If you try this challenge using a different translation, I believe the different way of wording the same message from the KJV will help you to understand the original meaning much better. There is nothing I currently believe that can’t be supported 100% by the KJV. I just believe modern grammar makes the meaning a bit more obvious.
I should note also that I am aware of some deficiencies of the NIV, and for specific subjects (fasting, for instance), I am not a fan. Nevertheless, the message of the gospel comes through loud and clear. For the purpose of clearing your head of old out-of-context exegeses of scripture, it will do just fine.
How do I understand the real meaning of various scriptures?
The key to understanding the Bible is to read it in context. That means NOT plucking verses out by themselves to stand alone, or stringing unrelated verses together just because it supports our preconceived doctrinal bias. That’s the danger of studying purely with a concordance or Bible software, which, by the way, neither the ancient Jews nor the first century Christians had access to. The key is to understand who was writing and for what purpose. That means reading the Bible as it would have been received by the original readers, and making application to our lives from that vantage point.
For instance, it’s helpful to notice that the Gospels are the collective history of Jesus’ time on earth as recorded by four different men from four different backgrounds. Acts is a historical narrative of the apostles’ teachings and evangelistic efforts during the first century. Most of the rest of the New Testament scriptures are letters, either from Paul to various churches, Paul to various individuals (Timothy and Titus), or other authors to various individuals or groups (1 and 2 Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, etc.).
It’s also helpful to ask why the author was writing in the first place. Why did Paul write a letter to the church at Corinth? What was the problem he was trying to fix? Why did he feel the need to write a second letter? Why did he write letters to Timothy and Titus? What problems were they dealing with that he was trying help them with?
All of these questions should help you make much more sense of the scriptures than slicing and dicing it into a confusing concoction of passages that are usually cherry-picked with a preconceived conclusion before ever assembling them. Instead, let the Word of God speak first, in context, then let your understanding follow.
I hope you’ll take me up on the Clean Bible Challenge. I’ll be excited to hear about your experiences!