Tag Archives: Study Bible

Unleashing the Word: Freeing the Church from Biblical Studies

THE BIBLE AND LIBERATION IN AND THROUGH WORSHIP

UN study bible

When I was in undergrad, one of the first courses I took in religious studies was Introduction to the Bible 101. It was taught by a Hebrew Bible scholar who also identified as a second-wave feminist. Throughout the semester, we learned how to examine the Old Testament using the scientific method. While many of my white, more conservative evangelical classmates left the class in unspoken rage because of the questions the professor raised, I began to learn how to read the Bible critically, and even began to question the professors approach at times.

Honestly, in our conversations looking back, I was ill-equipped to interpret Scripture because I did not even know what hermeneutics meant or the differences between genres were. These memories of growth are not what I want to talk about however. I really want to point out a rather perplexing episode that happened in this class. It was around the holiday season when the religious studies faculty made a request. That instead of returning our Oxford Study Bibles (NRSV) to the bookstore for $2 or whatever, to donate them to an organization that was providing Bibles to churches in China. Even back then I had a lot of questions about this project. Why would a faculty so critical of a text turn around and want to send ENGLISH translations of Scripture to a foreign land? Just never made sense to me until………….

I read Stanley Hauerwas’ Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America. The question that I asked of myself nearly now almost a decade ago had found its answer. Hauerwas begins this controversial work with this truth bomb:

“No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. […] North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their ‘common sense’ is sufficient for ‘understanding’ the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead, they assume they have all the ‘religious experience’ necessary to know what the Bible is about.”

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Now, Hauerwas goes on to denounce this approach as a product of liberal democracy and egalitarian values. Yet, that would be a tremendously sloppy description of the United States of America and its perpetuation of racial hierarchies. Even in Hauerwas’ own work, he recognizes that a lot of white Americans have not confronted the reality that they live in a country built on settler colonialism, genocide, and slavery. It is this denial of the truth that keeps white North American Christians from being able to do the real work of Christian peacemaking.  The triplet colonial projects of U.S. American Bible Societies, Biblical studies, and the Bible translation industry are the reigning institutions that have petrified problematic, racist interpretations of scripture in USian Christianity.

A couple of examples include recent blog posts that recycle and pay  homage to the white supremacist doctrine of the Curse of Ham.  Rather than seek to liberate and completely annihilate this oppressive reading of Scripture, emergent Christians and liberals would rather seek to somehow redeem this understanding of the Bible.  These otherwise “enlightened” folks would prefer to save something that is already familiar to them rather than encounter the Stranger at the Margins, the actual people harmed by the traditional reading of these passages.  To keep with the example of the Curse of Ham, this interpretation is seen as normative, so much so it is allowed to be taught in public schools.  This perverse racialized reading of Genesis  that evangelical leaders like John MacArthur promote is NOT worth serving, especially since I have expounded many times how the Curse of Ham (and this weird expansion of it “the Curse of Bable”) is  a product of white slave masters and racist pseudo-scientific catalogues.

The history of Bible Societies has been just as problematic. As my brother pointed out, Bible Societies purpose lied from the time of colonialism ’til now, to make Christianity a monolinguistic, monocultural spirituality that submitted to the British and American empires.  Our doctrines of Scriptures even inerrancy are often the very things we hide our agendas behind.  Now it would be for me to say, well, let’s just abolish all three institutions and get it over with. But really, what should these practices be replaced with. So, I offer the following few practices that churches can start to subvert the Powers of Bible Societies, Translations, and Biblical studies.

1. In worship settings, at academic and church planter conferences, practice a preferential option for the margins.  Invite the homeless and the widows and orphans, and allow them to sit anywhere they want, even if it is at the very front.  Read Scriptures with and do small group studies at prisons, at-risk youth’s homes, and shelters for domestic violence.  I know I had the privilege of working at a Vacation Bible School at one of those shelters, and it makes a difference in de-centering our experiences while simultaneously being present where Christ is, among the least of these.  Some of the best commentaries on the Bible come from persons who have been held in chains.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are just two examples.  It’s a shame that Bonhoeffer’s Letters From Prison is just merely used to provide one quote about God being a Suffering God, and not much else.  I think there lies a biblical  Hermeneutic of Gentile Responsibility that also need s to be examined (and I plan on blogging on that too).

