Changing Media Living Message

changesI often hear complaints (and have offered my own) about movies not being like the book and just how much better the book was by comparison. This may be true enough, but perhaps what we are latently getting at suggests we simply do not understand how changing media automatically changes the message.  I wrote the following comment on a friends blog review of the film “Noah”(you should really read his review):

“…changed media ALWAYS alters the message and its fullest (or limited) contents in some fashion. This is true of preaching (though we don’t want to admit it). This is true of lectures, Sunday School lessons, etc. It is true of translations. It is most definitely true of films. Altered media, altered message (at some level). Some are truer to intent, some less. Some downright intentionally change, some ignorantly, some faithfully offer a harmonizing understanding, but all changes alter the message in some fashion.”

Perhaps some examples of what I am talking about might be helpful with regard to the changing media of Scripture:

  • Commentaries – While I did not mention this one in my comment to my friend, it is still worth mentioning. Commentaries on Scripture alter the message by offering (it is hoped) a reading of the text for clarification. Some are more intentionally rooted within the theological traditions of the Church (the Brazos series), others offering contemporary significance (NIVAC series) as part of the explanation. But by explaining the text, the text is altered. It is not offered without comment. To comment is to change. Whether this is for the better (as in clarifying what the intent really was) or worse (changing the intent altogether) remains to be seen.
  • Sermons – Like commentaries, sermons offer an explanation of the text. To preach a text of Scripture is to alter it. Some portions of the text are given greater emphasis. Some less (or none at all). A preacher also selectively chooses only a portion of the text thus already stripping context even while the faithful preacher includes descriptions of context to attempt to locate the passage within its original context. But still…a sermon alters the message…sometimes accidentally, sometimes purposefully…but always alters. (Lectures also fit this category).
  • Translations – The oft-quoted Italian proverb/pun is fitting: “Traduttore tradittore” (“the translator is a traitor”). To translate is to alter. Some are more faithful, some less. Some offer greater conceptual faithfulness, others word-for-word faithfulness. But all sacrifice something in offering translations. (HERE is a brief explanation of three general philosophies of Bible translation)
  • Canon – To read the Scriptures as a part of the canon is to alter the reading of Scripture. The various texts and books of Scripture were not a part of a finished work, but were created independently (sometimes interdependently), but it is not as if the human writers colluded on writing one book of many different sections (though the Spirit is confessed to have superintended and inspired the whole as parts and whole). For example, to read or hear the Old Testament as a Christian is to hear the Old Testament through the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s plan for the ages. This alters the message. To join the sixty six books of the Protestant canon together is to alter the message (and likewise for the various canons of the other streams of the Church).

To be clear, what I am NOT stating is that somehow in altering the message we have automatically been unfaithful to the One who has given us this testimony of grace. The Spirit enlivens the text to bring about preaching, teaching (commentaries/lectures), translations, and canon. The retelling of the story of Jesus in preaching might be yet more faithful to the intent of our Lord in the moment of preaching than in simply reading the original language in the study.
Let me go one step further: the message of Scripture is altered when it is applied by the illumination of the Spirit to us. The words are driven home in different ways than when read. Some facets are illuminated while others remain shrouded.
And still further: the obedience of the message alters the message by not simply rote mimicry, but by faith-filled Spirit enabled listening and following. And this is the will of God for us. It is true to His intent for us in this moment, even while altering the original media form. Indeed, His word is living and active! To those with ears to hear…

Jesus Led Israel Out of Egypt?

Manuscript of JudeIn a phone conversation with a friend today, we were discussing grammatical-historical methods of interpretation and how the NT writers simply did not appear to observe this modern system for interpretation (which claims, in my opinion, an overly “scientific” approach to Scripture that fails to grapple with the full complexities of language, inspiration, and later interpretations, but all that aside [if you want a glimpse at my own brief forays in my quest for better methods read HERE, HERE, and HERE]).
He mentioned Jude 5 which reads:

“Now I desire to remind you (even though you have been fully informed of these facts once for all) that Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe.” (NET -bolding added)

Talk about a strange reading of the Exodus account! (Origen would be proud 😉 ). So I went to look it up in my NA27 and discovered an overwhelming manuscript support for the reading “Jesus” (A B 33. 81. 322. 323. 424c. 665. 1241. 1739. 1881. 2298. 2344. Vulgate, Coptic (Bohairic, Sahidic), Ethiopic. Origen, Cyril, Jerome, Bede; “the Jesus” 88. 915) over “[the] Lord” (K Maj.).* Not only is the textual support overwhelmingly in support of such a reading, but the probability is overwhelmingly in favor of an original “Jesus” being changed to “Lord” (rather than vice versa). Who would think of changing “Lord” to “Jesus”?  It would seem to make things more defensible (for reading the OT as it was intended by its original human author) with reading  “Lord” in light of the OT, but “Jesus” offers a sharply Christological reading of the Hebrew scriptures (which fits Jude’s overall agenda). Even Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (ABS, 1994, p.657) has an extended bracketed discussion of this issue suggesting that the reading “Lord” really does not appear original in any sense. And yet, the UBS4 and NA27 texts maintained κύριος (“Lord”) in the main text. I don’t have access to NA28, but I would be curious to know if they’ve continued this strange tradition.
Incidentally, some English translations actually have “Jesus” (ESV, NET, NLT; and the Latin Vulgate)** in their primary text despite the preference for “Lord” in these two critical Greek texts (which are knowingly nearly identical) which typically form the basis for English translations (not that there aren’t plenty of times where the translators chose a different variant, but this one is rather fascinating).***
To me, the most significant (and fascinating) thing I was reminded of in my searching through the evidence and the translations, was that it appears issues of congruity for English readers often drives translations against where the textual evidence may actually point (one of the reasons I quite like the NET for boldly trying to follow the original text closely…at least at times).
So what are your thoughts on a variant like this and the need to translate what is considered the “best” (or most appropriate?) text?
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* To be fair there are a number of other lesser attested readings which are not supported well by either internal or external criteria.
** The ESV footnotes “some manuscripts” having “Lord”; the NLT says: “As in the best manuscripts; various other manuscripts read the Lord, or God, or Christ; one reads God Christ.” The NET reads:

