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Spring 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 1 · pp. 80–88 

The Bible and I

David Ewert

On my bookshelf stands a paperback, written by the New Zealander, E. M. Blaiklock, a Classics and New Testament scholar, with the title, The Bible and I. His life with the Bible has been very different from mine, but the title of his book brought back memories which I thought might be worth sharing.

I learned over the years that the academic study of the Scriptures and the devotional use of them are not inherently inimical to each other.


I heard the words of Scripture from infancy, read from Luther’s German Bible. My father always read the Scriptures at the breakfast table, at which all the children were present. Also, I heard the word of God in the same cadences every Sunday at church. And I remember so vividly the day when, as a young lad, I got my first New Testament. We were living on a farm in southern Alberta and a colporteur of the British and Foreign Bible Society came onto our yard with horse and van. My parents put him up for the night, and next morning my father bought a New Testament for me. I was so overwhelmed at owning a New Testament that I snuck into the hayloft, kissed my New Testament, prayed, and cried. It was a German New Testament—Luther’s version, of course. {81}


It wasn’t until I had reached my teens that I got my first English Bible. I earned it by memorizing three hundred Bible verses and reciting them in the presence of my sister, who verified that I knew them. It was, of course, a King James Version, for at that time we didn’t know there were other versions. One day I looked over the used-book section at Eaton’s in Lethbridge and found there a “Twentieth Century New Testament” which I bought for twenty-five cents. It had the books arranged in chronological order and that confused me, for I had enough trouble distinguishing between the order of the books of the New Testament in Luther’s Bible from that of the English. I didn’t realize at the time that I had purchased a significant version of the New Testament. Not until the names of the translators came to light in 1933, when the John Rylands Library in Manchester got the records of the secretary of the project, was it known who gave us this modern speech version, designed to speak to young people.

Listening to our elders, discussing the meaning of biblical texts, and hearing sermons from a great many ministers, I became aware of marked differences in the interpretation of the Bible. Although I don’t recall that any one of our parents or ministers questioned fundamental teachings of the Bible, there were plenty of debates about the meaning of biblical passages.

One of our ministers, regardless of the text from which he preached, almost without fail got round to his favorite topic, the millennium. What kind of spiritual nourishment we were to draw from that topic escapes me to this day.


When I enrolled in Bible school, it was not because I had a great thirst for biblical understanding. Once classes began, however, my appetite for the Word of God was whetted. Through my studies of the Scriptures and my tenuous efforts to spread the Good News, God was slowly preparing me for a Bible teaching ministry. After five years of biblical studies, I decided to earn a B. A. at the University of British Columbia. About half of my courses were in the field of languages and literature, including linguistics, although I did also take a few courses in the social sciences, as well as philosophy. Higher education was sometimes equated by our ministers as “the wisdom of this age,” which Paul condemns, and a secular university was thought to be a dangerous place for believers. I cannot say that I had intellectual doubts about the Christian faith during those years, even though some of the professors were {82} outspokenly anti-Christian. Obviously I did not have the answer to the numerous questions that the various disciplines of study posed, but I felt a bit like the disciples of Jesus, when asked whether they wanted to leave Jesus: “Lord, where shall we go; you have words of eternal life; and we have believed and know that you are the holy one of God” (John 6:68-69). I never gave up reading the Scriptures.

Then came seminary and graduate schools. Now biblical studies became serious business. First of all, this meant learning the biblical languages. I still recall the thrill of reading a few verses from the Greek New Testament for my daily devotions. With a Greek dictionary at my elbow and a wide-margin Greek New Testament, I worked my way through the New Testament. Although I would not go as far as Martin Luther went, who claimed the Greek New Testament was his wife, it has been my companion for a long time. At first, I thought my major would be the Old Testament. I took several years of Hebrew, but in the end I concentrated on the New Testament. My Hebrew studies, however, were not in vain, for the Greek of the New Testament can hardly be understood without a knowledge of Hebrew. There is nothing in my studies that has meant so much to me as the biblical languages. Among other things it has given me a deep appreciation for the complexity of Bible translation, and it has also kept me from getting upset when a new version of the Scriptures comes off the press.

It has been my privilege not only to study the Scriptures, but also to teach the word of God for more than fifty years. And yet one feels like a beginner, a novice, because of “the boundless riches in Christ” (Eph 3:8) which we will never fully comprehend this side of eternity. My confidence in the trustworthiness of God’s Word has not changed, but my understanding of it has. As I stand at the threshold of my seventy-fifth year, I ask myself: What are some of the things I have learned in my life with the Bible? Let me pick out a few lessons that may be of help to others.


Firstly, I have learned that I do not need to defend the Bible constantly. I grew up during a time when the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy raged, although as immigrants in Canada, speaking German, we were not exposed to this controversy in the same way our American friends were. Subjects such as Apologetics, or Christian Evidences as it was sometimes called, were required courses in Bible schools in those days. I must admit, I never found these subjects very meaningful and I was comforted later in life when I came across a line in C. S. Lewis’s {83} book, Reflections on the Psalms. He makes the observation that “you can’t always be defending the Bible; sometimes you also have to feed on it.”

