Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THE BIBLE

The Bible (a continuation of Jesus For the Layman)

If we are going to listen only to God and not to dead people and/or demons spelling out sentences on Ouija boards, then which version of the Bible ought we to use? Yes, I suppose it might be easier if we could hear voices and see visions, but we believe those ways of God revealing Himself are long gone, especially since He has given us the sixty-six books of the Bible.

Like the Triune God, the Bible is one but many. The many books are one book. And, reflecting the two natures of Christ, who is 100% God and 100% Man, the Bible is 100% written by God and 100% written by men: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[1] This was no automatic writing. These men wrote what they wanted to write and. As it happens, they wrote what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. If you have ever got 10/10 in an exam so did the writers of each of the sixty-six book that make up the Bible.

Now, it goes without saying that not everyone believes that the Bible is the Word of God, i.e., His revelation to human beings. This is something that only the Holy Spirit can convince you of. I can’t! The Spirit always works with the Word. That is how God speaks to us. God does not speak to us by upturned whisky glasses on a Ouija Boards. Rather, God speaks to us by His Spirit working with His Word. But again, not everyone believes that the Bible is the actual Word of God insripturated.

I heard a song on the car radio on a recent Sunday morning while en route to church. I had just listened to a mediocre sermon about love. Then the station started playing, what they call, “Christian Rock Music,” most of which I do not like. So, I switched to the station whose music I do like. The one where they play all the oldies. Anyway, the song on my Oldies Station was an annoying put-down of the Bible. It is called It Ain’t Necessarily So” which has been done by various artists over the years since George and Ira Gershwin wrote it for their Porgy and Bess opera in 1935. In the opera the song is sung by the character Sportin’ Life, a seedy drug dealer, who tells us about his doubt about some statements in the Bible.

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
De things dat yo’ liable to read in de Bible
It ain’t necessarily so.[2]

            Now, I remember someone asking me if I believed all that Jonah in the belly of a whale stuff. It was a great question to ask me at that time. I had just begun to study the Bible for myself. I had tried to read it a couple of times before but had got stuck at Leviticus after I had read through Genesis then Exodus when I was sixteen or so. The next time I don’t even think I made it through Genesis. Anyway, in my early thirties I managed, with great difficulty, to read the entire Bible that the Masonic Lodge had presented me. I had the King James’ Version (KJV) of the Bible in one hand and a dictionary in the other! I found ye olde English contained therein really hard to understand. I mentioned already that my dad’s favourite version of the Bible was the King James’ Version. He thought that it was the most beautiful, noble and poetic of all the versions of the Bible. My brother Stuart wrote the following to me:

Faither so often quoted Isaiah, freely from memory, as we drove to somewhere for lunch up Loch Lomondside. I have his marked Bibles from which he delivered readings to the congregation at Jamestown Parish Church, with me and Mum sitting half-way up on the left while he did in all humility take his place at the lectern and read... I loved him for that, oh, how I loved him for that.[3]

Regardless of what my dad thought of the King James Version of the Bible, I found the archaisms that it’s full of, hard to understand. So, the moral of the tale is that you should try to get a version of the Bible that has been written in your own language. I’ve dipped into Scottish Gaelic, Scots (Lallans), French, Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew versions. However, even though I’ve read cover to cover the New International Version and large chunks of other versions (e.g., the English Standard Version), I must admit that my default version is the New King James Version. However, you will notice that so far I have been mainly quoting from the NIV and the New Living Translation. This is simply to keep things in line with the title of this book, Jesus For the Layman.

Meanwhile, back to Jonah and the whale. Well, for a start the original language of the Hebrew portion of the Bible (i.e., the Old Testament) doesn’t say that a whale swallowed Jonah. Rather it was a great fish. But, be that as it may, who could believe such a thing could occur? Who could believe that a fish could vomit up a human being onto some beach and then that human being could walk around call on a whole city (Nineveh) to repent so as to avoid God’s impending judgment upon that city? Well, do I believe what the Bible says about Jonah being swallowed by a fish? Yes! And so does Jesus. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”[4] But what does Sportin’ Life, the seedy drug dealer, in the Porgie and Bess opera have to say about Jonah (and David and Moses for that matter)?

