Monday, October 31, 2011

The Bible Says, but What if Mine Doesn't?

Exegesis is not for the timid or the lazy. What do we do when our two major English formal translations (NASB and NRSV) have very different content? In Proverbs 11, there is a verse that could alter interpretation of the whole passage depending on which translation we use. Why were the versions different? In the passage at hand, the NRSV uses an ancient Syriac Greek manuscript. Conversely, The NASB, NIV, KJV, and other English translations rely only on the Hebrew Massoretic Text. However, this is not a case of majority rules.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “The Bible says,” but what if yours or mine doesn’t say something? In the case of Proverbs 11, v.16 has the ability to change how we read the rest of the chapter. Not to worry, there’s nothing wrong with the Massoretic Text (Hebrew). But, there’s nothing wrong with the Syriac Greek text either; in fact, it may predate the Hebrew in this case.  

Hebrew based translation: “A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, NASB). 

Greek based translation: “A gracious woman gets honor, but she who hates virtue is covered with shame. The timid become destitute, but the aggressive gain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, NRSV).

As you can see, these two versions of the same verse are a more than a little different.
Honestly, the main reason that the Greek manuscript could change the meaning of the chapter’s context is that the NRSV uses the word timid, which means hesitant and/or afraid; whereas, the word lazy might make more sense (as used in the Good News paraphrase). The flow of parallelism in Proverbs 11 and elsewhere is very important to its interpretation. English translations of Proverbs using the Massoretic or Greek text don’t tell us that one Bible is right and the other Bible is wrong. Instead, they tell us that we need to ask questions as we read the biblical text in any translation because there is always more to good exegesis than, “The Bible says….”  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fear vs. Hope: "Written on the Bullet" (A Film Reflection)

In a gripping case of art imitating life, the film April Showers took me back to April 20, 1999, where I sat in my Freshmen Government class at my Denver High School, as we watched the events of the infamous Columbine shooting on the local news.

As a Denver native, the effects of the Columbine High School shooting have always different – like it went down in my neighborhood. On the other hand, the bombardment of attention Columbine received got old after too long. I, like many others, just wanted to move on from the tragedy. After watching the movie April Showers, which pays tribute to the countless victims of school shootings, I was reminded of Columbine, and thought about something deeper.

What would I think about God if I lived through something like that; moreover, what would I think if I lived and a friend didn’t? On top of that thought, how would I feel if one of my friends did something like that? A tragedy like Columbine has a lot of complex facets that don’t exactly wrap up into a neat package. Events like this changed the nation. In turn, what is a Christian response to violent, deadly, events that change the face of our schools and our nation?

Our world is broken, this is nothing new. It’s okay to feel sorrow when things fall to pieces. It’s okay to doubt and question God when the chaos of the world unfolds before our eyes. Yet, we are here with a life to live, even if that life is amidst chaos, pain, tragedy, violence, and other human brokenness that we don’t fully understand. We can choose to live in hope or in fear. But, a line from April Showers shares some insight, “The fear of pain is the fear of living.” Hopefully, these horrific events in our world don’t leave us bound in fear and we can put our hope in the redemption of the cross through the faith God gives us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crucified: In the Name of Love

Today, on Facebook, I saw a lot of activity revolving around the campaign to WipeoutHomophobia on Facebook (WHOF). I support the idea behind this group. Its purpose is to generate awareness of hate-speech that has led to hate-crimes. As a Christian, I recognize that supporting this group has its implications. Thus, I decided to clarify my thoughts behind my public support. I am for the freedom of speech, I am against censorship, and I am all for discussion of difficult topics.

Freedom of speech is not necessarily free – people can and do get hurt – so we ought to respect that freedom. Personally, I’ve hurt people with my words. Saying things that offend, insult, upset, or cause discomfort to others is in our human nature. On the flipside, the ability to reason is, also, within our capabilities.

In some cases, our free speech and our reason don’t go hand in hand. We want our voices to be heard, but not if someone is going to speak against our viewpoint. Hence, I am also against censorship, but uncensored, free, speech has a cost. Sometimes, we lose favor with public opinion (something I’m not unfamiliar with) and other times the price of our words can be deadly. Speech that leads to violence and death should be met with education over censorship, in order to prevent hate-crime.

As a result, I have a challenge for the protesters – whether for or against GLBTQ rights – my challenge is borrowed from Jesus himself:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40, NRSV).  

Those “neighbors” Jesus was commanding people to love were the nations that the religious leaders opposed because they did not adhere to the laws of God. In doing so, Jesus changes the rules. I propose we try to end hate – whether it’s hate for the gay community, the homophobe, or the religious people who preach against their interpretation of sin – because love is the only thing that will save the world…it’s why Christ died for us all.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cross of Life: Rip You Wide Open (Luke 9:1-27)

One day Jesus told the disciples to go out proclaiming the good news of God and to take nothing with them. Frankly, if you’ve ever done something like this you know it’s scary and makes you feel a bit crazy. Who knows if that’s exactly what the disciples were thinking, as they were going off to heal people, but it makes sense to this light traveler. Yet, “Sometimes risking everything is the only choice you have” (The Air I Breathe, “Pleasure”). Though, I debate what that means.

Unfortunately, when we risk everything – even if you’re a disciple doing God’s work – we don’t always do the right thing. When the disciples came back from their journey they just wanted to chill out with good ol’ JC and send the people away from their presence. The disciples, like we often do, missed the point. If Jesus didn’t want the villagers to turn his disciples away on their journey, why would he want the reverse to happen when the townspeople just wanted to be a part of the story? In truth, the story of Luke 9:1-27 is a lot like life; it’s risky, it’s messy, sometimes we miss the point, it’s not always a matter of choice, and it reminds us that we are broken creatures. Not to worry, “’Cause all my favorite people are broken. Believe me, I should know” (Over the Rhine). Like the disciples, I’ve taken risks because those risks felt like my only choice and, in the process, I didn’t and don’t always get the full picture.

After all this traveling and feeding thousands of people business, Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” When they eventually replied with the word, “Messiah,” Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Recently, I’ve been thinking that life, itself, is the cross we carry every day. We don’t always get to say, “Can I think it over?” We can’t always change how it works out; in fact, “Sometimes the things you can't change end up changing you.” And we don’t walk away unscathed because, “scars are the road map to the soul” (Air I Breathe). Most of all, life is our daily cross to carry because we join Christ in the crucifixion. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we join Christ in resurrection. Nevertheless, life, like a cross can be heavy and we need grace – I need grace.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.  
 – Niebuhr