Because I know that comments get lost in the “Reply” section of any blog, I want to try to make sure that those who have been following our studies of HP over the past nine weeks, don’t miss Bob MacDonald’s lovely and wise response to the question I posed to him this morning:

June 17, 2021 at 9:49 am

Christopher Page:

thank you Bob for all your work on the Psalms. You are making a tremendously valuable contribution to the study of this literature.

The complexity and intricacy of your translation observations does however raise a question that I am sometimes asked. Given the biases, predilections and shortcomings of so many translations, how much value is there in reading these texts in translation?

Reply

June 17, 2021 at 10:13 am

bobmacdonald:


It’s a good question – how much value is there in reading these texts in translation?

I think there is great value in it, but I think it is important to read more than one translation. If that’s possible. Every time I read, it seems I am focused or pointed to some other aspect of what I am reading that I didn’t hear before. Or I am reminded of what I had forgotten (which is plenty).

Two questions are uppermost in my mind at this late state of my life. Why is this poem relevant to me? What trouble has it caused in the past? (There are many variations on these questions.)

Never before had I seen Psalms 9 as a reflection of the ruins that are caused by nations. I had not even noted the nations-mortal axis until this reading. There is so much richness that one can’t ‘know it all at once’.

This is true of poetry – Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi comes to mind. I have to be satisfied with what I am given at the time. I have to be somewhat wary of how I read, even if Hebrew were my native tongue.

Past trouble – the ‘heathen’ gloss points out that we have misread these psalms and caused many pains to ourselves and others. I ask too, how Jesus would have read these in the days of his flesh. That is a key question for Christians, not to be short-circuited by our theologies.

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Bob offers two valuable guidelines for wise and life-giving reading of any sacred text:

  1. the question of relevance must be paramount. I am not reading this text primarily to prove a point or to win an argument. I am reading this text to listen to how God may be speaking to the circumstances of my life. The Bible is always a call before anything else to self-reflection, self-examination, heart-searching, self-awareness, deep honesty and transformation of my life. If I am using a text as a club to beat you over the head either intellectually or morally, I am misusing the text.
  2. if my reading of a text leads to harm/ “trouble” for me, for others, or for the creation we share, I have almost certainly misunderstood the text and need to look again, dig more deeply and ponder the words with greater openness.

    Jesus said,


    I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

    If a reading tends towards abundance, it is Jesus. If a reading tends towards death and destruction, it is from “the thief” and must be repudiated by any follower of Jesus.

Thank you Bob for your wise words.

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Author Brian Zahnd seems to have been having a similar conversation inside his head:

Brian Zahnd

Jun 15

When reading the Bible, our interpretive lenses—language, culture, education, politics, theology, denomination, tradition, etc.—is as determinative for what we think we are reading as the text itself. It’s possible to read almost anything into the Bible. Be aware of this.

The best course of action is to acknowledge the reality of these interpretive lenses and then view the text through several different lenses—Orthodox, Patristic, Pentecostal, Barth, Liberation theology, black theology, Anabaptist, Nouvelle théologie, would be just a few examples.

This keeps us from the folly of deceiving ourselves into thinking that our own particular reading of Scripture is “just taking it as it is.”

https://twitter.com/BrianZahnd