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Sunday: Understanding the Scriptures — 19 Comments

  1. In my second year of high school teaching I was asked to teach Bible, a practice not uncommon in those days when we did not have specialist Bible teachers. The theme for my class that year was the New Testament and to make things a bit interesting I suggested that we ought to translate the Bible into modern (1970s) English. We weren't too ambitious - we chose to translate Philemon. To give you a bit of a context, in those days we used the King James Version in our classes and all students studied a Shakespearean play every year in their English classes, so they were familiar with the language.

    I pointed out to them that their translation had to be more than just replacing "Thou hast..." with "You have..." and so on. I reminded them that Paul was a friend of both Philemon and Onesimus and that he was writing a letter trying to heal the rift between a master and slave. They were to write the letter as though they were writing to two friends that needed reconciliation in modern times.

    My students attacked the problem with enthusiasm, probably because I said that 20% of their marks for the term was dependent on it, but the results were surprisingly good. I kept some of their "translations" for some years after just so that I could use them in sermons. My students managed to capture some of the relationship between these men and make it meaningful in the modern context. The challenge of taking a biblical passage and rewriting it with a modern application had been very rewarding.

    I come back to one of my basic premises about Bible translation. While we may discuss the process of biblical transmission from ancient times until now, the real challenge is about how we make the principles in the Bible relevant in the modern world, particularly when so many of our friends do not even believe it is important any more. The translation fo the Word into action is the most significant step in the whole translation process and it is the translation that involves us.

    But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. James 1:22

    • Maurice - When comparing methods and application of biblical principles which lead to success in ancient times with methods and application of biblical principles in the modern world, I can find no difference in outcome.

      In both settings, the doers of the word needed to be hearers first. Only after they 'heard' were they called to obedience to the principles of the revealed Truth or to suffer the consequences through disobedience. Some heard with their mind only, others heard with their mind and heart.

      The biblical principles rejected in ancient times are being rejected on the same grounds - non-believe in the supreme power of the God who established the principles governing our world!

      As you pointed out - to many, God is not relevant any more.

      In ancient times, it was not 'necessary' to remain faithful to the God of principles, because other god's offered satisfaction much easier - through works and the worship of idols.

      This same principle is still at work in our time - instant gratification/satisfaction derived through actions based on principles made by man in order to establish himself to be the source and receiver of 'praise'.

      Man-made principles are established in order to replace the worship of God and instead focus praise on man. The usurper loves the 'unlawful' man that listens to his own counsel.

      No matter the actions undertaken by the faithful, they will always, by the non-discerning mind, be attributed to the person undertaking them.

      Only when fully understood that God created man and the inherent power invested in 'good works - anything that is 'good' - can man be inspired to praise God through the manifestation of good works.

      Therefore, it takes God's Holy Spirit power as revealed through God's Word to re-direct the understanding of the unregenerate mind. It is even difficult for the believer to make this important distinction.

      The renewing influence comes through the teaching and hearing of His Word first and foremost; though a 'softened/receptive' heart can also perceive, though not understand, God's goodness through the loving actions of a compassionate friend.

      God's Word is the seed - what happens to the seed after entering the hearer's ears and falling/entering his heart takes place in the same way as it has in ancient times -
      Matt.13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15.
      The seed only sprouts successfully when falling on fertile ground.

      • It is so Sad, that what you Brigitte and Maurice said is true; God and the Bible seems to not be relevant to the masses today. I want to shout every day to everyone everywhere, "Don't you know and understand that 'God is everything' and the Bible tells of HIM. What can be more important than that".

        I do understand that the enemy has clouded many of the masses' eyes with so many distractions that they can not see; however, one day, Jesus' eye-salve will cause the scales to fall from their eyes, and they will see clearly. In the meantime, we, who know the relevancy of God and the Bible, are the guardians of these truths, and we must be prayerful and watchful to represent and protect it at all times. God has always had a People that carried His Word into the next generation, that understood the relevancy of His Word, and were willing to die for God's Word in order to protected it from the enemies' hands.

        Praise God, that He has appointed us to be His guardians of His Word for this age, and during this crisis. Let us all pray that God will use us to fulfill His plans. God's blessing to All!

