Give Yourself to Others …

Archive for August 2009

This is a great post by John Mark Hicks, who twice has suffered pre-mature death of family.  It speaks to the sadness of such loss in a way that only someone who has experienced it has the credibility to speak.

I should have added a subtitle:  the trouble with bible study.

That’s probably a little misleading — intended to get your attention.  In my view, there are a couple of problems with most bible study.

And as background, let me describe my upbringing and education.  I was raised in a religious family.  We attended worship every Sunday, and until well into my 40’s, I probably attended some kind of Sunday morning bible class 50 our of 52 weeks a year.  In college, I had a minor concentration in Bible, which included two-years of Greek study.

I learned a lot over those years.  And in the broad scheme of things, I know the Text of the bible as well as or better than most.  But that’s beside the point.

Something no one ever said to me — straight out — is that studying an English translation of the bible is, by definition, studying someone’s opinion of what it says.  Because translating any text is a judgement.  Sure there are a lot of passages, where the meaning in pretty clear.  But if the meaning of a passage is controversial in anyway, then you can bet the translator is expressing an opinion.  That’s one reason why most translations are done by groups — so the groups have to argue and compromise on how the controversial passages translate from Greek to English.

Just a couple of examples:  baptism is a really poor translation of the Greek word, baptizo.  It should be translated “immersion” or “submersion.”  But the originally King James translators couldn’t translate it that way, because the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were already baptizing by pouring and sprinkling.  So, they transliterated the Greek word to make a new English word, that they could define their own way.

Ekklesia is the Greek word generally translated “church.”  It really means “assemble.”  It was used to describe the assembly of the citizens of Athens when they gathered to vote on public issues.  Those Athenians were certainly not at “church.”  Church comes from the German word, kirche, which translates as cathedral.  By translating ekklesia as church, the King James translators kept the people coming to the cathedrals.

Next, have you ever tried to analyze the meaning of something your wrote 10 years ago?  Not likely.  We kind of know what we meant.  And most writing is not intended for granular dissection and analysis.  The Supreme Court often seeks to determine “Congressional Intent” when evaluating the cases before them.  They often find that while the language of a given statute is poor, the Congressional Intent is very clear.

I got so tired of the debates of the minutiae of biblical exegesis that I started looking for the big picture — what was God trying to tell me?  What was his intent.  I try to read long passages of the Text and then reflect on what it seems to be saying.  I think that gives me a clearer picture of what the writer was trying to get across.

In addition, like anyone who reads the Text, there are some passages that seem to be saying things that conflict with each other.  Rather than say that’s a huge problem, I thought there must be some more fundamental premise that allowed one writer to make one statement and a different writer to write something that, on the surface, conflicted with the first writer.

So that became my quest — what is the fundamental premise of the Text?

It’s always a little arrogant to think that writing about one’s own personal experience might be useful to others.  But here I am doing that very thing, for that very reason.  My purpose is only to provide encouragement to those readers who can relate to my story, or those who are willing to think only for themselves, doubting anything said by anyone else.

So, here goes.

1 Peter 3:14-16

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

For reasons, I’ve never really known, this passage really stuck in my head — going back at least to my teenage years.  Especially, the middle verse where it says be prepared to give answer for the hope you have.

In my gut, I felt like not all the things I was being taught in my Bible classes at church, really met that criteria.  In retrospect, I was being taught very clear rules, but not very clear rationale for those rules.  Many times the scriptures, provided to me as evidence for the rules, did not, to me, say the things my teachers were telling me it said.

Maybe, you would write that off to teenage rebellion — and I would not entirely dispute that.  However, I’ve never let that passage go … ever.

And when I ask for a reason, I want a reason that is simple and obvious to anyone.  The reason should not require a Ph D in hermeneutics or theology.  A simple person, simply reading the Text, should be able to see the rationale.

Is that too much to ask?

I didn’t think so.  And as a result, I became pretty skeptical listening to preachers and bible teachers, ever since.  No different today.

In my experience, there seem to be a lot of believers who are afraid to question what they think.  Raising a question about one’s faith seems to cast doubt on one’s entire faith.  I never bought that.  Questioning what you believe is the only way to know that you really believe it.  That it’s really part of who you are, and not just something with which you’ve been indoctrinated by parents, teachers and other very well meaning folk.

That was step 1.

Isn’t that a great question!

And it applies whether, you’re a life long believer or a young skeptic.  The question also has the power to change the nature and substance of a conversation.  For a big part of my life, I was easily engaged in what I know see as pointless debates over doctrine or interpretation of some myopic detail in the Text of the Bible.  Did it really matter?  No

Next time you get into a heated conversation or debate, be sure to ask what really matters.

Jesus said that what really matters is loving one another the way he loved us.  After that, most other things pale into insignificance.

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