Give Yourself to Others …

My personal journey, part 2

Posted on: 2009/08/24

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?

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