super script

On Sunday morning I was preaching (not unusual for me) and asked the question: “Why is it that noses run and feet smell?”

It is a characteristic of language that words can have more than one meaning and in the case above it creates a punderful play on words when you juxtapose two such incidences. It can create confusion when we read words out of the context in which they were written or spoken. I remember seeing this newspaper headline in a Sunday School session when I was a child and could not see anything wrong with it:

“Man beats dog”

I was thinking of a race so thought it was actually quite an impressive feat (we used to have a Labrador called Bonnie so I knew that running faster than a dog was difficult). But the wider context showed it was actually an article about animal cruelty (and explained why the others in the group were horrified when I said that I was impressed by the headline).

962092_scripture bentVery few of us are scholars in Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. This means that reading the Bible in whatever translation we are using is an exercise in interpretation. Usually it’s obvious but occasionally there is a word that could mean more than one thing and the context does not make it clear which is which. That’s why there are sometimes footnotes at the bottom of the page offering an alternative translation for a word. And it’s also why sometimes when someone is reading from one translation in a church and you have a different one the words they use are different because the translators opted for one or other of the possible meanings.

It’s also why new translations are written because the scholarly understanding of words is continually growing. For example a manuscript may be uncovered that somewhere that may have been an ancient Hebrew shopping list but provides insight into the use of language that informs the understanding of the same word in the Bible.

I am not a scholar in Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. I studied Greek for 2 years at Bible College and Hebrew for 1 year and somehow managed to pass the exams. But that was over 20 years ago. Today  I invariably check out footnotes when they are there in my Bible (rather than skipping over them) because that will give me a ‘heads up’ that there is more than one meaning of the word . I also rely heavily on the scholarship of others – my commentaries on the Bible are the most valuable source of wisdom, understanding and guidance when it comes to understanding this astonishing book. The learning of others helps me understand the nuances of a word or phrase.

So, for example, in Philippians 1 there is a phrase that is translated as ‘carry on to completion’ relating to a church. Imagine a sculpture that has been created where the form and shape of the sculpture have been established but the sculptor is never completely satisfied with his creation so he keeps on making adjustments, adding details, polishing and refining the sculpture.  Or imagine a computer programmer who writes a program that does the job it is designed for.  However the programmer will then continually be engaged in a process of sorting out any bugs and glitches, adding enhancements and new updates.

‘Carrying on to completion’ has a similar sense to it.  It reflects that there is an ongoing process of becoming complete, or as one writer has put it, God is always adding his finishing touches to the church. God has established the church and is committed to sustaining it.  However, he is not satisfied with leaving it at that.  By the work and inspiration of the Holy Spirit God is always engaged enhancing churches – encouraging them to improve in one area of church life or another; inspiring them to try new things or even to stop doing old things; prompting them to consider going further in mission, to meet more needs, to share the good news in different ways.  That process will continue, according to Paul, until Jesus returns.

No church should ever sit back and think, “We’ve done it.”  We should never be content with the way things are.  There is always room for improvement.

All that from understanding the background!

So when (not if) you read your Bible, don’t skip over the little superscript letters, stop, check them out. Of course you’ll never know if you never open your Bible!

Be blessed, be a blessing

what to preach?

Sooo, you’re preaching at your mother’s wedding in just over a week’s time and have been asked to provide a reading (from the Bible). What to choose?

Best to avoid some of the Proverbs (“a nagging wife is like a dripping tap”, “better to live on the roof than share a house with a nagging wife” and so on). Keeping well clear of Song of Songs (or Snog of Snogs as I think it should be better named) to avoid blushing, although the temptation to preach on SoS 7:2 “Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine” was briefly there. Avoiding all references to Lot’s wife (who, according to the apocyphal Sunday School blooper was a “pillar of salt by day and a pillar of fire by night.”) Ensuring I do not confuse 1 John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”) with John 4:18 (“You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.”)

Calculator

I’m not going to tell you what I have chosen (that would spoil the surprise for anyone who reads this and goes to the wedding) but if you want to guess I will confirm if you are right. After all, there are only 1,189 chapters and 31,103 verses to choose from! Statistically the middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118. There are 594 chapters before it, 594 chapters after it and if you add those two together you get 1,188. The middle verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8. What do you make of that? Some people (if you check out their websites) think it is amazing.

But I am less impressed. Firstly because in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts there were no verses or chapters. They have been added later to help us find our way around, a bit like the section headings in some versions of the Bible. The second reason I am unimpressed is that someone has spent a lot of time working all of that maths out (I got it off a website). That’s like having a Bugatti Veyron (mega-expensive high performance sports car) and only reading the manual that comes with it rather than driving it. The Bible is such an incredible book (to describe it as a book is rather underplaying it) that it begs to be read so that we encounter God. Which bits have you read lately?

Visiting his grandparents, a small boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out. He picked it up and found that it was an old leaf that had been pressed flat between the pages. “Mum, look what I found,” he called out.

“What have you got there, dear?” his mother asked.”

With astonishment in his voice, the boy answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”

A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, “The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.”


His son asked, “What happened to the flea?”

Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calles it a poem, and they give him £25.”

The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, and they give him £200.”


The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes six people to collect all the money!”