Which means that before I knew what was going on, I was hearing the Bible preached and taught. Every single week. Many of your experiences are similar if not the same as mine. Think about what this means: before I could read the Bible for myself, I was told what the Bible said. I may not have understood what I was being told that the Bible said, but I heard. And I believed. I sat in a circle in Sunday school with all the other kids and our Sunday School teacher would tell us a Bible story, usually with pictures, sometimes with flannel boards—remember those?—maybe even with filmstrip projectors—remember those too? The teachers, all wonderful people, would not only tell us the story, but would tell us what it meant—what it meant about God, or Jesus, or the Bible, or sin, or salvation, or whatever.
When I got old enough to read, then we would spend some time in Sunday School reading the Bible. Not just having it read to us, but we would read the Bible out loud, each pupil taking his or her turn. And the Bible we would read was the King James Version. So on Monday through Friday I would read “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!” And on Sunday I would read, “For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.” (Ezekiel 23:20)
Well, OK, maybe not that one, but you get what I mean. King James English is a little tough for a kid for whom The Hardy Boys and Archie comics are high literature. So even when I was reading the Bible for myself, I still relied on someone else to tell me what it said and what it meant. Which means that by the time I was able to read and understand the Bible on my own, I already knew what it said. So when I did read the Bible on my own, it’s not surprising that I found it saying exactly what I had been told that it said. We see what we expect to see.
So I never had the opportunity to read the Bible on its own and really hear what it had to say. I was told what it said, and that’s what I found. But then I found other Christians who grew up in different Christian traditions, and they said that these same passages meant something different. Of course, they were doing the same thing I was doing, taking what they had been told that Scripture says and finding that in Scripture. Still, we were in different places, reading the same Scriptures.
What does all this mean? Should we not teach the Bible to our children so that when they are old enough they can encounter it fresh and unbiased? Not at all! The Ethiopian Eunuch was encountering Scripture fresh, but he still needed Philip to help him understand it. I am grateful that I was exposed to and taught the Bible from a young age, and I am grateful for the insights that my teachers gave me. But there comes a time when we must all read Scripture with fresh eyes, recognizing that none of us come unbiased to Scripture. But the answer isn’t to go hole up someplace all alone and read the Bible a fresh, because our biases as to what it said will come with us to our private study. No, rather than go off alone, it is far more profitable to realize that the Christian family is larger than tribe in which we grew up, and each tribe (denomination) sees something in Scripture that we might not see. No tribe is 100% right or wrong, but each have something to say that will help us to understand the Bible more fully. And that, ultimately, is the goal.