Well, that’s about it for me. There’s plenty more to muse about but this seems like a good place to leave it for now.
The Bible is one of the most influential books ever written, especially in the Western world. It is full of profound truths and spiritual wisdom. But was it written to be taken literally and is it the one and only word of God? I think not.
The stories in the Bible were allegorical, full of symbology and deeper meanings. But much like the Jews who were so hung up on following the letter of the law that they completely missed the simple teachings of Jesus, we have lost the forest for the trees. Rather than embrace the symbolism, we fight over the meaning of scraps of an ancient text that had no punctuation.
To get an idea of what I mean, here is a list of figures of speech that probably every English speaking person over the age of twelve knows the meaning;
– On the lamb – Cold shoulder – Hit the nail on the head – Right on the button – Stuck in a rut – In a quandary – Sitting on a gold mine – Sharp as a tack – Keep you on your toes – Throw it out the window – Hit the wall – Throw in the towel – Keep your eyes peeled – Kick the bucket – Piece of cake – Nail it – Clam up – Cat got your tongue? – Walking on eggshells – Got an ace up his sleeve – Got a screw loose – Cut from the same cloth – Let the cat out of the bag – In a pig’s eye – When pigs fly – Ruffle your feathers – Yank your chain – Push your buttons – Bring down the house – Thorn in my side – Break a leg – The real McCoy – He’s a nut – The apple of my eye – Sick as a dog – Get your goat – Got you on my radar – On pins and needles
Even today, translating these phrases literally into another language would be folly. Without the cultural context it would be impossible to discern the true meaning. Can you imagine what it would be like in two thousand years?
When it comes to translation I’ve said all along that trying to decipher true meaning through literal interpretation is just not possible. The older the text gets, the more the subtleties of language slip away.
Have you ever read the original version of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’? It was written only a little over 300 years ago and, because of the language they used back then, the story is nearly incomprehensible. Legions of high school kids have suffered through trying to make sense of it. There are actually versions that have translated it into ‘modern’ English so people can understand it. And that’s English to English translation, in only 300 years.
To get an idea of how dicey translation can get, this is a synopsis of the movie, ALIEN, taken off the cover jacket of a Hong Kong bootleg DVD copy of the movie.
“Spaceship people get up from sleeping coffin and have eat. Computer woman find strange noisings on planet and astronauts go to seeing. Astronauts find big elephant man who dead then find too many egg.
Astronaut is possess by egg demon and new egg demon is come when eat bad noodle. Seven friends and cat all try to find egg demon before space ship go home is hard working.
Who will life to escaping? Who is bad milk blood robot? Scream not working because space make deaf.”
Obviously this was first translated from English to Chinese, probably literally by someone who didn’t really understand English, and then translated back to English from the Chinese version, again by someone who didn’t really understand the nuances of the English language.
This is just one simple example of how screwed up translations can get in just one cycle of interpretation. And this is just in a few years and only two languages are in the mix.
Can you imagine if, 1,200 years from now, some Greek guy found a beat up copy of this DVD box and, using his imperfect understanding of modern English, tried to translate it into Greek? And then imagine some Latin guy finding that version 300 years later and translating it into Latin. And then a Chinese guy translated the Latin version back into Chinese only to have a French guy translate his version into French, and then some Russian guy did the same thing.
Now imagine, 600 years after all this, an English guy found a copy of the Russian version and he translated that back into English. How close do you think it would be to Ridley Scott’s original? Do you think he would recognize what movie it was from? Or that it even was from a movie? What if they don’t even have movies in 1,000 years or know what they are? What if he thought it was some sacred text and the secret to God was hidden somewhere in the words?
See what I mean about translations being dicey. Believe any literal translation at your peril.
I’ve often wondered why someone would accept the Bible literally at face value and reject any other source of spiritual revelation. My dad was one of those people. He was a super intelligent guy but he would only go to a church that taught the Bible, and only the Bible.
Why would so many people refuse to go beyond the Bible when even a cursory examination reveals plenty of obvious contradictions and obvious references to ancient mythology? I imagine there is a healthy (?) dose of fear involved.
As a mostly Christian society we have had it pounded into us since we were children that the Bible is the one and only word of God, Jesus died for our sins and if we don’t believe it we’ll burn in hell forever. Pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known has that ingrained in their DNA. To consider anything else is unthinkable.
But is there any other field of science, medicine or higher learning that refuses to inquire beyond a 2000 year old text. Would you go to a doctor who only used techniques from 2000 years ago? That would not only be ridiculous, but dangerous, and no doctor would ever consider it.
Are some of the ancient techniques valid? Of course. It’s self-evident we’ve come a long way in our knowledge and understanding and every self-respecting doctor wants to keep up on the latest techniques and treatments.
But when it comes to ‘believers’, the Bible is it, lock, stock and barrel. There is nothing more to be said and they will spend their lives going over every word trying to understand what God wants them to do.
I don’t want to be rude, but doesn’t that sound pretty ignorant?
And then Jesus came along with his Good News.
If you ask most Christians what ‘Good News’ is, they’ll say it’s that Jesus died on the cross as the final sacrifice and rose from the dead, thereby atoning for the sins of mankind. The ‘Good News’ says that man doesn’t have to sacrifice anything anymore or even worry about his sins because Jesus has paid the debt.
After all Jesus tried to teach us, I’ve often wondered why people would still hold to this Old Testament model of redemption, ie: blood sacrifice to atone for sins. At its core, this is ‘Old News’ wrapped up in a simpler package. It has nothing to do with what Jesus was talking about.
Jesus stated the ‘Good News’ very simply;
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And finally, the only commandment Jesus ever gave;
“…that you love each other as I have loved you.”1
That’s it. Period. Love. That’s all you need. That’s the ‘Good News’. Just love