Also, I came across a comment by the eighteenth century biblical scholar, Johann Bengel, who wrote, “Die Sonne braucht nicht durch unsere Fackel erleuchtet zu werden” (The sun does not need to be illuminated by our own torch). For me the Scriptures always were authoritative, and the many attempts at defining the inspiration of the Bible to this day leave me cold. Oh, I did memorize the famous definition of “Theopneustia,” by Francois Gaussen, a nineteenth century Swiss pastor, but I have long forgotten it. Perhaps that’s why I was not terribly interested in Harold Lindsell’s books, The Battle for the Bible, and The Bible in the Balance. In the end, what is important is not so much whether one holds to the infallibility of the Bible, its inerrancy, its plenary inspiration, but whether one seeks to live by the authority of the Bible.


Secondly, I have learned that the Bible speaks to the deepest questions of our human existence. It does not answer all the questions we might ask of it. The Germans have a saying that goes like this: “Die Bibel ist oft überfragt worden” (The Bible has often been over-questioned). The Bible is a religious book; it is the story of how God redeems fallen humanity. And so it should not be treated like an encyclopedia. In my younger years, I tended to look upon the Bible as a book which had the answers to the many ethical questions I had. I soon realized, however, that it didn’t address many of the twentieth century questions directly. An older brother on one occasion told me that Mennonite Brethren in Russia, in an attempt to find a Bible verse that condemned smoking, had settled on I John 1:9, where it is stated that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all Untugend, as Luther’s Bible had it. Untugend means “bad habit,” and since smoking was a bad habit, clearly this passage condemned it. When I told this dear man that the Greek word is adikia, i.e., “unrighteousness,” as English versions usually have it, he was so distraught, that he remarked, “Brother Ewert, now you have pulled the rug from under my feet.” The Bible does speak to current ethical issues, but to apply the profound ethical principles embedded in the Scriptures to current issues calls for hermeneutical skills.

The Bible has been compared to the headlights of a car, driving through the night in inky darkness. As long as the driver keeps his eyes on the road, which is illuminated by the lights, he or she can drive safely even in the dark. But when a person gets too interested in the landscape {84} that lies beyond the road that is lit up by the headlights, there’s bound to be an accident. The Scriptures do not answer all the questions we may have, but they illuminate the road, and if we continue in the light, we shall not court disaster.


Thirdly, I learned over the years that the Bible is rooted in the history and cultures of its day; it wears the clothing of the ancient world. James Smart, in his book, The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church, makes this observation:

The preacher faces each week the problem of bringing together the world that meets him in the Bible and the world in which he is living, of finding his way from an ancient text to a restatement of the meaning of that text in terms that will make sense and have significance for his congregation and community.

This doesn’t mean simply that the Hebrew and Greek words of the Bible have to be rendered in colloquial English, street-language, if you will. It means that the message of the Bible has to be lifted out of its oriental dress and transported into our day. Some people find this approach very unsettling, but it is the only way in which the Scriptures remain alive and relevant.

When Goodspeed of Chicago published his New Testament, in which the woman who lost her coin took a “lamp” and searched the house, there was strong reaction, because the Authorized Version has “candle.” The real culprit, however, was William Tyndale, the Father of the English Bible, who translated the New Testament into English in a day when England burned candles, and the Authorized Version took it over from Tyndale. But anyone who knows something about Palestinian customs knows that she did not light a candle; she lit an oil lamp made of clay. But one critic suggested that if Goodspeed was going to change “candle” to “lamp,” he might as well have gone “the whole hog” and rendered it as “electric light.” But, added the critic, that would have been as bad as putting pants on the apostles (one must give him credit for recognizing that the apostles did not wear trousers).

When I was baptized and became a member of the church, it was still custom at Communion to greet one another with the kiss of peace (men and women sat separate in those days). I never particularly appreciated that form of greeting, {85} but when I taught in Russia several years ago, I had to endure a lot of kisses of bearded Russian Baptists. Yet a believer is no less biblical if he or she adapts to the form of greeting acceptable in his or her culture. Perhaps it is not up to the translator to render the holy kiss as “a handshake all round,” as J. B. Phillips did (e.g., I Thess 5:26), but certainly that is the way in which the meaning is preserved in a different form.


Fourthly, I also learned that the written word of God, the Scriptures, and the book of nature which the scientist investigates, are not at odds with each other. When Bible readers force the Bible to speak in the accents of modern science, they demand more of the Bible than it intends to give. In my youth it was widely held that if one took the Bible seriously, one had to be at odds with biologists and geologists. Many years ago there was a conference on “the Bible and Science” held at Tabor College. I had been asked to give a series of lectures in this area of thought. After one of the lectures, I was asked where I had grown up. After informing the questioner, he told us that, where he had grown up, believers had to make a decision, whether they were going to believe the Bible or the scientists. I was happy, then, to tell him that I had never been forced to make that decision.