2. Make an attempt to teach every congregant the original languages of Scripture and the Early Church.  When I was a children’s minister, I worked to introduce the kids to some of the Greek alphabet.  That was before I moved on to purchasing and teaching from published, Book-store approved curriculums.  Maybe I did fail by a certain view of success, but just the trying is all that mattered.   W.E.B. DuBois advocated educating black Americans suffering during Jim Crow by teaching them all the classics, and Greek, Latin, and other languages.  Susannah Wesley raised and taught her children like John and Charles to read and interpret in these languages.  Bringing back this mode of education is crucial to de-centering the notion that English as God’s preferred language.

3. Lastly, boycott Christian bookstores, especially Mardel. No, I’m serious.  Churches need to stop relying on their neighborhood Lifeways and Cokesbury’s (are they still even around?) and look to their congregants, where there are people who’ve graduated seminary, teachers, and former professors who are more than able to provide a lifetime of knowledge. Chad even proposed at one time to make his own Bible translation after failing in his search where he compared all English translations. Christian education is about discipleship, spiritual formation in a local congregation. The Bible as a text, needs to be mediated by the Holy Spirit, our encounters with the poor, and an interpretative community that confesses the Lordship of Christ Jesus.

This is my contribution to the Living Liberation blogging event with MennoNerds and The Wild Goose Festival. The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here: wildgoosefestival.org

Introducing the United Nations Peacemakers' Study Bible!

UN study bible

Finally, a Bible that suits my consumer needs. I’m a pacifist, and now I am excited to announce the introduction of the UN Peacemakers’ Study Bible, for those who believe in international peace movements and humanitarianism. Need a Bible full of quotes from Christian pacifists? This study bible has them, all the way from Tertullian to Menno Simos to John Howard Yoder. This study bible includes anti-war liturgies and and commentaries reflecting on the godly work that the United Nations does. The UN Peacemakers’ Study Bible contains special essays comparing American icons Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to King David and King Solomon of Israel. Now you can have a Bible that reveals the true meaning of Scripture: to spread democracy and free market capitalism around the world!

Thank you Crossway, thank you for a providing a Bible that speaks to me, that’s all about my experience. No doubt the UN Peacekeepers’ Study Bible will out sell The Founders’ Bible, Patriot’s Bible, and the KJV Military Bible!

What Now Shall I Read? A Case for the NAB

The Codex Gigas from the 13th century, held at...
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A very special thank you to Jeremy Thompson from Free Old Testament Audio (where coincidentally you can find the rankings of the top 50 Bibliobloggers on the interwebs) for joining us in this project, “What now Shall I Read?” You You can read the first post on my search for a new Bible translation here. The case for the NIV can be found here. The case for the NRSV can be found here.  Jeremy recommends checking out the USCCB lectionary page and iMissal (an NAB iphone app). And now, let’s give Jeremy a very warm political Jesus welcome as he tells me why he uses the NAB version.

