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Category: Faith, Religion & Spirituality / Topics: Bible Change Choices and Decision Making Faith Religion Trends

The Bible Says

by Stu Johnson

Posted: May 23, 2018

Has the way we value and trust the Bible changed with all the translations available today?…

No. 19 in the Thursday Morning Guy’s group series (see list)



A few of the many English Bibles available today

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the May 3 session focused on the impact of multple versions of the Bible available today.    

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

Topic suggested by one of the guys, shared in an email the night before

Today I'm wondering how much our faith has changed? Rather how has the description of our faith changed. Has the way we value and trust the Bible changed? Have the many new translations of the Bible really made the Bible more easily understood or do we just give ourselves more P.C. Ways to communicate the Scripture? What is your favorite translation and why is it your favorite?

THE CONVERSATION

Our conversation was abbreviated so we could hear from one of the guys who has been in the United States for a year while his wife pursued a Masters’ degree at Wheaton College.  They will be returning to ministry in Kazakhstan, the largest of the “stans” that were part of the former Soviet Union (which many people here erroneously called “Russia”).

“The Bible says” can be much more confusing today than when the King James version was the nearly universal translation used by Protestants. While the archaic language of the King James, along with refinements in language brought on by the discovery of more ancient texts, have spurred new translations, the result has been the loss of the once-dominant influence of the Bible, especially in English-speaking cultures. 

When most of the guys were children, many people—even those who were not regular church-goers—could recite numerous Bible passages. They used the same words, because they were memorized from the King James version (“if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul…” the joke went as new versions started to crop up). Not only did that version of the Bible provide a common touchpoint among the religious, it played a prominent role in our common language and culture.

A PBS program several years ago reported on research at the University of California Berkley that looked at the roots of American literature and culture. From Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain, from religious speech to everyday conversation, many phrases were traceable directly to the King James version of the Bible. 

In the United States for many years there was widespread use of the Bible in public schools as a source for language, culture, and moral education.  As one of the guys pointed out, many readers today miss allusion to the Bible found in much of American literature (Moby Dick and Treasure Island were just two that he mentioned).  As far back as 1995, when I left Wheaton College, Bible professors were lamenting the decline in Bible knowledge among students at that time compared to earlier decades. The situation has only continued to deteriorate since then.  Mutliple translations may be a contributing factor, but certainly not a causal one—American culture has steadily moved toward secularism in the decades following World War II, and especially since the 1960s.

I mentioned how, when preparing to enter Wheaton College in the 1960s, I went to the Moody Bookstore in Chicago to get a Scofield Bible.  (That was long before bookstores in malls, It was the gold standard of Bible versions at that time. In addition to Scofield’s notes, as a “facsimile” publication, every copy, regardless of physical size, had the same page numbering—so you would hear pages turning at the same time when a passage was mentioned—sometimes, even referring to the page number in “your Scofield Bible.” 

Another said he still likes the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because of the study notes by John Ryrie. Several commented on the value of the numerous translations we have today. “God gave a gift with other translations,” said one, who loves to compare passages in multiple versions.  I commented on doing this for Scripture references for this blog. Normally, I use the New Living Translation (NLT) because of its readability, but sometimes find that it does not capture the essence of the idea conveyed in other translations. 

Today, it can be an interesting, though confusing, to have a group read an extended Bible passage. Going around the circle, each read verses from their preferred version (translations or paraphrases)—sometimes it is hard to know where to pick up when your turn comes.

Understanding of the Bible can be confused not just by a multitude of versions, but also by suggesting that passages from extra-Biblical texts such as the Gospel of Thomas are “in the Bible.”  We also see periodic interest in topics such as the Gnostic Gospels and the Jesus Seminar’s parsing of the words of Jesus in the biblical texts.  That effort recalls Thomas Jefferson’s efforts when he literally used a scissors to cut away those sayings of Jesus that did not ft his conception, resulting in the “Jefferson Bible,” for which ads appear in Smithsonian magazine and other publications.  

Our discussion went on a brief tangent into changes in what it means to be evangelical. This was spurred in part by reports from a recent meeting of evangelical leaders at Wheaton College, convened to discuss the future of evangelicalism and how to recapture the term.  Most agreed, however, that when a term has lost its meaning, it is difficult and not prudent to try to reclaim it. This matter has been touched on in other blogs both here and in my own InfoMatters blog, as well as the Religion in America page on my website).

What personal experiences or observations can you add?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

Doing a search in BibleGateway on the term “scripture” will reveal many passages that speak to the authority and content of the Scriptures (as in “the Scripture say,” have you not read,” “know the Scriptures”).  “Scripture” would have referred to God’s Word as known to the audience at the time, in writing and by oral tradition. As far as written texts, the Septuagint, a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament was produced 250-200 BC, the Councils of Jamnia (90 and 138 AD) gave final affirmation of the 39 books of the Old Testament, and Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 AD) lists the 27 books of the New Testament for the first time, affirmed by the Council of Carthage in 397 AD.  (See “How We Got Our Bible: Christian History Timeline”).  Other, specific, passages include these:

  • These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself. (Exodus 32:16)
  • Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.”  (Mark 12:24)
  • Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21the account of Jesus going to a synagogue and reading the day’s passage, which happened to be a prophecy about himself by Isaiah)
  • Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
  • “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39)
  • As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. (Acts 17:2)
  • This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Romans 1:17)
  • All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16)

About the Scripture references: unless indicated otherwise, these are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: May 23, 2018   Accessed 118 times

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