Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holier than Thou

   I just finished 'Eat This Book' by Eugene Peterson, translator of 'The Message' version of the bible. What a stunning piece of work! As I've already said in my Amazon review, Peterson is a writer at the peak of his craft, such that 'I found myself re-reading lines and phrases just for the sheer pleasure of letting the words dance again through my mind'.
  The final chapter of the book was particularly fascinating as in it he deals with the whole subject of translation and interpretation. This immediately intrigued me as it offered insights into why on earth anybody in their right mind would want to use the King James version as their daily bible of choice. Take it's history for starters, the old King James version, dating back to 1611, was largely produced to trump the 1526 English New Testament that was in general circulation after being painstaking translated by William Tyndale in such a way that 'the boy that driveth the plough' would be able to comprehend it. King James has other ideas about religion - and social cohesion. His team of translators worked hard to ensure that their work gathered unto itself a majestic aloof-ness from the dirt of daily life.
   Now then, there's more to delve into here. As you ought to know, the New Testament is written in Greek. But there's more than one version of Greek. The Greek spoken 2000 years ago is not the Greek spoken today. It's similar, but different. The Greek written 2000 years ago is not the Greek written today, it's different again, in various ways. The key difference we need to pay attention to is not the difference between then and now but the difference between spoken and written Greek 2000 years ago. The Greeks loved literature and philosophy, and they reflected their esteem for it in the highly polished form of writing they used to record and communicate their ideas on paper. And here's the twist, for countless centuries the New Testament text was understood by means of translation using the language of classical (attic) Greek - that was the only written form of Greek that could be found in the libraries of the Roman world and the societies that followed after the great Empire's collapse. But there was a big problem for the translators. Of the 5000 words used in the New Testament's, about 500 could not be found anywhere in classical written Greek. What were these strange words. Well of course, they must be special 'holy' words, the language of angels, the special communications of the Spirit. Or so 'inspired' translators speculated. After all, how could the Word Of God be penned in anything other than the finest of vocabularies?
   Time passed and eventually Archaeology came into vogue and intrepid diggers set off on globe-trotting endeavours bringing to light all manner of artifacts that shed new light on the ancient world of the bible. One such discovery was made in 1897 by a couple of Brits underneath a rubbish dump on the outskirts of an unassuming village called Oxyrhynchus, 160 miles upstream along the Nile from Cairo. They brought up, preserved and intact, 27 papyrus documents that would revolutionize bible translation. 27 pieces of utterly ancient Greek text - but far from classical library Greek. Closer inspection would reveal this to be the greatest ever find of common street Greek (koine) from the time of Jesus. And guess what. Those 500 missing words in the New Testament. Koine. Common street Greek. Far from being the language of angels or special holy words God had entrusted his sacred revelation to the language of the marketplace and the fields, not the language of the temples and the academies. 

   So why should we join the company of William Tyndale, J.B. Phillips and Eugene Peterson in ensuring that scripture is always available in the language of the plough-boy? Because that's exactly what you'd expect of the true and living Word who 'became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.' 

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Monday, April 28, 2008

American Idol does Hillsong

I think I should be happy about this but instead it just gives me the creeps. Can anyone offer a diagnosis as to why?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Letter from God

The notes accompanying this little movie on YouTube state "This poem isn't actually about religion. It is kind of irrelevant to the piece whether or not you believe in God or a God or anything like that. That's not the point......"
I disagree, it seems to be totally about religion, specifically the way that religion plays God, but blatantly isn't God.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading the bible is dangerous

Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble. The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person's hands with the command, "Read it." That is quite as foolish as putting a set of keys in an adolescent's hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, "Drive it." And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that, intoxicated with the power that technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently.
For print is technology. We pick up a Bible and find that we have God's word in our hands, our hands. We can now handle it. It is easy enough to suppose that we are in control of it, that we can use it, that we are in charge of applying it wherever, whenever, and to whomever we wish without regard to appropriateness or conditions.
There is more to the Honda than the technology of mechanics. And there is more to the Bible than the technology of print. Surrounding the machine technology of the Honda there is the world of gravity and inertia, values and velocity, surfaces and obstructions, Chevrolets and Fords, traffic regulations and the highway patrol, other drivers whether drunk or sober, snow and ice and rain. There is more to driving a car than turning a key in the ignition and stepping on the accelerator. Those who don't know that are soon dead or maimed.
And those who don't know the conditions implicit in the technology of the Bible are likewise dangerous to themselves and others. And so, as we hand out Bibles and urge people to read them, it is imperative that we say, caveat lector, let the reader beware.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Stretching the Truth

'Stretching the truth' is a turn of phrase that you might use to describe a kid who is trying to give a plausible excuse to her maths teacher for why she hasn't done her homework on time. But does truth actually possess elastic qualities? Can it be stretched? If truth isn't elastic does that render it brittle? If it is, does it have an elastic limit beyond which it will... snnaaAP!
These questions are important to me because of the faith-journey I find myself on. I feel like I'm in a very dynamic place where there's a lot of movement going on, movement that I'm part of. (a dance?) It's very different from where I was a few years ago which felt a lot like standing on sinking sand. But with so much movement all around the challenge is to locate those fixed points that offer reliable orientation and prevent the onset of nausea!
I'll be having some friends round on Saturday morning to talk about this sort of stuff. I'm really looking forward to it, especially as there will be a whole range of positions and perspectives represented. Where will we end up? I really don't know, but that's the exciting thing. I don't know if the truth can be stretched, but I can, I want to be.

"Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

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