With the season of Lent now well advanced, I’m planning on structuring my posts for the next few weeks around the theme of Christianity, beginning with the cornerstone of Christian faith, the Bible.
Like many Christians in the affluent West, I have a lot of Bibles. There’s the illustrated King James Bible that my late grandmother gave me when I was christened, and the Good News Bible from my (first – it’s a long story) confirmation. There’s The Message, a popular paraphrase, gifted to me about ten years ago by my friend Julia. There’s a Gideon New Testament, one of a number to have passed through my hands only to be passed on to someone who wanted it (incidentally, Gideon Bibles are never intended for sale although you’ll frequently find them floating around the book table in second-hand shops). There’s my extensively-footnoted New International Version Study Bible, an invaluable tool back when I was completing a diploma in Biblical Studies. There’s my Women of Destiny New King James Version, another gift from a friend, featuring the personal stories of women who have found strength, purpose and hope through faith in Jesus. There are a number of others.
But ‘my’ Bible, my special Bible, the one I read more than any other, the one that’s covered in hand-written underlinings, cross-references and annotations, is a paperbacked New International Version that I bought (as the faded receipt still tucked into it can now just barely be perceived to say) in Ottaker’s bookshop in Bishop’s Stortford, England on the 11th of August 2005.
August 2005 was an important time in my life. When I had arrived in England just over two years earlier it hadn’t occurred to me to bring a Bible. Although I would have described myself as ‘Christian’ that self-identity amounted to little more than a vague belief in a loving God who had sent his son, Jesus, to be born at Christmas and die for us on a cross at Easter only to come alive again, so that we could all go to heaven. I didn’t know much about what had happened in between (there were some miracles and things), or about the two thousand years-plus of Jewish history from which this Jesus had emerged, or about the impact of Christianity on the two thousand years since (weren’t there some wars or something? I thought Jesus was against war?), or about what any of this might mean for me personally.
The following two years were something of a spiritual journey for me, culminating that day in Bishop’s Stortford in the absolute conviction that I simply must take a Bible with me before I embarked on my return journey to New Zealand via four months in the USA and Mexico, and that I must at least try to read it.
Why the New International Version? I liked the way it sounded when I read it, much more eloquent and flowing than the Good News Bible next to it (sorry, Good News Bible!). I liked that it came with some maps and some basic contextual information in the back. I liked that it was paperbacked, and not too thick or heavy – an important consideration for a book that I was going to be schlepping around with me for quite some time – and not too expensive. And, also, it was a pretty purple cover and had a butterfly on the cover. I’ve been schlepping this Bible ever since.
If you’re a Christian I probably don’t need to explain to you why I enjoy reading the Bible. If you’re not a Christian, I’m not sure I can. Suffice it to say that Christians consider the Bible to be ‘inspired’ by God: written by humans prayerfully submitted to God. Within its pages the whole spectrum of human experience – the ugly and cruel and violent as well as the good and the beautiful – is portrayed. It offers comfort to the weak and afflicted and challenges to the proud and the strong. And it is centred on the coming and teaching and life and death of the most amazing, compelling, confusing and challenging man in history: Jesus of Nazareth.
The Bible isn’t an easy read, but read it I have every year since 2008, and the version I have read most often is my precious, battered, beautiful NIV.
Tell me about a treasure from your faith tradition that’s precious to you.