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May 25, 2014

“Gracias. Adios!”

 

It seemed pretty obvious what that meant. “Thank you. Good bye”. So when Yesenia said this to whoever was on the phone, I assumed she was done with her conversation. But she kept talking. “Gracias. Adios!” Again, she kept talking. After about the sixth or seventh time, I gave up trying to understand what was happening.

 

Later I realized that she was actually saying, “Gracias a Dios.” Thanks to God. Thanks to God…everything is going well. Thanks to God, I have a wonderful and amazingly patient man waiting for me.

 

A while back, someone asked me if I wanted a pop. I was taken aback, wondering what I did wrong that this guy wanted to hit me. He was equally perplexed about why I seemed offended at the notion receiving a cold beverage. I did not know that soda is commonly referred to as pop in Colorado, where he was from. He did not understand that to give someone a pop in NJ meant to punch him out.

 

Misunderstandings can happen if we are not aware of local dialects and idioms; or if we misplace a punctuation mark.  So how do we interpret a text written in a dead language almost two thousand years ago in a culture we can’t relate to?

 

The answer is, not always very well. We have misunderstandings, unreasonable arguments, and we make mistakes.

 

Now before you all start pounding out comments below, I do believe that all scripture is the inspired, infallible Word of God. But we would do well to remember that very fallible men are trying to translate them today.

 

And before you start pounding out more comments, I know that the discovery of Ancient Scrolls found that the Bible was 95% verbatim to the original Greek and Hebrew texts and that 95% of the errors were simple pen-stroke or grammar errors.

 

But we would do well to remember, as in the examples above, that sometimes what we think we understand means something completely different.

 

There are other complications to interpreting the Bible, too. Ancient Greek has many more verb tenses than Latin or current Greek or English. So many times a simple present tense was used in its place. If you don’t think that can change a meaning much, compare a local mom’s reaction to “Our whole family has chicken pox” versus, “Our whole family has had chicken pox!”

 

We also need to consider that the Gospels are a super-condensed version of how the church came to be. Undoubtedly, much was left out, including “unnecessary” verbiage. What if I asked you, “Do you think it is proper for children to drink?” You would know that I was talking about alcohol and probably answer, “No.”

 

A couple of thousands of years from now, how will Ancient-English scholars translate this text? We did not let children drink? How did they not die from dehydration? How do we know that words deemed unnecessary for first century Jews could not change the meaning or sharpen our understanding of some scripture?

 

I completely understand why the scriptures and other first century documents remain the focus of intense study today. We need to understand not only what the words say, but how the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans understood them. Otherwise, we risk a misinterpretation of what the writers and speakers taught. (Judging from my struggle with current day Spanish, I do not think these understandings will be coming from me).

 

That people with more (or less) understanding of these things claim parts of the Bible are misunderstood is nothing new. Translation has led to dissent since the beginning. Even Paul and Peter debated certain aspects of Christ’s teaching.

 

An unfortunate result is that today there are over 40,000 recognized Christian denominations of faith (according to the Christian Encyclopedia). That number is expected to rise to over 55,000 by the year 2025.

 

This is a problem. Jesus tells us that a house divided will fall. (Mark 3:25) There is only one church and it is not a building, a location, or a denomination. It is Christianity as explained by the truths in the Bible.

 

It is built on Peter, as well as the other apostles; not their homes or worship places. Paul told followers to accept Timothy and Barnabas as coworkers in faith, not as church authorities. The church is the called, the chosen, and the faithful (Rev 17:14). There is commonality in all Christian denominations. It is Jesus, His Father and Spirit. It is our salvation.

 

When I coached basketball, my teams were made up of individuals with diverse talents and understanding. Everyone was taught the same way. They all read the same playbook; but they each discovered something they did or understood better than some of their teammates.  

 

No one thought they were superior or inferior to the others. Occasionally, one ran to the right instead of the left. It didn’t matter much. When they won, they were all happy for each other. When they lost, they still supported each other.

 

Most importantly, they always came back the next day to play together again. The called, the chosen and the faithful are us. We are individuals. We don’t have to agree on everything or be equally equipped to be one united church.

 

Jesus Christ is the best coach. The Bible is best playbook. We need to get back on the same court. How? Well gee, I’m still trying to learn Spanish!

 

But for sure, we should be celebrating our common love and faith in Jesus. We should love each other; not just tolerate each other. On a personal level, maybe we can reach out to a neighbor or friend of another denomination to discuss similarities. On a larger scale, maybe more ecumenical gatherings are in order.

 

Then we should praise God and pray hard for better understanding that can bring us together.

 

Easier said than done, right? I hope you will share ideas in the comments section or on Facebook.

 

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