I can rejoice and stand in amazement at what scientists discover. Of course, it saddens me when such wonderful insights into God’s created order are then used for evil purposes. I was greatly helped in earlier years by Bernard Ramm’s book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Ramm had turned to theology after earning a Ph.D. in the history of science, and his familiarity with both disciplines helped me to gain new perspectives on a controversial field of study. I came to the conclusion that the God of the Bible was also the God who made all things, and that the poetic and profoundly theological account of creation should not be trivialized by constant efforts to make it mesh with modern science.


Fifthly, I learned over the years that the academic study of the Scriptures and the devotional use of them are not inherently inimical to each other. In my Bible school years, the emphasis was largely on the devotional use of the Bible. And that is a very important aspect of Bible reading, something I continue to do every day. In the graduate schools that I attended, the professors took a more academic approach, and I discovered things in the Bible I had never dreamed of before. Some of the things I heard in class and in seminars, and some of the literature I had to read, were unacceptable, as far as I was concerned, not because they were {86} “academic,” but because they ran counter to God’s Word as I understood it.

In the evangelical circles in which I moved, there was (and still is) an aversion to the academic study of the Bible. But if it weren’t for biblical scholars, we would not have Bible translations nor the good commentaries based on the Hebrew and Greek texts. The late F. F. Bruce, renowned biblical scholar, on one occasion expressed surprise that in other fields of knowledge, such as medicine, economics, and the like, one looks to people who are experts in their field. But when it comes to biblical studies, said Bruce, one becomes disqualified if one becomes an expert.

A good many years ago, when we were still at the seminary in Fresno, I had written an article for the Christian Leader. I don’t recall what the topic was, but I got a letter from a man who could hardly write English (I could tell by the many misspelled words), expressing his disagreement with what I had written. And to strengthen his argument he quoted the words of Jesus from Matthew 11:25, “I thank you Father . . . because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” In other words, how could I (whom he classified as one of the wise) possibly understand the Scriptures, when God has revealed it to babes. That I also thought of myself as one of the Father’s “babes” evidently did not occur to him. But there have been outstanding biblical scholars throughout history who were deeply devout and whose overriding purpose in life was to build up Christ’s church.


Sixth, I have learned, too, that it is about as important to keep biblical truths in balance as it is to discover new truths. When one biblical teaching is stressed at the expense of others, the end result very often is heresy. The eighteenth century pietistic theologian, Johann Bengel, reminded the Moravians that they would get themselves into trouble if they constantly focused on the blood and wounds of Jesus (Zinzendorf bears some responsibility for this overemphasis).

In the 1940s, when I began to teach, there was considerable dissension in our churches over the question of eternal security. Some of our ministers taught it, others fought it. The controversy goes back all the way to the fourth century when Augustine and Pelagius clashed over this issue. The conflict became even more acute after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century when Arminius confronted the Calvinists. In the eighteenth century the great evangelists John Wesley and George Whitefield clashed over this teaching. It doesn’t seem to be {87} much of an issue in our North American MB churches, but it is tearing churches apart in Germany (in my three teaching stints in the former Soviet Union, the question invariably came up).

If only people would stop selecting those passages that support their pre-understanding of this issue, and look at those passages that point in the other direction, the conflict would cease. It is unfortunate that I. Howard Marshall’s book Kept by the Power of God is insufficiently known, for he goes through the New Testament, placing the assurance passages next to the warning texts. One is reminded of the words of Professor Mullins of a former generation:

God did not build walls around us, so that we won’t fall down the cliff; he builds wills within us (i.e., by his warnings) so that we won’t get too close to the edge.

When I enrolled in a course on the epistle to the Hebrews in graduate school, some students constantly insisted that the readers could not have been Christians because of the many warnings against falling away. But the professor, a godly man who had done his Ph.D. dissertation on Hebrews, reminded them gently but firmly that their problem was not the text of Hebrews but their dogmatic theology (Calvinism) through which they read the text. We need both: assurance and warning.


There are many other things that I have learned as my Bible and I have traveled together, but space is limited and so this must suffice. In reading the Scriptures, I have sometimes felt like the Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, who suggested that the Bible should be read the way one reads love letters. One reads them over and over again. One even reads between the lines (although some scholars have read so much between the lines and forgotten to read the lines).

However, my daily Bible reading is not always a delight. At times I have felt like John Bunyan, who confesses in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, that there were times when the Bible had been for him “dry as a stick.” At such times, good Christian habits, such as the daily reading of the Scriptures, keep us in the way we should go. The French scholar Blaise Pascal made the comment: “There’s enough light in the Bible so that we don’t have to lose our way; but there’s also enough obscurity to keep us humble.” And so, by God’s grace, I want to continue to travel together with my Bible until traveling days are done. {88}


  • Blaiklock, E. M. The Bible and I. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1983.
  • Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. 1666.
  • Lewis, C. S. Reflections on the Psalms. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958.
  • Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
  • __———. The Bible in the Balance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
  • Marshall, I. Howard. Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974.
  • Ramm, Bernard. The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954.
  • Smart, James D. The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970.
David Ewert served as Professor of New Testament at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia, at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California, and as Professor and President at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now retired, he lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

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