Li’l David was small but oh my
Li’l David was small but oh my
He fought big Goliath who lay down and dieth
Li’l David was small but oh my
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
For he made his home in dat fish’s abdomen
Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
Li’l Moses was found in a stream
Li’l Moses was found in a stream
He floated on water ‘til ole Pharaoh’s daughter
She fished him she says from that stream
It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so.

I think I’d much rather believe God speaking in Scripture than some singer in an opera. At least I can check out the Bible for myself. That’s why a good version that you can understand is essential. Scholars debate which is the best and most accurate translation of the original texts into English. But for the sake of keeping it simple, I would recommend the New International Version as a place for the layman to start.

Now, remember that I said that I cannot convince you that the Bible is the actual Word of God. Only God Himself can do that. Indeed, only God Himself can convince you that He exists. He does use means, such as people and events. However, from the Book of Isaiah from which my dad so often quoted so “freely and from memory” which is to say, in the words of my dad’s favourite version the Bible, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Or, as the easier to understand New Living Translation renders the Hebrew into modern English, “Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.[5]

One of the best ways of understanding the Bible is to take everything back to the beginning. In the Vale of Leven when I was growing up there were two movie theatres (or picture hooses as we called them). You could come in half way through a film and wait for the “second showing.” The same movie would be shown again. However, if you start watching a movie half way through, then you’re left trying to guess what happened beforehand. This is what a lot of people do with the Bible. Like fish-gut at the bottom of a tackle box, they get into some real tangles. Jonah and the Whale is one of them. However, like everything else in the Bible, take it back to the start. Where did evil come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did death come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did lying come from? Take it back to Genesis. I’m sure you’re getting the picture. Where did the sun, the moon, the earth and stars come from? Take it back to Genesis. Where did you and I (and fish and whales) come from? Take it back to Genesis. What does the opening verse of the Bible say? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). The point I make is that if God can create all of creation and all therein out of nothing, then Jonah in the belly of a fish is easy for Him, as is the virgin birth, the resurrection and all the other miracles listed in the Bible. God speaks and things that are not become things that are. Nothing is too hard for God. So, don’t listen anyone who does not speak according to Scripture. And if they do, then check it out for yourself. Be like the Bereans. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.[6] But don’t be like Sportin’ Life, the drug dealer. Don’t believe him when he says,

Dey tell all you chillun de debble’s a villain
But ‘taint necessarily so
To get into Hebben don’ snap for a sebben
Live clean, don’ have no fault
Oh I takes dat gospel whenever it’s pos’ble
But wid a grain of salt
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
But who calls dat livin’ when no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years
I'm preachin’ dis sermon to show
It ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
Ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
It ain’t necessarily so.

Like me, as you read the lyrics of It Ain’t Necessarily So you no doubt found the language a little bit difficult to understand; “Chillun”, “debble”, “Hebben” and “sebben” etc. The point I make is therefore why struggle through a version of the Bible written in archaic language when there are more contemporary English versions?

“Gin ye confess wi your mouth at Jesus is Lord, an trew in your hairt at God raised him frae the deid, ye will be saufed.” Romans 10:9, The New Testament in Scots.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Romans 10:9, King James Version (KJV).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” New King James Version (NKJV).

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is LORD,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Roman 10:9, New International Version (NIV).

            The idea then, is that you, as a layman, find a version that is easy for you to understand. Stick to the New International Version (NIV) or the new King James Version (NKJV), and yes, there are other good versions. But keep in mind that there are some not so good versions too!


[1] 2 Peter 1:21-22 NIV.
[2] George & Ira Gershwin, Porgie and Bess, 1935.
[3] Stuart in an email to me dated 27 March 2016.
[4] Matthew 12:40 NIV.
[5] Isaiah 8:20.
[6] Acts 17:11 NIV.

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