Psalm 1:1-3; Romans 15:4 ; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
What is the Bible and how did we get the text we read today? This is a foundational question for theological question, and one that must be answered wrestled with thoughtfully by anyone who claims the Bible as a formative guiding text for their life. When I was in high school, I remember having my non-Christian and/or agnostic friends ask me how I could believe in a book that had been translated so many times. Even if the original manuscripts were divinely inspired and without error, surely much has been lost in translation along the way. At the time I did not have many great answers for them - just some experiences of this good God that I could not shake that kept me from abandoning faith. Yes, there are many questions...but how can I just dismiss the very real experiences I'd had with Jesus?
Fortunately, God had given me the gift of a wonderful community that helped to nurture me through doubt and encourage good questions. Over the years, I have learned to hold faith and doubt in balance, offering my big questions to God while trusting God to provide the answers as well. In all of this, there's one grand lesson I have learned: The Bible is weird, the Bible is wonderful, and the Bible is the Word of God.
The incredibly unique thing about the Bible is that, unlike scriptures of some other religious traditions, it is of both divine and human origin. Like Jesus, it embodies the beautiful paradox of being both 100% divine and 100% human. People throughout history in different cultures, writing for different purposes, wrote stories inspired by their very real relationships with the Living God. These books, songs, and letters were not dropped from the heavens but instead broke into our reality on earth. And as time marched on, spiritual leaders recognized the need to translate the words of these texts in fresh ways and in language that could be understood by the common people even as languages transformed and changed. These scholars throughout history have taken on the task of faithfully translating the words of the Bible into new languages while doing their best to maintain the truth of the original text. The surprising result is that we gain increasingly more knowledge of God's goodness through the process of translation and contextual application throughout history all around the world. The real experiences of God's faithfulness recorded in scripture meet the real experiences of God's people in the here and now, and it comes to life in a new way.
This is not to say that truth is subjective or changing, nor does it mean we should dismiss questions about historicity or contradictions. What it does mean is that we must acknowledge that the purpose of scripture is to bear witness to God's covenantal relationship with creation and form God's people, and that ought to influence the questions we bring to the text. Rather than asking, "What is the text trying to tell me?" we ought to ask, "What is the text trying to make me?" I am constantly amazed that Jesus did not spend his 33 years on earth meticulously writing down everything he wanted us to know. Instead, Jesus spent his time and energy pouring into people, ministering to the poor, and making disciples. The Bible is vitally important to us a Christians, but it is not God's preferred medium to spread the good news.
God's preferred medium is us.
Since the earliest days of the Christian movement, disciples and missionaries have been spreading the message of God's redemptive work with humanity to new cultures and contexts. What is this but the act of translation? The beautiful consequence is that as the Gospel is brought to each new culture, the process of translation reveals new and unique facets of God's image reflected in the people hearing God's Word. Truth is discovered in new ways as the text illumines God's work in new individuals and people groups.
God's truth is not lost in translation - it's found in translation.
God trusts us and enables us to act as bearers of this weird and wonderful story. Isn't that amazing? So, as we continue to delve into this book week after week, may we recognize our role in the ongoing task of reading, interpreting, and sharing the Word of God. May we continue to engage in the task of asking good questions and not settling for easy answers. May we recognize that it is our responsibility to do for future generations what has been done for us. May we understand so that we may never let these precious words be lost in translation.