Group Bible study is a part of the week for many of us. Certain books of the Bible or special passages are selected for reading and discussion. The discussion often leads to intense dissection of the text.
In groups that contain enthusiastic contributors little progress is made in the course of an hour. Plans outlining the duration of the study will often be derailed by prolonged debate or commentary. The good news is that this demonstrates our need to know what the Bible is saying to us and how to interpret the meaning into our daily lives. The bad news is that not much material gets covered, and without a knowledgeable leader (usually a pastor), the interpretation is left hanging.
Luther would probably be critical of this methodology as too intense and in opposition to reading Scripture and letting it speak to us in simple terms.
There are at least 60 published versions of the Bible. Each at the time of its publication was an attempt to be the new translation, more true to the original Greek or Hebrew writings, or more easily understood.
One of my favorite stories is of the elder in a Dutch Reformed Church holding up the King James Version and emphatically stating, “This is the original Word of God!” In our Bible study group there are at least six or seven different translations brought by the participants, which often makes it difficult to follow the text in your own translation.
Today, we not only have multiple translations to choose from, but some theologians are saying that there can be two totally opposite interpretations. Or, in terms of societal and cultural change, some say the Bible is no longer relevant and we can ignore what it has been saying for centuries.
Recently, I saw an ad in the Christian Science Monitor for a new Bible called, “The Holy Bible in Its Original Order.” It was advertised as, “the only complete Bible ever published with both Old and New Testaments that accurately follows the original canonical manuscript order as recognized by most scholars.” According to the ad, the original manuscript order of the books of both testaments was altered by the early church fathers.
Hence, the Bible came to be erroneously a 66-book format. The true canonical order was said to contain 49 biblical books with the reestablishment of the seven divisions of the Bible. The Old Testament contains: 1) The Law, 2) The Prophets 3) The Writings. The New Testament contains: 4) The Gospels and Acts, 5) The General Epistles, 6) The Epistles of Paul 7) The Book of Revelation. The ad further stated, “With this restoration, God’s purposeful design of the Scriptures begins to unfold, revealing His divine inspiration.”
I was immediately intrigued and thought this would be a great addition to our Bible study group’s attempt to properly interpret Scripture. When I saw the price of the Bible, a $150.00 value, as $94.95 plus shipping and handling, my enthusiasm cooled. Also, I couldn’t find the book listed in the publisher’s book list (Century One Books), which seemed strange. It is listed on Amazon.com in paperback for $32.00, however, currently not available. My quest for the ultimate interpretation was at least temporarily curtailed.
As Lutherans in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are faced with very significant decisions at the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly, what will be their guide? Will it be a “new” interpretation of the Bible, speaking to us in socially and culturally altered words, or will it be the simple interpretation Luther espoused as the inspired, unaltered Word of God?
This should be a “no-brainer.” But as we can see, the forces are lining up to do battle and we cannot stand idly by. As WordAlone members or as students of the Bible, we must stand up and be counted among those who will insist that this is God’s Holy Spirit speaking to us through the Holy Word. As such it is not to be retranslated or even discarded as not relevant to today. It is God speaking to us yesterday, today and into eternity.