I have an earnest question and I am not looking for an argument for an answer. I sincerely want to know the mind of God about this.
What constitutes the Word of God?
I know that we refer to the Bible as the Word of God and I am not in dispute about that. I am not trying to slip in some other writings and give them equal footing with the Scriptures as some may try to do. My question is along a different venue. Let me explain a little more.
I recently listened to a series of sermons concerning the armor of God as described in Ephesians six. I am aware that there is tremendous power and protection and safety in the Word of God which is an important part of this armor. But admittedly there are many different versions and languages, different expressions of the Scriptures with many variations even though most of them generally convey the intent of the original writings. And even what constitutes original writings is under heated dispute on the part of many who are given over to a contentious mindset.
I think it is safe to say that it would be silly to insist that everyone in the world should only have access to one version of the Scriptures. The reality is that there are many languages and many variants within languages that inhibit people's ability to sufficiently grasp the meaning that God intended to be conveyed through His Word. Some religions have tried to insist on only one rendition of the Word, even to the point of chaining Bibles to pulpits and only allowing selected people access to it which produced disastrous results. For centuries the mindset of keeping the Bible supposedly pure and unadulterated caused millions to be slaughtered just for the crime of possessing the Word of God in a common, easier to understand language.
But this brings me right back to the very point that keeps stirring around within me. Just how much of the Word's power is diffused, diluted or lost through translating the Scriptures if any? How important are inaccuracies in translations to the real issue of reliability or effectiveness? How much attention should be given to the unavoidable prejudices that are always present in the minds of any human who attempts to translate the Bible from one language to another?
It is clear from history that tremendous power has been unleashed in people's lives whenever the Bible was freed from the confines of tyranny and was published and dispersed for use by the common people. Allowing people to read and appreciate the thoughts of God and the history of His work and the stories of His people on this earth has allowed millions to begin to think for themselves and become transformed by the truth of the gospel.
But my question is, who should be allowed to choose what literal words convey the intent of the writings that constitute the Bible? And how much latitude is 'allowable' before there is too many human assumptions and preconceptions woven into the text and too little material left for the Holy Spirit to be able to use it effectively to unleash the truth about God as the Scriptures were intended to do?
I know that the typical answers to these questions are usually tenaciously linked to how much the translating scholars have been educated in earthly approved schools, how much consensus such people are willing to have with each other, how much recognition they receive from other approved scholars, how many degrees they have earned, etc. Because our whole system of education is so tightly controlled and restricted to human approval and accreditation and how much it fiercely defends itself while scorning anything outside its narrow view of credibility, this discussion usually ends up being dismissed or quickly discredited by narrow definitions of education.
Many people familiar with religion are likely aware of the fierce arguments widely used in defense of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible. I find such arguments quite disturbing personally because often the spirit and arguments put forward by most of these people reflect similar arguments used by the oppressive church during the dark ages to severely limit access to the Word of God altogether. The logic they used back then was that only the Latin Bible was truly accurate and that to allow anyone to translate the Scriptures into common languages of the common people untrained and outside the absolute control of the church hierarchy was a crime punishable by death.
While people today are not yet advocating death for those who choose to read something other than the King James Version, I sense far too often a similar spirit of hostility, a spirit of contention and pride and arrogance that is foreign to the Spirit of God that I sense when I read the Bible myself. This spirit of contention and even abuse is like a huge warning light for me and I generally try to stay out of such arguments altogether because there is usually far more heat than light in them. I find the logic that such people use, no matter how fact-based they may be, no matter how compellingly they spin historical events to prove their claims, has leaps of faith and questionable assumptions that go unchallenged but that seriously undermine the conclusions they try to support. I often find most of these people to be rather close-minded and filled with bigotry and prejudice and who promote a religion mostly based on fear, which is another red herring that alerts me to potential serious problems.
But even the issue of whether the King James Version is the only safe version to use is still not my real question though it is certainly connected tangentially. I am pondering questions much closer to home, much more related to individual people and how much they should be allowed to relate to the Word of God in their own familiar modes of expression and the language they use everyday to communicate with those around them.
I am familiar with the scorn and discredit directed at what are called paraphrases of the Bible. I am also aware of many of the problems inherent in such writings as they are often used to liberally weave into the Word personal beliefs that are unsupportable from more reliable versions of Scripture. But there is also the factor that must not be ignored that rewording the Bible into language and expressions that actually are relevant to the people who will read it has often released incredible power and made available knowledge to them that was largely inhibited previously because of their disconnect to translations that did not use terms they could relate to life. Putting the Bible into street lingo has often had dramatic results for good that no other method of communication was able to accomplish. Yet that same 'version' of the Bible is often viewed as highly offensive to many others not living in the culture that it was intended to serve.
