“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
Most jets are outfitted with an orange “black box” flight recorder that can help investigators figure out what when wrong after an airline crash. The bottom line on most crashes is “miscommunication.” The pilot or navigator failed to get important information, either about the weather, another aircraft, the runway or some other factor that resulted in the deaths of most or all of those on the jet.
There is much about eternity and the nature of God that is like that black box; we do not understand on this side of the grave. And there is much about God we will never understand, even after we begin to live in Heaven. After all, HE is the Uncreated God and we are not.
But there is much about eternity and God that we CAN understand, as He loves us and wants to share our lives for all of time, and He has revealed to us what we need to know. What He has revealed is so simple a toddler can understand, yet so profound that the greatest philosophers and scientists can still miss it. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matthew 11:25-26)
However, to get to know Him well we need more than the simple experience a child can fathom. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “If a man once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real… The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based upon what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.” (in Mere Christianity)
Such is the Bible: a map for those wanting to know The God Who Is. Like “cartography,” the study of maps, there will be much in this map of God that we will not understand at first, just as the novice explorer will not understand all the details of topographical or nautical instruction on his maps. But to fully understand the terrain or ocean on which the explorer roams, he must learn to use his maps.
In the same way, to fully understand The God Who Is, as much as we can understand him from this tiny blue ball we call earth, we must learn to use the Bible, with care, accuracy and precision. Biblical literacy is vitally important to fulfill all that Father intends for us to be and do while on earth. Jesus warned, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)
Some complain there are so many translations, which one is best? My “best” recommendation is to explore multiple translations any time you embark on Bible study, as various ones bring different innuendo to the text. See https://www.biblegateway.com/ for some excellent tools, including side-by-side translations, devotionals, blogs and other resources for Bible study.
There are three basic methods of translation: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrases.
Word-for-word can be very awkward as languages have different syntax and structure. However, you can find “interlinear” Greek and Hebrew texts online if that is what you wish to explore. You will quickly see why translators for common folk such as us do not use word-for-word translation, but more thought-for-thought.
Of course, thought-for-thought can get dangerous if the underlying philosophy or theology of the translator is aberrant. Fortunately, there are so many translations available, these will usually be easy to ferret out; e.g., if a translator discards masculine or feminine pronouns or dismisses the miraculous power of God to overrule His laws of physics or biology.
Paraphrases are the most subject to the translator’s personal opinions, but often can provide insight into cultural phrasing and attitudes that straighter translations will miss. An example of this is The Cotton Patch Version’s treatment of John 1:5: “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness couldn’t do a blessed thing about it!” This captures somewhat the idea, but puts it in a particular vernacular of southern US culture.
The following is a graphic illustrating the degree of “accuracy” of several English language translations, listing some translations as word-for-word, although they are not interlinears. Note, for those who prefer King James English of 1611, the KJV remains one of the best translations for accuracy of the words. My only concern with KJV is that the Old English employed can leave one feeling like you are reading a foreign language if you are not schooled in Shakespeare. The poetry and beauty of it is unmatched by the NASB or ESV, but remember, when it was translated, THIS was the way common people talked!
The NIV is one of the most popular because of the excellent marketing the publishers did when it first came out in 1978 by one of the most prominent Bible translation groups around at the time, and its list of scholars were some of the greatest minds in evangelical circles. The ESV came out in 2001 and utilized updated research and linguistic scholarship in an attempt to render as literally as possible what was in the original autographs (which have long been lost to antiquity), including recognizing different writing styles of each different author of the various books.
As you read and study the Bible, expect there will be things that are difficult to accept or understand, but the Scripture is the proven Word of God just as surely as Jesus is the Living Word. It is not anti-science; it is not fantasy or myth; it is not racist or misogynistic or patriarchal. When understood it will reveal a God who is holy and loving, gracious and truthful, and transcends cultures and ages of the world.
As I have noted in previous blogs, There is no book in history that has been more reliably preserved and translated than the Bible. There is no book in history that has more power to change the human condition than the Bible. There is no book in history that is more important for knowing the God Who Is than the Bible.
See https://capost2k.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-reliability-of-the-bible-part-1/ for the beginning of a series on The Reliability of the Bible. Remember always that the Bible is the map, however, not the Atlantic Ocean! Use it wisely, but do not get caught in the trap so many theologians fall into of studying the map in their offices in such detail that they never get in a boat to go sailing.
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John Shedd)