Thanks to Chad for inviting me to write the third part in this series on Bible translations.  As happens from time to time in the Biblioblogoshpere, I may be a bit of an odd one out.  As a Roman Catholic, I’m likely writing a post about a translation that many readers will dismiss, the New American Bible.  So, humor me … 😉
There are only two Bible translations that I read with any kind of consistency, namely the NRSV and the NAB.  I generally use the NRSV in academic settings and the NAB in parish settings.  That is not to say I don’t use other translations.  In fact, when I am studying a particular passage I almost always compare translations using either BibleWorks or Logos.  I don’t believe that there is any one translation that is adequate taken on its own.  Be that as it may, there are three underlying reasons why I primarily use the NAB for daily reading and in parish settings: canon, community, and liturgy.
From the standpoint of canon, I use the NAB because it contains the deuterocanonicals.  I doubt anyone would read a version of the Harry Potter series that left out all or part of book three. In the same way, I don’t read Bibles that leave out books that I believe to be canonical.  If you are a Protestant, would you read from an NIV that was missing the Book of Esther or Job?  Doubtful.  In the same way, I wouldn’t expect an Orthodox Christian to consistently read from the NAB.
Let me give you one illustration where this would play an important role.  My NAB is a study Bible, as most of them are.  In its cross-references and notes it sometimes refers to the deuterocanonicals.   A translation that doesn’t contain these books cannot do so.  I think this is a major weakness even in Bibles where these texts are not taken as canonical (i.e. perhaps they could be included as an appendix somewhat like the NRSV).  At the very least, the deuterocanonicals do shed some light on the New Testament, even for the Protestant.  The inability to cross-reference these texts or refer to them in notes such that the reader can easily look them up without going to another text is problematic.
Now, I have no intention of arguing about issues of canon here.  This is not my blog.  I’m only explaining to you why I read a particular translation.
Against that backdrop, one might say that there are a number of texts that include the deuterocanonicals other than the NAB.  This is certainly true, which brings me to the point of community.  To be quite honest, many Catholics are not entirely happy with the NAB.  I’m not always happy about the translation decisions either.  I hate the way it sometimes handles text critical issues.  But, the fact of the matter is that it is what most people in my church parish read.  So, if I am teaching my adult Sunday School class on Sunday morning and read from anything other than the NAB, I am likely to cause confusion.  Therefore, I read the NAB as a part of my community and point out possible translation issues as I am teaching.
I remember what it was like being in an evangelical Protestant church and everyone using a different translation.  I could walk into church on Sunday morning and find people reading from the NIV, the NLT, the ESV, the NASB, the KJV, the NKJV, the Message, or the HCSB.  And, then there was the continual interjecting in Sunday School class: “but mine says …”  and me thinking “well that’s nice” ;-).  It is refreshing not to have to deal with that so much anymore.  Of course, some people in my church parish do have different versions, but I would say that over 90% of the people who come in for any teaching that I do in my parish use the NAB.  And, any time I listen to another person in my parish teach, they use the NAB.  So, do I love it? No.  I love Hebrew and Greek texts.  Is it adequate? Yes.  And, most people in my community use it.
Finally, and tied to the aspect of community, is liturgy.  The NAB is the text used in the lectionary from which my church and most others in North America read.  When I do devotional reading I generally read from the lectionary.  I always try to interact with the lectionary texts in Hebrew and Greek when I have time, but that is a bit idealistic considering everything I’m currently doing.  Whether I study the lectionary readings in Greek and Hebrew or English I always go to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops website or to iMissal to find where the lectionary readings are.  If I read the lectionary in English, I am reading the NAB.  If I do that, then I am seeing the same readings from the same translation as any Catholic in North America who has attended mass that day or who has read from the lectionary.  And, I think there is something really wonderful about that – Christians reading the Bible together in some unified way.
I love the lectionary.  In the tradition of which I was a part, the usage of scripture was somewhat myopic.  Rarely were there sermons on the Old Testament or the gospels.  Our preachers spent most of their time in the epistles.  The lectionary forces me to remove my blinders to some degree because I am not choosing what I want to read.  I get an Old Testament reading (usually), a psalm, and a gospel reading.  I must interact with readings that I might ordinarily overlook.  And, I believe that is important.  At the very least, I think it humbles me.  It makes me realize just how difficult it is to do theology considering the variety of perspectives found in the text of the Bible.  Some may believe that all of the Biblical authors are saying similar things only in different ways, but even still, that is a lot to sort.  I am thankful that lectionary makes me ever more aware of this.  And, the Bible version that makes it easiest for me to experience these benefits of the lectionary is the NAB.
With all this said, I am not recommending that everyone read the NAB.  For me, it just makes sense.  I would recommend though that we should all take into account canon, community, and “liturgical” context when making decisions about which translation we read from, even if you don’t use a lectionary – God help you ;-).
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