The Beautiful Depth of Understanding in Scripture

I LOVE the Message version of the scripture this week. You can take a look at it here: The Message Romans 14.

This is a fine bit of writing by Eugene Peterson that adds so much meaning to this passage for modern ears. Of course, this raises interesting questions about what we look for in a version of scripture. If I am looking for the most accurate word-for-word translation of a given piece of scripture, then for my money, I turn to the NRSV. Knowing the original languages, knowing the techniques used in translation for this version, and knowing the people that did it lead me to believe the NRSV is most often the most accurate translation.

However, accuracy is not always about word-for-word translation. Sometimes it is about kinds of meaning that don’t come through in a word-for-word translation. Idioms, cultural references, words that don’t have a good English equivalent, poetry, traditions behind the text, are all important parts of scripture that often can’t be represented in a word-for-word translation. Which means that sometimes, it is better to have a paraphrase like The Message or the Common English Bible (my two favorites) which place more importance on meaning and relevancy rather than accurate words. This kind of interpretation often adds layers that had fallen away from the scripture (this weeks scripture is a prime example). However, a paraphrase does come with its own baggage. A paraphrase has necessarily gone through another level of interpretation, and that leaves the interpretation open to being more influenced by the writer than may be necessary.

Because of the problems that come with both of these types of interpretation, if I am really trying to seriously study the text I look at multiple versions—NRSV, The Message, CEB, NIV, KJV, Greek and Hebrew. Of course that is a lot of work, but it is important work.

What this also points to is trouble that we have in determining what “Accurate” means. This is part of the reason, as Presbyterians, we believe that the bible itself is simply a book—a great and important book, but a book. The Bible is not the word of God, but the word of God is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit moving through the text and us upon the reading or hearing of the Bible. We need the Spirit there to guide us to the word of God. This is another problem with the idea of “Biblical Literalism.” It doesn’t leave room for the Spirit of God, and instead insists that the book itself and our ability to understand are enough on their own, without the work of the Spirit. “Biblical Literalism” lacks the humility to realize that we need the Spirit, and that (as this passage from Romans indicates) sometimes the Spirit moves each of us in different directions—even when we hear the same scripture.

But alas, here I am making judgments on other Christians for their experience of faith—also something of which this passage is highly critical. Please forgive me. Isn’t scripture wonderfully complicated when you really dig down deep?


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