Morning Psalms 43; 149, Jeremiah 31:27-34, Romans 11:25-36, John 12:37-50
A United Church of Christ promotional campaign declares: “God is still speaking.” This message can be controversial, because many Christians who identify themselves as “Bible-believing” are not comfortable with the idea that the Bible is not the complete and solitary source of God’s truth. But what if God is not saying new things, but old things in new ways?
For many people, the King James Bible – deliberately written in language archaic even for its time – has relegated Biblical language to a time when “smite” and “begat” were common terms. Biblical imagery is full of references to ancient animal husbandry practices, arcane measurements, and cultures which no longer exist. But Biblical texts were written to be understood. The Hebrew texts were transmitted orally, which meant the language needed to be memorable and accessible. What good could a prophet do if his listeners couldn’t comprehend his words? Biblical authors used language and imagery appropriate to the time and setting to clarify, not obscure, and so should we.
When Jeremiah tells the Israelites they will once again plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria, he is telling people God restores them to wholeness. A more contemporary example of such restoration might be the end of apartheid and subsequent reconciliation in South Africa. When Paul wrote “out of Zion will come a Deliverer” he expected his audience would know what he meant without a study guide. When Jesus told his listeners “People don’t pick figs from thorn bushes” (Luke 6:44) he was speaking to people who actually picked figs. If he had been speaking in the modern Midwest United States, maybe he would have talked about blueberries and poison ivy.
The point is, God wants to be heard, in whatever ways we might be open to hearing. If we are really to see Christ in others, our vision can’t be limited to one translation. We can’t effectively speak Christ to others with words we wouldn’t use ourselves. We don’t want to study or create poor translations that betray the spirit of the Gospel just to be modern or politically correct, but we don’t want to reflexively reject the modern either. The living God speaks to us through living languages – and living people.
Comfort: God speaks to anyone willing to listen.
Challenge: Read a scripture translation you haven’t read before.
Prayer: God of freedom, thanks for the many ways you can be heard. Amen.
Discussion: What’s your favorite Bible translation and why?
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