I’ve been thinking lately about understanding and living the Word of God and why those tasks can be so difficult for Christians. It’s as if, with English or any other language, the Word of God and the words of man both use the same letters, words and grammar, and yet are completely different languages.
In other words, when we read the Word of God, it doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it means. The Word is to us, in a sense, a whole new way of telling the truth about us, God, and the world around us.
The words in our Bibles are mostly the same words we read in the newspaper or elsewhere in our everyday lives: love, sin, death, life, slavery, freedom. The problem is that we think we know what these words, sentences, and ideas mean in the Word when we really don’t.
Once we come to realize how little we really know what God’s Word is actually saying, we have several options–some good, some not so good–on how to better understand the Word. The most common and obvious effort to understand the Word is what we’ll call the academic approach.
In the academic approach, we try to find better definitions and contexts for the words in the Word. We may study to see how certain English words have changed in meaning in the 402 years since the King James Version was published. We may dip into the original Greek or Hebrew languages and translate words ourselves. We may study history or archaeology for insights into what certain words, idioms or turns of phrase meant in the century when a certain Bible book was written. All these approaches are good as far as they go, but they don’t come anywhere near dealing with the real problem.
The real problem is this. Every one of us has fallen to one degree or another into bondage to sin and wordliness. And to the degree that each of us has allowed ourselves to be oriented to what the world thinks, feels, values, and expresses, we are hindered in understanding even the simplest words of God.
The problem, you see, is not in the Word of God. It’s in us. The challenge, then, is not translating the Word into ideas we can understand in our sinfulness and worldliness. The challenge is allowing ourselves to be translated into the image of Jesus Christ so that the words of God’s Word are as clear and natural to our hearts as the world’s are while we are chained by the invisible bonds of sin.
If the Lord allows, we’ll look at these ideas more in the days ahead. In the mean time I invite you to join me in this prayer: “Translate me, Oh Lord.”
I serve as sports writer for the Manchester Times and preacher and elder for the Church of Christ at Fredonia. The ideas expressed here, however, are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either the Times or the church.