Friday, February 17, 2012

Am I reading the 'wrong' Bible?

My dear reader, have you ever wondered if you are reading the 'wrong' Bible? Am I? If you have a bible (or bibles) in your bookshelf and/or electronic device, what version is it? Is it the RSV? The NIV? The ESV? The KJV? The NKJV? In my case I usually read the NRSV. Now, have you thought about why you have a particular version of the Bible?

1) Because it was a gift?
2) Is it the same one that is used at your church?
3) Because you simply like it?
4) Someone recommended that version to you?
5) Because a pastor, priest, theologian, bible scholar, or professor that you like prefers X or Y version?
6) Not quite sure?

I would guess that you have good reasons for the particular version of the Bible that you have. Or perhaps you never gave it much thought. Maybe to you the version of the Bible does not really matter. Well, I was once again reminded that to some of my Christian brothers and sisters the version DOES matter. For example I will start with myself: I like the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version), because it is used as part of the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) in the Episcopal Church. If I am meant to be an Episcopal priest, this is what I will be using every Sunday and my sermons/homilies will be based on the readings taken from the RCL; actually, I already do that. Also in my opinion the NRSV is a very solid version that is favored by many scholars.

Among my Christian friends from different denominations I have one friend that for example likes the ESV (English Standard Version). His name is Jake, and he is my colleague and fellow intern here at the Wesley Foundation. Among the reasons why he prefers to use the ESV is that in his opinion it provides a good balance between the word-to-word translation and the use of a solid modern English, a language that he himself speaks. He also told me how 'out of the blue' he received his current ESV bible in the mail from his grandmother. He was gladly surprised.

Another version that to this day is still very popular is the KJV (King James Version). This version is very, very close to many people. To many of my Christian brothers and sisters there is an emotional connection to this version; to many the beauty of this older English is a big part of this. The flowing language and prose rhythm in the KJV has had a profound influence on the literature of the English language for centuries. In fact, the year 2011 was the 400th anniversary of the KJV.

What I do find intriguing in relation to the KJV is how to some people to use any other version of the Bible is a big error, or even heresy. I was reminded of this while I was looking at a posting by a church who stated that they were looking for a Pastor who is BIBLICALLY QUALIFIED and KING JAMES ONLY!  While I disagree with a lot of the theology of this particular church, this in itself does not mean that these folks are wrong and I am right; as Christians we have disagreements with each other all the time. As I was thinking about this, at the end of the job description they declared:
We also believe the King James is the inspired word of God in English! We do not believe in going back to the Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, Sand Script, Native American, Cave paintings, or Finger Paintings by children to “interpret” Gods word. God can speak English just fine and since he promised to preserve his word there is no need to go outside the English language to find it.

While I can appreciate the passion in saying that God can speak English just fine and since he promised to preserve his word there is no need to go outside the English language to find it one of the many problems with this is that elevates the KJV itself to something that is almost divine. I could say "Yes, God could speak English just fine but do we?" And even if we say that we do, can we say that we never, ever misunderstand each other? I have also spoken before about the impact and advances of biblical scholarship since the KJV, and of course the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But of course, there are some who have legitimate disagreements with me on this and I can respect that. My biggest problem is to elevate the KJV to such a level that anyone who is not reading it must be wrong. To do this in my opinion borders on idolatry.

I can fully admit that as a Christian I have my own theological preferences and my own biases; I would be in big trouble if I could not admit that about myself. And yet, I can see nothing positive in engaging in religious superiority and/or arrogance. This directly or indirectly leads to reinforcement of prejudice and to tribalism

No one wins...

So, what bible do you read? And, are you 'right' or 'wrong' for reading that version? Well my dear reader, it is not my place to tell you. However, we should take some time to explore these questions; I don't think there is anything wrong by doing so and in fact I think it is a good thing. And who knows, perhaps you owe it to yourself to read another version from time to time. You may like it or you may not like it. But still consider this: maybe you will understand the others a bit better and maybe someone else will understand you a little better too. 

Have an excellent weekend :)


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