Freddie North was sitting in his apartment in Demorest when he claims he heard “a voice.”
“(It said) ‘Write the Bible,’” North said. “It was the Lord’s voice. I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He said ‘Look, you’re sitting here doing nothing. You should write the Bible.’ So I said, ‘OK.’”
North started copying by hand the New International Version of the Bible in 2007. It took him three years and seven months to complete, burning through 367 pencils and 1,383 pieces of paper in the process.
North, a 63-year-old Florida native who has since moved to Clarkesville, made major changes to his life to accomplish his goal.
“The Lord told me to get rid of my computer,” North said. “The girlfriend I had, he told me to dump her, too.”
After he completed the New International Version, North turned his attention to copying the King James Bible. It took almost four years, a whopping 2,383 pieces of paper and 603 pencils to finish the King James edition.
He keeps both copies in a series of brightly colored folders in trash bags next to his desk in his apartment. When asked what he’s learned since undertaking the self-appointed challenge, North struggles to be specific.
“I’ve learned a lot,” North said. “My favorite book is Proverbs. It talks about grace, I guess. It talks about promises.”
But the one thing he’s gained from his experience is a knowledge few possess.
“My pastor, he said, ‘Freddie, you know what’s in the Bible and what’s not in the Bible,’” North said.
In a society where Christianity has branched into popular culture, creating its own pop songs, movies and fiction books, the real content of Christianity’s main message — the Bible — can get lost in the shuffle, even among those who spend their whole lives in a church community.
The Rev. Will Dyer, associate pastor of discipleship and young adults at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, lists one of his main interests as helping others really connect with the Bible’s deeper messages.
“One of the things I’ve experienced working in churches, not just here but in other places I’ve been, is people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, they know the stories of the Bible,” Dyer said. “They grew up in a culture that was soaked in the Scripture. It was part of the way that they were raised. But now people 40 and under, as a general rule, are biblically illiterate.”
In the first church where he ever preached, Dyer encountered a young woman in her mid-30s who had grown up in the church but didn’t know who the Apostle Paul was.
“What I found us doing on a very basic level was just going through the Bible, not as a ‘Memorize this passage, memorize this passage’ exercise, but more as a ‘Let’s hear the story of God and the story of God’s people, and learn how to locate ourselves in the midst of it,’” he said.
Dyer currently teaches a Sunday school class focused on the book of Mark. On Tuesday, he emails five questions the group will discuss Sunday. The goal, rather than rote memorization, is to get students to think about the big picture.
“You’ve got time to sit and soak these questions in and soak the biblical material in, and you’re able to have a fluid and deep discussion for about an hour (on Sunday),” Dyer said. “Learning the story helps to shape who you are as a person way more than just memorizing a passage taken out of its context.”
To delve even deeper into the Bible’s content, Dyer has further recommendations. His students are reading a biblical commentary on the New Testament by N.T. Wright, a retired Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar at St. Andrews University in Scotland.
“That’s a resource I recommend to everybody,” Dyer said.
If given the opportunity, Dyer also recommends learning the original languages in which the Bible was written.
“I had someone tell me one time, if you really love the Scriptures, if you really want to soak yourself in it, it’s so important to learn Greek and learn Hebrew,” Dyer said. “There are words in the Greek and the Hebrew that don’t transfer easily into English, so every act of translation is an act of interpretation.”
Whether study, group discussion, learning a new language or even hand-copying sections of the Bible leads individuals to a deeper understanding of the core tenets of their religion, Dyer describes any effort to delve into the Bible as “an admirable thing.”
“I’m writing the New King James (Version) now,” North said. “If the Lord lets me live, I’m just going to keep on writing.”