“tc ‡ The reading ᾿Ιησοῦς (Iesous, “Jesus”) is deemed too hard by several scholars, since it involves the notion of Jesus acting in the early history of the nation Israel. However, not only does this reading enjoy the strongest support from a variety of early witnesses (e.g., A B 33 81 1241 1739 1881 2344 pc vg co Or1739mg), but the plethora of variants demonstrate that scribes were uncomfortable with it, for they seemed to exchange κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or θεός (theos, “God”) for ᾿Ιησοῦς (though Ì72 has the intriguing reading θεὸς Χριστός [theos Cristos, “God Christ”] for ᾿Ιησοῦς). In addition to the evidence supplied in NA27 for this reading, note also {88 322 323 424c 665 915 2298 eth Cyr Hier Bede}. As difficult as the reading ᾿Ιησοῦς is, in light of v. 4 and in light of the progress of revelation (Jude being one of the last books in the NT to be composed), it is wholly appropriate.”

*** Those translations offering “Lord” are KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV(1984, 2010), NJB, NKJV, NRSV, TNIV. The NAB footnotes that “manuscripts vary”; the NASB only mentions “two early mss” mentioning “Jesus”; the NIV tradition has “some early manuscripts” reading “Jesus”; and the NRSV has “Other ancient authorities read though you were once for all fully informed, that Jesus (or Joshua) who saved.”

Kids and the Bible

Every morning (when I’m not already gone for a meeting or class) I read a small portion of Scripture to my children (from the NLT) and we each pray in turn before I send them off on the bus to school.  This is our daily routine.  I realized that during these times we end up discussing all sorts of things we might not otherwise discuss.

For instance, my daughter Abbi (8), after I read about Jesus delivering a man from an “unclean spirit”, she asked where demons come from.  I was able to tell her that the Scriptures don’t actually talk about that (even though lots of folks talk like the Bible clearly answers this sort of question — I did assure her that they were not simply the ghosts of dead people…which was her thought), but simply stated that the Bible is clear that they are disobedient and try to hurt people…but Jesus has power and authority over them.  Jesus had come to set people free and that is what He still does!  And when we give our lives to Jesus we have power and authority over them from Jesus as well to help see people set free.

This just drove home to me the truth of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NLT): “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” 

In other words…our children were not meant to simply “catch” what the truth of Scripture.  NO!  We are to daily and repeatedly every day…to instruct them…and talk about them intentionally.  This creates an atmosphere where we actually train up our children in the Scriptures instead of just expecting them to “get it” from Sunday School and Church.  I must admit I haven’t always done this…but I have been reminded through the questions of my children about trouble with friends, miracle-stories in the Bible, forgiveness, and where demons come from that I know that we must be intentional about the formal spiritual instruction of our families…to even create proper space for the informal instruction of our families.

Forever Listening to the Spirit

I recently read something by Lesslie Newbigin (that great missionary statesman of the twentieth century) that struck a chord with me.  He wrote the following concerning the Jerusalem congregation’s recognition of the validity of the Gentile mission that Peter had just returned from (Acts 10-11):

“They were silenced because they had to recognize something new. Jesus had never spoken or acted to call in question the law of circumcision (as he had called in question the law of the Sabbath). The Church was entering a new way which it had not trodden before. Nor did the Church formulate a new policy in this matter by reflection upon and development of the remembered words of Jesus. It was a fresh action of the living Spirit which confronted the Church with the necessity for a new decision. ‘The word of Jesus is not a collection of doctrines that is in need of supplementation, nor is it a developing principle that will only be unfolded in the history of ideas; as the Spirit’s proclamation it always remains the word spoken into the world from beyond’ (Bultmann). But this word is the word of Jesus; it is not another word. The work of the Spirit does not lead past, or beyond, or away from Jesus.” (The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1982, pp.216-7)

We, as well, cannot simply treat the Scriptures as a comprehensive list (or we may end up being no different than some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ own day–unless we take the New Pauline Perspective on the Pharisees as genuine) of do’s and don’t’s. In every age we are called to listen to the voice of the Spirit which is the voice of the Lord Jesus speaking to His Church the very words of his Father. None of this is to suggest that there will be any discord between what God has spoken, is speaking and will speak. The Scriptures are our measure, but the Scriptures are not simply words that can be adopted apart from the working of the Holy Spirit within us. This means that in all of our hearing, we must press in to hear exactly what the Spirit is saying and once we have heard…to obey.