How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?
Suffice it to say that I have read through the whole Bible about forty times. We were required to read it daily after school. During the summer months, while on summer vacation, we had to read it every morning before breakfast. Our interpretation of it came directly from Billy Boy G’s [Bill Gothard] reading of the text. I got to the point where I could not understand what the King James meant and referenced the red books of IBLP for all my answers. Of course, my pastor would help with the ultra-conservative interpretations as well.
We kids had to read the Bible by ourselves daily as part of our homeschooling curriculum. It counted as our Bible class for school. Ironically, despite our extremely conservative lifestyle, my dad never discussed religion with us. My mom rarely did, and when she did, it was a very simplistic Sunday school-type conversation. However, the many Christian books in our house, plus the sermons at church, provided guidance to us in our understanding of the Bible. I also learned a lot by listening in to my mom’s conversations with other homeschooling moms.
We all read the Bible daily. It was sort of a requirement. Mom and dad read the Bible early in the morning, and we children were expected to do the same – if we hadn’t read the Bible and spent time in prayer, we were sent away from the breakfast table until we had. And, mom always read the Bible aloud to all of us after breakfast. I don’t really remember dad reading the Bible aloud to us, but I think that’s just because mom was the primary homeschool parent and was home with us all day. Mom would discuss the Bible passages with us and help guide our understandings, but I think we simply automatically viewed the Bible through the lens we were given by them every day, and that we heard in the sermons at church, and in Bible club. It wasn’t so much about being forced to see the Bible one way as about coming at it with a perspective already formed and views already set.
My mother got up early in the morning to do 10 or 20 minutes of reading by herself. My Dad took a few minutes a day for private study as well. Us kids, we were encouraged to take off a few minutes each day for private prayer time. Reading, studying, interpreting certain chapters was also part of our daily home schooling. My Dad tried to do daily bible hours with the entire family, but of course, in a family this large, it hardly ever came down to this. Some days he had too much work to do to collect everybody in the living room. Other days, one was sick, another one wasn’t done with home school and so on. We managed to sit together as a family and do bible studying an average twice to three times a week. Then my Dad would pick out passages that somehow suited our situation and problems we were facing during that time and tried to work out a message from there.
My parents, especially my Dad, believed that his beliefs must be our beliefs. He told us what to make of every single passage. At first, when I was younger, he sometimes praised pastors for their sermons. In my teen years, those weren’t good enough anymore. He told us pastors are corrupt and he had found the right way. All we believed was his, and we weren’t allowed to question it. That was considered rebellious and usually had consequences.
We were supposed to read the Bible every day. Dad had his devotions over his coffee in the dark of the early morning. Mom read the Bible out loud to the babies and toddlers who would come and climb in bed with her in the morning when they first woke up. She would lead “Bible Time” with the older kids later in the morning, after breakfast and chores were done. We were told to not read anything if we hadn’t read the Bible first.
We didn’t really rely on pastors for interpretation, at least not until we were in SGM. Most of our interpretation of the Bible came from concordance searches and dad’s little studies that he’d do every so often. Various books helped out as well, but I don’t remember clearly which ones influenced them most.
When we moved to VA and joined the SGM church, we accepted almost everything they taught. I think my parents had some concerns about the reformed theology, but almost everything else taught from the pulpit was accepted.
We kids were very strongly encouraged to go to the concordance and study the Bible to see what God had to say about various issues. I remember doing searches on “anger,” “pride,” “forgiveness,” “baptism,” etc. This was also a form of correction for misdeeds: “You hit your brother? Go see what the Bible says about anger. Write out ten verses and then let’s talk about what they say.”
We usually read the bible as a family in the evening, my Dad would read aloud and interpret it for us. We had the bible on tape, sometimes we listened to it at bedtime. We each received a King James Bible of our own at around age 8 or so, and we were expected to read it privately and consistently. Sometimes we did bible reading and memory as part of homeschooling.
The family goal was to read the bible every night. We would read one to four chapters at the dinner table after we had finished eating. My dad loved to ramble on with longwinded explanations of passages. It wasn’t until recently I’ve realized that a lot of his interpretations were completely unfounded and made up. We never asked questions about the meaning of passages, we just believed what we were told. I never knew there were any other options. We were also expected to read our bibles alone. Any mistakes we made were attributed to fact that we “hadn’t spent enough time in the word.” I read my bible multiple times a day, grasping for meaning and rarely finding any.
I was raised to read the Bible every day and have a personal relationship with Jesus. My mother did not supervise my reading, however. I was taught how to interpret what I read by comparing it to what Branham said in his sermons (which I read along with the Bible) or by absorbing our pastor’s interpretations in church on Sunday.
In my home, Bibles were everywhere and they were constantly being read, that is we read them daily or sometimes a couple times a day, both as a family and individually. I was certainly taught particular interpretations as well as a particular style of interpreting, a lot of which I have since rejected, but I developed a genuine love for the Bible itself, complex literary work and strange cultural artifact that it is. Although at times it was used against me as a weapon, and some bits of it frightened or depressed me, it was also the book that brought me comfort when I was lonely and fueled my imagination and fledgling sense of spirituality. A writer I like referred to the Bible once as a labyrinthine library that contains both everything and the opposite of everything. I think in some senses that is true. While still having a great appreciation for the Bible, I now have, I hope, a more realistic awareness of the difficulties it contains, and of the difference the interpretive lens one chooses can make.