    • Hi Maurice,
      That sounds like a very engaging activity. I would love to hear some of their translations. That gives me an idea of something fun to do with my future classes at school. Thanks for sharing it. Tammy

    • Just to add that in addition to biblical narratives and records of historical events, God Himself spoke through the cloud announcing Christ as His beloved son (Mark 9,7).

    • Thanks for sharing this. your last paragraph is the take away for me. Its the bottom line and the basic principle of what our main focus should be. Thanks.

    • Maurice, you have hit the nail squarely on the head with this story. The fundamental reason many view Christianity as irrelevant in the world is because Christians are (to our shame) irrelevant to the world. If we who profess Christ would not only “translate” the Good News stories into a language that ordinary people would understand, but would “translate” these into our lives, the world would find incredible relevance from our living in the steps of Christ. It starts in the here and now with Christ, and ends in the hereafter with him.

  2. Today's lesson states "The Bible was written as a witness to God’s work in history, His plan for redeeming the fallen race of humanity, and to instruct us in all ways of righteousness. The Lord chose to do this in human language, making His thoughts and ideas visible through human words".

    Have you ever experienced someone alleging you said something that was very different to what you were actually attempting to communicate? They may have even quoted the precise words you used - but drew a very different conclusion from the one you were intending. How does this happen?

    Human language (and therefore communication) is very vulnerable to miscommunication. There are at least two reasons for this.

    1) words are an attempt to quickly summarise a concept. But what they enable in speed and cognitive efficiency, they unfortunately also risk in terms of accuracy. The concept is typically much broader with considerably more nuance than the summary word 'label' that is used to try to describe/define it. English is one of the more vulnerable languages for this as far as I can tell.

    2) while the author of the word is essentially packing a concept into that word, the receiver of the word has to unpack that word back into a concept. This is where much error happens in communication. And example is one person saying "but you said ..." while the other person replies "but that' not what I meant".

    Because God has used human language, this vulnerability exists within the Bible and has therefore been the source of much misunderstanding.

    Hence the absolute need for the Holy Spirit who inspired (but did not dictate to) the original Bible writers to do the best they could at the time of the writing to also inspire the seeker of truth to more and more 'accurately' come to understand what was the original intent behind the words being used. This is a process that takes time and effort on the part of the reader. However it is a process that depends upon hunger to know God and His ways rather than intellectual brilliance.

    How is your appetite?

    "Sharp, clear perceptions of truth will never be the reward of indolence. Investigation of every point that has been received as truth will richly repay the searcher; he will find precious gems. And in closely investigating every jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing scripture with scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretation of Scripture. Christ would have the searcher of his word sink the shaft deeper into the mines of truth. If the search is properly conducted, jewels of inestimable value will be found. The word of God is the mine of the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Review & Herald July 12, 1898, par. 15)

  3. Moses concludes his final farewell speech by declaring to the people of Israel take this message to the heart, so that you can command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. Learn the word so you can teach your children. I did not give these laws to make your life miserable. These laws predict or determine the outcome of how well you live on this earth. If you are obedient, you will live long. Notice, He did not say you might or may, or could live long, but with confidence He says you will live long. Are you fearful of the pandemic that is passing through the land, by being obedient to his law you will live long

  4. As a believer in the Lord Jesus and someone who has studied the subject of bible versions for many years I felt compelled to voice my opinion about anyone or church using and condoning any other version of the bible besides the King James Version.
    The sda church has come out of the Roman Catholic church but is giving heed to versions of the bible which have been corrupted by them, every modern version including the New King James uses a corrupted Vatican text and not the Majority Text used by the KJV translators. Bottom line is modern versions have removed and added words from the bible and Rev. 22:18-19 explicitly condemns it.
    I hope you all will consider and study this for yourself, God bless!

    • Are you referring to the 1611 or the 1769 version of the KJV?

      If you have studied the history of the KJV, then you will know that the original mandate for it is as follows:

      James I called for a new translation of the Bible, authorized to be read in churches. The mandate for the new Bible translation included:

      1) Instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy[i].

      2) Certain Greek and Hebrew Words were to be translated so that they reflected Church of England practice.
      The new translation was not to have marginal notes. This had been an issue with the Geneva Bible as it had extensive notes that were viewed with disfavour by both the Papists and the monarchy.

      3) It must be written in a language that is familiar to the readers and listeners. One effect of this was that anglicized names were used wherever possible.

