How to Read the New Testament

Posted: May 21, 2007 12:00 AM

Everyone I know seems to be reading the Bible these days in search of answers. That is usually a good thing but not always. In fact, too many of the Biblical discussions I get into with friends and family members relate to the “End Times” and whether they are upon us. That is a shame because reading the Bible can enrich one’s daily life provided one is not obsessed with using it as a device to decipher the future.

Because of one relatively simple error in dating one book of the New Testament, author Tim LaHaye has misled tens of millions of people into thinking that a great time of tribulation is near. He has Christians everywhere looking for signs of an emerging anti-Christ and, ultimately, in a cowardly fashion, looking forward to a time when Christ will rapture his church away from earthly troubles.

If Christians would simply study the New Testament themselves – instead of relying upon 21st Century “prophets” writing fictional books for 21st Century profits – they would arrive at a few very simple conclusions:

1. The Revelation to John was written around 65 AD, not 95 AD.

2. The anti-Christ was Nero, not some world figure yet to emerge in the 21st Century.

3. The tribulation occurred in the First Century around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.

4. The “rapture” never happened and it never will.

5. The words of Jesus in Matthew 24 plainly reveal that most of the discourse in The Revelation to John is based on events in the First Century.

Once an individual realizes he is stuck here on earth and will not be raptured away from all of his troubles, he can begin to read the Bible the way it was intended to be read. I have a word of advice for those who have never really thought about reading the Bible as an end in itself rather than as a means to some goal such as predicting the future. My advice is actually borrowed from a friend who received a moving card from his wife just a few months ago.

After receiving the cherished card from his wife, my friend would sneak into their bedroom late at night (she always fell asleep while he was finishing his last TV show). After giving her a kiss while she was sleeping, he would take the card off his dresser and go into the spare room to read it by the light of a small lamp.

There were certain lines he would read three and four times over: “It is a privilege to know you, to share myself with you,” “I never knew such a person could exist until I met you,” and “You lift my spirits to places where my troubles seem so much farther away.”

It was wonderful to hear that a dear friend had found his “soul mate” and all of the joy that comes from lifelong companionship. But, at the same time, I could not listen to his story without thinking of all the other friends I know who have suffered through a painful divorce or, in some cases, never even met someone with whom they share a special bond of love. And some are growing older and lonelier by the day.

But, recently, I received a new insight into what seems to be an unfair distribution of soul mates among God’s children. It came as I was listening to a pastor named “Mike” whose last name I do not even know. His message was broadcast from Port City Church in Wilmington to a theater rented out to handle the overflow of his growing congregation.

He urged each member of his church to read the First Letter of John during the coming week. He also urged them to read it as if it were written just for them by someone who is madly in love with them.

I was so intrigued by this take on the proper approach to reading the New Testament epistle that I immediately bought a copy of the English Standard Version – a version I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. Later that night I opened it and started reading by the light of a small lamp:

“…Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling… I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake … Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure… We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him…”

After reading those lines, it occurred to me that I had only been skimming through this great epistle on my last several runs through the New Testament. My zeal to get to The Revelation to John has been such that I have hardly noticed those great words in the years following the attacks of 911.

We all need to learn to read the Word as if it were written for us personally by someone who could not love us more. When we cannot get enough of it in the here and now, the future seems so much less important. And a little uncertainty is hardly the end of the world.