So how right or wrong is it to adapt, as much as possible and as accurately as possible, the intended meaning of Scriptures into words and phrases that best approximate the original concepts in ways that people can appreciate and assimilate? Or is the question itself not proper in that trying to paint it black or white immediately creates tension and launches the discussion in the wrong direction?
How we approach this, indeed many of our feelings that get stirred up in such discussions, are rooted in our preconceptions about God. To attempt to establish a consensus about what is right or wrong, particularly for other people, is always reflective of how we assume God views us and treats us and how we think He relates to sin and sinners. Our assumptions about religion, about God, about heaven and hell, about truth and righteousness and all sorts of others religious words and clichés unavoidably infect our thinking, our assumptions about what is true or false and are woven into every translation, version and paraphrase of the Bible that exist. It is impossible to translate the Bible into any language without infusing prejudices and religious assumptions into the text, and to deny this fact is to hide away in the darkness of deep prejudice and bigotry.
But now I come back to the original question that I still have not stated. If all translations and paraphrases are inevitably contaminated with personal biases of humans with faulty perceptions of God and personal agendas, then how does God intend for me to relate to them? I believe that God is so great that He has more than adequate ability to infiltrate people's hearts and minds using less than perfect translations of Scripture. He has been doing that ever since the entrance of sin in this world and will continue to do so. I feel we do not give Him anywhere near enough credit for being able to use all sorts of means and words and methods of communication to get truth into our minds.
At the same time, factual truth and accuracy is not unimportant. However, the way in which its importance is stressed often is done in a spirit that is foreign to truth and thus works to actually counter the effect intended by the Word of God. If we involve ourselves in arguments, discourses and defenses in a spirit of contention, hostility, animosity, pride and unwillingness to receive conviction – if we are filled with a head knowledge of the Bible even if it is in the purest form of the most original manuscripts, and yet remain aloof or unconverted by the Spirit that originally inspired those Scriptures, then we have become the problem instead of part of God's solution.
I am not trying to put down healthy education. I wish that I knew how to read Hebrew and Greek fluently for I am keenly aware of the tremendous advantages and insights available to those who are thus trained. But I do not want to fall into the trap of pride and spiritual blindness that is so easy to fall into with such advantages.
I firmly believe that God has always worked to reach people where they are and to communicate in ways best suited for their understanding and comprehension. This means that the Scriptures have to be open for constant and repeated re-translation, for the languages that people use are always fluid and constantly changing. Some words that we take for granted today become highly offensive years from now and become a stumbling-block to people who then have a totally different thought associated with that same expression. We see that problem with many words used in the King James Version of the Bible and those who insist that it be used in preference to all others refuse to take this into account.
In my recent listening to sermons on the armor of God, the presenter shared stories of how Scripture songs had produced amazing results in the lives of people experiencing dramatic difficulties. God released His power and/or protection for people who were using the Word of God put to music. These stories told people who chose to rely on His Word for intervention in situations that threatened their lives or when they were in need of healing. We have all likely heard many such stories where power in the Word was released into a person's life when they chose to trust God's promises. I believe we all need to learn this truth and begin to practice living much more under the shadow of the Almighty and fill our minds with the radical protection available to us from the Word of God.
But finally, here is my personal question. Does the Word of God in the Scriptures have to be words strung together by 'approved' translators, approved only by 'authorized' educators, institutions or religious authorities? Laying aside all the prejudices and bigotry of religion and its defendants, how much latitude say, might I have in 'translating' the Word of God again into language that better relates to how I think and speak and communicate with those around me? Does my attempt to get the Word of God into my language somehow dilute its power because it is no longer King James English or some other widely accepted or authorized text?
Again, my reaction to this will always link back directly to my preconceptions about how God feels about me and how He relates to us. If I have based my beliefs on the idea that organized religion is the final arbiter of what is right and wrong, then I might as well shut off my mind and blindly follow someone else's directions for my life and their spin on what the Bible should say. But I am unwilling to do that, so I move on to the next issue that is even stickier.
Are only highly trained scholars and people held accountable by other recognized educational institutions authorized by God to handle any rewording of His revelations to this planet through the Scriptures? Many would confirm this assumption but I cannot buy that reasoning either. My picture of God has changed enough over the past few years that I simply cannot accept that God so restricts Himself that He is limited to only what is approved by human accreditation.