      We need to remember that every translation of the Bible has a mandate. The miracle is that irrespective of why they exist most translations, including the modern ones make the Gospel adequately clear. It is up to us to read the message and apply it to ourselves.

      A Short History of the King James Version

      • First of all the 1611 and 1769 kjv’s are editions, not versions. To equate the modern Vatican backed versions with the kjv is like comparing a butter knife to a samari sword. Sure you can get the basics of the gospel from a modern version, but to build your faith on the shirting sands of corrupted bibles is confusion.
        We are supposed to live by every word of God and the kjv is as close as we will get in this life.
        Do you not think that God who inspired the original prophets to write his word would just give up on preserving it? How can anyone memorize his word when there are hundreds of different and contradicting versions of it?
        Again the bottom line is do you trust a bible that comes from the great whore or one that came from the uncorrupted Majority Text untouched by the Popes?

        • To be honest Thomas, I grew up with the King James Version and memorized it for lesson memory verses, doctrinal texts and so on. Consequently, when I do a study now using my electronic Bibles, I always start my search with that version. It is a valuable personal asset. On the other hand for readability, I will often switch to one of the other versions.

          At the same time, I appreciate that many people do not have my background and are more familiar with modern translations.

          You ask: Do you not think that God who inspired the original prophets to write his word would just give up on preserving it? My answer is no, and he did not stop in 1611 or 1769. The Word of God is clear in most of the commonly used modern versions. (and even in the Douay-Rheims version) Do you think that God would allow his Word to be hidden in more recent translations? Even in the Church-of-England-mandated King James version his word is clear. (Take time to read the article that I linked to in my previous comment.)

          • Interesting article Maurice, but you still have not addressed the subject of the original texts used in the translation of the kjv, which is the crux of the matter.
            This is one reason why the modern versions are contradictory and different from each other and the kjv.
            It seems that this is something missing from a lot of people’s understanding about bible versions and I feel if were all aware of it, most believers would choose the kjv. God bless!

          • Ok, fair enough. I will prepare a post on original texts used for the Bible - but you will have to give me a couple of days to do it because it is a fairly complex issue. I think the topic is pertinent to the current lesson and is worth exploring. Just remember that I am not a linguist.

        • Hello Thomas,

          I believe from your comments that you are unaware of the history of the KJV, which was commissioned by King James VI. Those who performed the translation were mandated by King James to accomplish in the translation very specific religious and political objectives. Note that King James instructions to the translators were mandated, that is, mandatory. It is hard to think that under such a mandate that the KJV is somehow the pure unadulterated word of God. Nevertheless, just God uses and accepts imperfect error-prone human beings to accomplish his will, he has used the KJV, even with its many imperfections and errors, to lead men and women to Christ.

          Since you have already read Maurice’s article, may I suggest that you consider informing your opinion by reading the following links:

          It is only through the love and grace of God and his Christ that the Spirit can bring understanding of his word to those humble enough to receive it.

          In hope,
          Richard Ferguson

  5. Understanding the scriptures, as it seems, would require many things to be just so. However, I delight in what the Bible teaches on how to know what it is telling me, and makes it very simple. Notice the words of Daniel 12:10, or the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:22,23 and John 7:17.

    If any will follow what is clear, then that which is not so clear will be revealed to the obedient ones.

    We also have the promises of God, which come with conditions to meet if we would receive their benefit. For any who would understand scripture, in Psalm 32 there is a wonderful promise that God will "instruct you and teach you", can you find the condition for this wonderful promise? (it is a short chapter)

  6. Reading Psalms 32, as suggested by Robert, made me think of the comparison of buying a new car. When you buy a car, it comes with an owner’s manual. If we “obey” the owner’s manual, our cars last and run so much better. God gave us an owner’s manual for a Lang and meaningful life. Does that mean we will have no troubles? No, not at all, just like having the owner’s manual in our glovebox doesn’t insure we won’t get a flat or that no one will run into us, knowing and obeying God’s word does not promise a trouble free life, but it does get us through the rough spots, because we know where our source of repairs is. It may seem a bit corny, but it the analogy does fit.

  7. I like to say of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that the living word of God ("God-breathed," as in Adam having the breath of life given him) tell us what is right, what is not right, how to get right and how to stay right. Application is indispensable in the walk with God and without people see a witness that provides them evidence that the Word is irrelevant.


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