January 2, 2020

Bibles I Have Loved

It is the backdrop of experience; the test—the text—by which we measure everything.

Bill Knott

The first was a small and shiny volume, barely 2 x 3 inches, containing selected psalms and the Gospel of John. I carried it proudly with the few things I could say were truly my own: my brothers weren’t allowed to touch it. And when that childhood portion of the Bible disappeared in the inevitable losing of things that is being 4, I searched; I prayed; I grieved.

The second sits upon my shelf today, a full-text King James Version in a traditional two-column format—the words of Jesus standing out in red. On the presentation page, my mother’s flowing script still warms: “To Billy: December 25, 1964. From Mommy and Daddy.” It is the only thing I still possess from that long-ago Christmas, and the one I still reach for when my memory needs a prompt for the majesty of the language I heard as my father read to us.

I gave the third away—a white “leatherette” edition I earned for attending at least 10 nights of an evangelistic series when I was 9. An uncle really needed it, I learned: my parents thought it might do him good.

At 14, I was underlining heavily in a battered copy of a paraphrase—the Living New Testament—that still sits upon my shelf. Though I was raised in this faith, and always taught to reverence Scripture, I then immersed myself in grappling intimately with the Word, taking in its phrases one by one—praying my way, especially through Paul’s epistles.

My college copies of the Harper Study Bible, an annotated edition of the Revised Standard Version, still hold an honored spot among my Bibles. In their pages, creased and underlined, are notes and exclamation marks I made as I began to frame an understanding of God’s Word that moved beyond a childish sentimentality or even a teenager’s passion.

The line moves on: a New English Bible I read for several years, rejoicing in the newness of the language, discovering nuances I never knew from older, more traditional translations; a series of NRSV editions—end pages filled with Bible study notes and fragments that became the gist of sermons; a French edition I consult to check my recall of a text I memorized more than 40 years ago.

And then there are the digital editions—nine apps by latest count—waiting on my iPhone. I move between them frequently these days, comparing language, seeking a consensus, searching for the words as they lodged in thought so long ago. An audio version of the Word now soothes my harried heart in the pre-dawn darkness of most days, returning me to the sound of Scripture as I first remember it being read to me.

You likely know this story well, though yours, of course, is filled with different volumes and translations. Among the privileges of being raised in faith is the experience of having lived with the Word—in all its majesty and meaning—since we were conscious of the world and learned to differentiate the Bible from the myriad volumes that filled our lives.

This Word is not just solace and devotion, though it is certainly those as well. It is the backdrop of experience; the test—the text—by which we measure everything; the arbiter of truth among competing claims; the final reference for any life well-lived. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

With Ellen White, the woman who more than any other leader moved this movement toward God’s Word, I urge at the doorway of a new year: “Brethren and Sisters, I commend unto you this Book.”*

The church I want to belong to is . . . faithful to Scripture.

* In Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years, 1905-1915 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1982), vol. 6, p. 197.