Reading The Bible Critically

One of my seminary professors told us about a time when he guest-preached at a small, rural church as a favor for a friend.  

When he read the Scripture for his sermon, he used his Greek New Testament, which he translated directly from the original Greek. 

After the service, he was approached by several of the agitated church elders.  

"What version of the Bible were you reading from?" they angrily demanded.  "We only use the King James Version of the Bible in our church!" 

He patiently showed them his New Testament and explained that he translated it from the original language on the fly, but they were not mollified.  

One of them said, "If you ever preach here again, make sure you use the right interpretation."  

Of course, this begs the question, "What is the right interpretation of the Bible?"

I don't have the space in a Daily Devo to address that question entirely, but suffice it to say that whichever interpretation is closest to the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages from the original manuscripts is a safe bet. 

The problem with interpretations, in general, is that they are interpretations.  People are making editorial decisions about which variations in the ancient manuscripts (none of which are original, by the way) and codices that have been discovered to use as sources. 

Then, there is the problem of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus and his disciples would have spoken to each other.  

For example, to better understand what Jesus may have said when he gave the disciples the Lord's Prayer, you would need to translate the Greek text into Aramaic and then back into English.  

Biblical scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz did just that; see the result below.  The bold print is the traditional words, and the italicized are the words translated from Aramaic: 
Our Father who art in heaven
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, you create all that moves in light.
Hallowed be thy name
Focus your light within us — make it useful: as the rays of a beacon show the way.
Thy kingdom come
Unite our “I can” to yours, so that we walk as kings and queens with every creature.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Create in me a divine cooperation — from many selves, one voice, one action.
Give us this day our daily bread
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Forgive our hidden past, the secret shames, as we consistently forgive what others hide.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Deceived neither by the outer nor the inner — free us to walk your path with joy.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
From you is born all ruling will, the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all from age to age it renews. Amen.

As you can see, language matters.  The translation from Aramaic is full of nuances and an expanded understanding of the words that Jesus would have spoken to his disciples when they said to him, "Teach us to pray."  

So, why am I sharing all of this in a Devo?  

There are far too many Christians in our culture today who are fond of starting conversations about faith with the words, "The Bible says..."  Sadly, most of them never really read the Bible for all it's worth. 

If you want a translation of the Bible closest to the original Greek and Hebrew, get a copy of the New Revised Standard Bible.  There are editions of the NRSV that also have study guides. 

And if you want to read some great books on how to read the Bible critically, check out these: 

Peter Enns: "How The Bible Actually Works," and "The Bible Tells Me So"

Rob Bell: "What is the Bible?"

Rachel Held Evans: "Inspired" 

Various Authors: "The Bible And The Believer: How to Read The Bible Critically and Religiously" 

Marcus Borg: "Reading The Bible Again For the First Time" 

If you want a conversation partner in your journey or have questions about where to find more resources, feel free to contact me.  

May you discover more about the Bible than you ever knew, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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