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Changing Bibles

Changing Bibles

My first memories with the Bible took place in a small children’s edition with a picture of a white Jesus plastered on its bright red cover. I learned how to read in that Bible; I would practice reading a couple of verses every day, slowly sounding out the syllables to produce words. My parents cheered me on, always helping me out when I got stuck on big words like “salvation” and “forgiveness”. As I stumbled through sentences, reading wasn’t the only thing I learned; I learned that reading the Bible is not something meant to be done alone.

Although the Bible is one of the world’s best-selling books today, it was not meant to be read individually. Christians in the first century experienced the Bible primarily by hearing it out loud; the written text served as an aid to the oral tradition. People would gather together with their communities, listen to Scripture being read aloud, and go home and discuss what it meant to them over a meal. For North American Christians today–living in an individualized, capitalist, postmodern world–interactions with the Bible are tremendously different. We don’t even like to eat together, let alone listen to each other’s ideas when they diverge from ours. I don’t think we realize how much we are missing out when we don’t read the Bible in community, for I’ve come to learn that one of the main functions of the Bible’s message is to bring people together in faith to encounter God.

When I got to middle school, my parents gifted me with a neon pink Bible. It had my name engraved on it in silver letters and every other page consisted of little devotional blurbs, interesting facts, colored maps, and hands-on activities. This Bible was an activity book full of stories and ideas to explore. I loved opening up to a random page and reading whatever I found there, it seemed so interesting to me. I learned the importance of approaching the Bible with a sense of awe and wonder. There was a whole new world to explore within the pages of the sacred text. As I began to explore deeper into sacred uncharted territories, more and more questions arose. I realized how much I didn’t know and how much learning I had before me. I’ve come to realize that the Bible should always be read in an open-eyed and awestruck posture. Wonder and humility are prerequisites to discovering treasures concealed in sacred text.

In high school, I attended a month-long evangelistic series called “Prophecies Decoded” at my church. When the month came to an end, the church gave away Andrews Study Bibles to all who had unfailingly attended the event. I was the proud recipient of one; as I marched to the front of the Sanctuary when my name was called, I could hear the roaring claps behind me. At this point in my life, I learned that as a Christian grows, they are expected to get in touch with their faith tradition and what leaders within that particular tradition have to say about the Bible. Any Bible-related questions at my Adventist academy would be answered on the backdrop of the authoritative commentary and instruction of the denomination’s leaders.

I’ve come to learn that it is true that the Bible needs interpreting; it was written by people in particular contexts and with biases and limitations. At the same time, the power of Biblical interpretation should not be held exclusively. The Protestant value of Sola Scriptura empowers all believers to read, learn, and wrestle with the sacred text and its meanings for themselves.

When I began university, my aunt gifted me with a new Bible, one with a beautiful brown leather cover. As I opened it, I was shocked to find so much empty space within it; it had wide and lined margins. I discovered space for me to write in; my ideas, thoughts, and questions had space within my Bible. In fact, my Bible was designed to include myself. Of all the Bibles that I’ve had and what they’ve meant for me, this one is my favorite. I have come to understand that the Bible is the living Word of God, yet it doesn’t become living on its own; on its own, it simply rests on a bookshelf. It is a participatory event that needs our partnership in order to be alive. On the one hand, it contains a message that transcends time and space, and at the same time, it contains treasures and unexpected meanings that need to be sought. The very nature of the Bible is that it comes alive in us; its essence is a living encounter! The Bible is intended to be received, understood, and lived out in the community, for it is alive.

Because it is alive, it has the power to change lives. It has the potential to be used as a model for living a life of service and of spreading love and freedom. At the same time, it holds the power to be misused by people in power to support oppressive ideologies. The Bible should be read and held responsibly.

Just as my Bibles have changed over the years, my interactions with the text have also changed. I’m excited for all the new Bibles that I have yet to encounter.

Emily Kuchurivski is an undergraduate Religious Studies student at La Sierra University, graduating in December 2023. She was born in Toronto, Canada to Ukrainian immigrants and grew up living in various cities in the province of Ontario.

Title photo by Tamara Menzi on Unsplash

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