I agree that if I were to go about writing a 'translation' of the Bible that there would undoubtedly be problems with it. That would be at least partly due to the fact that I have very limited ability to read and appreciate the Hebrew and Greek on which I would necessarily need to base any such translation. But does that handicap, as great as it certainly is, still disqualify me from placing God's Word into a form that I can relate to far more effectively than the available translations I see that all raise questions or may have serious errors woven into them?
There is no doubt that errors are going to be present in all translations and I am not interested in quibbling and arguing about that fact. I have come across many such errors in my own study by comparing phrases and renderings to the original languages by simply looking up the definitions of the original words in Hebrew or Greek on my computer. I realize that may be considered to be a somewhat crude method compared to having a good training in those languages. But even with my limited study tools I can see clearly many discrepancies and false assumptions woven into every translation.
What if I were to utilize as much as possible words from various translations along with careful study of the original language to the extent I am capable, and then condensing all of that into phraseology that most accurately reflects what I sense is God's message for me in a given passage? Would my lack of higher educational degrees or 'proper' authorization mean that God could not use such a 're-translation' to effectively release His power in my life? Would my 'tampering' with other's attempts to translate the Scriptures somehow invalidate the effectiveness of the Word of God and prevent Him from fulfilling His promises or unleashing their power in my life because I did not secure the right human approval to interpret His intentions for His Word?
Many people feel very uncomfortable trusting in any wording that is not pre-approved by recognized scholars when it comes to expressions of the promises of God. Some are even loathe to adapt the words of Scripture into forms that flow better when set to music, electing instead to force King James verbiage into awkward and clumsy musical renditions that in my opinion are somewhat dishonoring to God's reputation. But then, that is my personal feelings.
Like I said at the beginning, I am not interested in answers for this based on rhetoric from people intent on maintaining control over others as I am desiring to know what God thinks about this. Since my salvation is a matter totally based on my own relationship with God on not on the approval of any church or institution or human, I want to know what God thinks about the idea of me rewording His thoughts in Scriptures and whether that really would somehow seriously dilute the power He is waiting to release in my life through His Word. Does He actually disapprove of me 'tampering' with His Word or might He be delighted that I am willing to immerse myself in His Word and seek to shape it to more accurately resonate with the methods and lingo and expressions that convey the most to me? And if the latter is true, then would my re-expressions of His Word have just as much potential and ability for Him to release His power and His protection in my life as any other mainline translation of His Word?
My mind insists on taking this at least one step further. If, as I suspect, God is not incensed at the idea of me seeking to adapt His Word as accurately as possible into phraseology that my heart can relate to more readily, how does that apply to the next person? Can God use words strung together that have more resonance for my own heart just as effectively for another person's life? Could such 'translations' be just as effective and useful as mainline translations even though they have no 'official approval' by men's standards? I am not implying here that such renditions should be necessarily viewed as reliable as those put out by more recognized scholars. However on the flip side of that argument, why do the prejudices and false preconceptions embedded in the minds of those scholars so easily go unquestioned simply because they are more accredited by worldly institutions?
What I am wondering is how God feels about my desire at times to put His Word into slightly different expressions that make more sense to me and more accurately reflect the picture of Him that is increasingly emerging from my study of His Word. I suppose that part of the question relates to who is recognized as having authority and who can determine what is valid and what should be questioned. The whole discussion can quickly degenerate into an argument revolving around human authorities and legal interpretations and educational achievements. And while all of those factors certainly have some bearing on the subject, I sense that there are far greater items of importance that are too often passed over in such arguments while many people are left short-changed and deprived of access to many things that God longs for them to enjoy from His Word.
If it is true that God would not take issue with me re-phrasing His Word in ways that relate to me more relevantly, that would not in any way imply that such a rendition might be useful to a much wider audience. However at the same time I would not discount that possibility for it has been true that many paraphrases have served as a tremendous blessing to millions even though such writings are not considered reliable for serious study. I believe that the spirit and inspiration we should be perceiving from the Word of God is at least, if not much more important than the absolute accuracy of the factual details from translation. Accuracy is important, but far more vital is the effect of His Word to draw each person into a deeper knowledge and awareness of God and to allow His Spirit to draw them into a personal relationship with the heart of the Father.
I don't have substantial and conclusive answers to these questions yet. I am putting them down and leaving the matter up to God to affirm or discredit or adjust my thinking along these lines. I am trusting that God's heart is nothing but goodness towards me and that He approves of me asking questions of Him, for I suspect that all such questions may even be prompted by His Spirit to start with as part of the drawing process He is affecting in my own heart.