I also rebel against "just the facts" Bibles


(Christy Hemphill) #1

My nomination for the most lovely and amen-inspiring introduction to a book review ever goes to Glenn Pauuw for his review of Sarah Ruden’s The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible

Just let this all sink in…

[quote]If we take seriously what the Bible says about itself (insofar as it talks about itself), then the Bible is a divine speech act—a collection of words meant to do things on God’s behalf, to effect change and inaugurate new realities. Yet God has chosen to do all this in and through regular people doing regular human things. Some angry prophet denounces the injustice he sees. A worried leader dictates some letters. Storytellers capture and hold audiences with their skillful narrations. A visionary somehow transcribes his fantastical dreams and nightmares into language, so others might catch a glimpse. Our words, God’s work.

For a long time now, human words have been more than bare symbols of basic meaning. Maybe that’s what they were when we first started using them. But we’ve learned how to shape those sounds and intonations in special ways to add depth and strength, crafting more powerful and moving expressions of things like pain and humor, beauty and pathos. With these new, more thoughtful combinations of the building blocks of language we created literary genres—unique ways of fashioning fresh structures for the delivery of more meaningful words. Thus we moved beyond flat and lifeless statements of facts to words that sing or mourn or drive home or surprise—words that do more than merely inform. We found ways to use these carriers of meaning to cross the empty spaces that arise between us. Rightly employed, words allow us to commune together in our yearning for that deeper understanding that just might enable transformation. Not merely to know, but to see and to feel and then to do.

It was not a happy moment, then, when modernity imposed a new form on the Bible, changing its songs and letters, stories and wisdom into a holy reference book with endless columns of numbered, neutered lists of propositions. Much of the literary power drained out of the Bible, its sacred words straight-jacketed into unnatural channels. This template changed what we thought the Bible was, and therefore what we thought we were supposed to do with it.

In the heated battles between left and right that followed, in which the Bible was either smugly attacked or desperately defended, a key casualty was often the wonder, power, and emotion of the words themselves. We lost touch with what they once did and could do again if only we would let them. In the smoke of our warfare, the more interesting and determinative human aspects of the sacred text were no longer seen. The Bible was either truth or fantasy. But where then is the creativity and flavor and liveliness of its language, embedded in ancient literary forms, doing great and mighty work?
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:relieved: Yes, exactly.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Powerful words, them!

So do you mean to tell me, then, that the chapter divisions and numberings, and headings were not directly dictated by God? :fearful:


(Jay Johnson) #3

I would give multiple likes if I could! I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ complaint against the “higher critics” of his day, which seems to apply all across the board in our day:

These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.


(Christy Hemphill) #4

They were, but only in the Authorized King James Version.


(Christy Hemphill) #5

I have a VOICE translation which makes some interesting choices. For example, dialogue is set up like a play script, transliterations of key terms are avoided or expanded (God’s anointed liberating king instead of Messiah, ritual cleansing instead of baptism). They had a team of authors and song-writers consult on the text, and verses are sometimes rearranged to reflect more natural information flow in English. It is a different experience reading it. Sometimes things hit you in a really new way. Sometimes, by force of Evangelical habit I’m like, “Yeah, but that wasn’t in the original text,” but that just brings up all the complexities of translation (of which I am more aware than most people). Translation isn’t just about rendering the original words into another language, it’s about attempting to recreate the intended impact of those words on a new and different audience, capturing the perlocution of the speech act.

Have you all seen that video of Bono sitting down with Eugene Peterson and talking about how the Psalms just wrecked him when he read them in The Message? Peterson has gotten a lot of flack for taking liberties with the text, but I have to think there is a time and a place for that kind of thing.


(Jay Johnson) #6

More multiple likes needed! Love the Bono video. And this deserves to be repeated, with my own emphasis added …


(GJDS) #7

I agree with the thrust of these comments, but I guess I want to voice my pet peeve regarding how we may read the Bible, and that is what I see at times, as a subconscious trivialising of text - I prefer to commence with a clear attitude, and that is, the Bible is the inspired word of God, given to us by servants that God called for that purpose. This imo provides the setting, and than we may consider texts, languages, genre etc.


(Jay Johnson) #8

Don’t mess with pet peeves! haha. I certainly agree that we, as Christians, should handle the text with reverence as both authoritative and inspired. Still, the Bible was written in everyday language for the common man. Here’s a little scrap from Daniel Wallace that I always thought was interesting:

In 1895 a German pastor by the name of Adolf Deissmann published a rather innocent-sounding volume: Bible Studies. Yet, this single volume started a revolution in NT scholarship–a revolution in which the common man was the winner.

__In the 1800s Deissmann began reading ancient Greek MSS. But not the great classical authors. He was reading private letters, business transactions, receipts, marriage contracts. What were these documents? Merely scraps of papyrus (the ancient forerunner to paper) found in 2,000-year-old Egyptian garbage dumps. In these seemingly insignificant papyri, Deissmann discovered a key to uncover the NT! For these papyri contained the common Greek language of the first century A.D. They were written in the vocabulary of the NT.

What’s so revolutionary about that? you ask. It is revolutionary because up until 1895, biblical scholars had no real parallels to the language of the NT. They often viewed its Greek as invented by the Holy Spirit. They called it “Holy Ghost Greek.” Now it is true that the ideas–even the words–were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But it’s another thing to say that the language of the NT was unusual–that its grammar and vocabulary were, in a word, unique. If this were true, only the spiritual elite could even hope to understand the NT.

Deismann’s discovery burst the bubble on this view: the Greek of the NT was written in the language of the common man.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #9

That’s an excellent quotation. Wallace is a good guy.


(GJDS) #10

Now that my pet peeve is away from harm :laughing: I agree with this and would add that the Gospels writers do not seem to have thought what they wrote would end up as the NT. During that period, the writings were circulated as manuscripts that could be read by any Christian and understood even by those without an education. It gets that common and also that sensible. It took the Church some effort to realise the writer received guidance by the Holy Spirit, and also the writings were freely done. It cannot get more free as a writing or more inspirational.


(Christy Hemphill) #11

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