By scripture alone- the question I am pondering is which version?
Now before you think this is an argument about doctrine or how we interpret Scripture especially in relation to contentious issues that drive wedges into our relationships with each other and with God – it isn’t. You are safe and can read on, though you might still totally disagree with me by the end…
If you raid your book shelves how many Bibles will you find and how many different versions? As a minister you would expect me to have a few – I have the Good News Version(2), the New International Version (3), New American Standardised Version, the Dramatised Bible, The Message (only NT and Psalms version), King James Version (Christening Bible), New Revised Standard, New Century Version (Children’s Bible, Youth Bible and Mom’s Bible). And now I have modern technology I have an electronic one that can access around 30 versions.
At the weekend I saw a copy of the Masonic Bible (KJV) and I am sorry to say it made me chuckle. I know, deeply irreverent of me and I am sorry. The language for me was so archaic though and I tripped over a verse about mighty mischief which brought a smile, given the company I was in. And then on Sunday night I was speaking with a Catholic friend at Alpha and we were talking about how each ‘religion’ is perceived by the other at times. I told her that I didn’t even know the Catholics had their own Bible with that section called the Apocrypha until I went to University and I had to go find out what the Apocrypha is. It wasn’t that I was brought up in a sectarian setting – in fact I am lucky that I have a great ecumenical background (which is why I struggle with the barriers that are so easily erected but that is for another day!).
However having said all that I struggle with all these versions of Scripture that come full of distractions. There I have said it. Shocking isn’t it? I recently got myself a copy of the NCV Mom’s bible. I needed a new one because my one had fallen apart with use (and yes it is in the bin). When I read it the other day I found it hard to follow the actual Scripture because of all the inserts telling me as a mom how to interpret the passages. And mom isn’t a typo. But at other times I know they will be very helpful because Scripture isn’t always easy to get into it. My young people enjoy the Youth Bible because it gives some answers and challenges.
But dare I wonder if we are curtailing the richness of Scripture by trying too hard to speak for Scripture? I find so many people want to put an interpretation on in – whether from our theological backgrounds, from culture, from the sermons that do stick(!), or these wee inserts – that sometimes God struggles to break through the clutter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for people engaging with Scripture – reading commentaries or thoughts for the day or whatever – in fact I encourage it. But I want to suggest that before you drown a text in study, that you spend time with it, reading, re-reading and asking God to speak to you through the text. Be prepared for surprises because when we stop putting our interpretation on it, God can speak to our hearts more deeply. Sometimes he encourages us, sometimes he disciplines us, sometimes he calls us out, sometimes he invites us just to worship Him and we remember that we are his children. And then when you read around the text, God can reinforce his message.
No matter which version of Scripture you read, whether it comes with inserts or is the KJV – as long as you can meet God through his Word – that is all that really matters. For Christians Scripture must be the source we return to again and again because its message is what will sustain us during these days of upheaval and uncertainty, as long as we believe that God is ever present in it and uses it as a tool for communication and relationship building with us.
I believe it was Karl Barth who said (and this is about all the theology I remember!):
The Bible is not holy whilst it is upon the shelf gathering dust.
It is only becomes holy when it is lifted down and read.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Luke 21:33 (NIV)
May God bless your reading today and speak to your hearts, regardless of version.