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Bible Study as Conversation: The Interdependence of Ages

translation 4 small sxc huI’ve been sharing my thoughts of late on the subject of reading Scripture in translation and the common discomfort that Evangelicals usually feel when scholars suggest that there is some vital element of Bible study that those who are dependent on translation are missing.

I am unapologetic over the fact that Scripture was written in Greek, Hebrew & Aramaic, millennia ago, in a land foreign to most, and a culture long since dead, morphed as it may have been over the ages into the similar cultures in those regions now. What this basically means on a practical level is that I earned a PhD to learn less than the average beggars of Isaiah and Jesus’ day knew my accident by dint of nothing more than being native to the languages and intimate with the history and culture.

Let’s be logical about this.

Children are dependent on what their parents and teachers tell them.

Parents and teachers are dependent on what books they are able to read. Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Lexicons, monographs, articles, commentaries, etc.

Those who write these books are dependent on other books, and on the research they are able to conduct using other people’s research and resources.

I read Greek, Hebrew & Aramaic. I have learned (but mostly forgotten) German & French. I can function on a basic level with resources using Ugaritic (the language of Canaan) and Akkadian (the language of Assyria & Babylon). I am dependent for my work on other experts who read these languages with skill and have researched the literature of these cultures (which I can only work with in translation.) I need the help of Egyptologists, Assyriologists, Summeriologists. I need experts in Ethiopic, Coptic, Syrian, Hittite, Latin, Arabic, and several other languages. I need different archaeologists and historians who specialize in dozens of areas.

Even my text criticism (comparing original language manuscripts to discern the original reading) is dependent on those who have dedicated their lives to cataloging differences between thousands of manuscripts.

No matter how far one goes in their study of Scripture they will be dependent on somebody for something. The richness of Scripture, the depth of its meaning in context is not the work of a life time, it’s the work of thousands of lifetimes… proven by the many thousands of people who have dedicated their entire lives to bringing their small piece to the corporate table of discussion.

Bible study in all its facets is a millennia long conversation about God, His World, His Word and our lives in and before it all. I find it the height of ignorance and arrogance when some, standing unwittingly upon the achievements of a myriad of dedicated lives, boast themselves enough without study—Just them, God and the Bible.

I realize that the enormity of the task can be daunting and more than a little humbling. I realize that the task can be overwhelming… especially if your measure of worth is your ability to know it all, to have certainty of all, to be the big man on campus, the fount of all knowledge of God and spiritual guidance for the flock that is so blessed to have you among all the lesser souls of the world for a leader.

That, however, is often the problem. We measure our worth as Christians, and the worth of Christianity itself by the wrong things.

Certainty is a lie. If we must have certainty to have faith, then we don’t have faith.

God does not have faith. God does not believe anything. God knows, and absolute knowledge eradicates the need for faith. This is why, in the end, love will remain, but faith and hope will disappear; we will know, we will have.

So, when it comes to Bible study, the great attainment of our lives is not the joy of knowing everything, but the joy of discovery. To quote the great theologian Miley Cyrus, “It’s the climb.” The joy is in the journey, the process of discipleship fomented at the feet of Scripture in an ever increasing discovery of God in His Word.

This process demands humility, however. For no matter how much knowledge one person accumulates over the course of his or her life, we are dependent on one another. Sometimes the heart knows things the head cannot figure out. Sometimes those we despise and fear, who are not part of our tradition, know things that we need to learn. At all times, however, we need hearts and minds that are ready to grow through an increasing participation in that grand discussion of the ages about God’s Word.

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