Monday, 16 April 2012

Knowing The Truth

"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever". (Isaiah 40, 8).

In our family, the study of God's Word is a key feature of our daily lives - and always has been. Both Papa Bear and I were raised in homes where regular Bible study and Church attendance was practised, and as husband and wife, we have inculcated these same principles for our own family. We've always enjoyed sharing our Bible study time together - from the simplest board books when our children were babies, to much-loved books of illustrated Bible stories as they became older. We've always read directly from Scripture to them, and now, as our children have grown into young adults, it is a pleasure to see them turn to their Bibles independently, and to know that they are fostering and deepening their personal relationship with our Father God all on their own. We do draw together as a family to read our Bibles, but now we also all enjoy private Bible study too.

Nowadays, there are so many different opportunities for seeking God's Word. You can access the Bible online, or through daily devotionals that provide selected portions of Scripture with each devotional reading. You can hear the Bible read on the radio or on audio files online, or you can watch on TV and DVD's or listen on CD's. There are so many different written formats too - you can read Bibles specially prepared to be read through in a year, or for couples to read together. There are women's Bibles, study Bibles, Bibles with inspirational quotes or concordances, ones with illustrations, translations and dictionaries. There is a Bible for everyone - but how do we know which are truely the Word of God?

We like to use several different formats for our Bible studies, in order that we are able to access God's Word, both as a family and individually, as often and extensively as we can. It's lovely to be able to have our audio book of the Bible, narrated by Alexander Scourby, playing as I go about my daily chores, or when we are travelling in the car. Or we can enjoy an online devotional and Bible reading on days when we're not able to get to Church - or feel that we need the extra time spent in contemplation of God's Word because of particular things that are happening in our lives at that moment.

We've noticed that there seems to be a great deal of debate currently about whether one particular version of the Bible is better, or more accurate, than any other. It's something that we've been aware of for quite a while, certainly since our children have been old enough to read their own Bibles, and of course is something that we've paid attention to, as a family that reads the Bible so regularly. We want to be sure that we are being guided spiritually to the text or texts that our Father God really desires for us to read. The debate often seems to focus on one particular version of the Bible - the King James Version - and whether this is a more accurate (and therefore more relevant) version than more modern translations.

Regular readers of our blog will notice that the passages of Scriptures that we quote are from the King James Version. This is indeed the version that we prefer to use for the majority of the time. This is not just because we believe it to be an accurate translation of the Hebrew and Greek writings of the original text, but because we are convicted that the beauty and purity of the writing, as it appears, conveys the true message of God's Word to us more meaningfully than the modern translations. It's not so much that it is poetic - although in parts it could be argued that this is true - but that it resonates with us more deeply, and is therefore more relevant to us, than the somehow flatter, and duller translations of some more modern versions of the Bible. Where words are omitted or altered from the original writings, their true meaning is lost, and for us this is a significant consideration.

However, this is not the only version of the Bible that we use, and there is a good reason for this, which we are sharing because we feel this may help other people who have been caught in the debate over which is the most truthful translation of the Bible, and whether or not other versions are accurate enough to be worth reading. We also use the New American Standard Bible, which we like for its clarity and plainness, and we have also several other versions, including the New King James Version and the New Living Translation. This last is a paraphrase, and therefore not a substitute for other Bible translations, but we have found it is useful as a guide text to simplify passages that may seem to be more impenetrable in other translations, which we can then keep in mind as we turn to these other translations, having had the passage explained in simpler text. It's a bit like comparing a map of a land that you are visiting for the first time, with reports written by other travellers. The map will show you accurately where everything is, but the reports will still give you a broader perspective and experience of your travels, than if you did not read them. For us, the paraphrased Bible simply elucidates and highlights the meaning of the true translation for us.

There's a good reason why we need to do this - Papa Bear has dyslexia, a mild learning difficulty which specifically relates to the ability to read fluently. For him, without these other translations, the King James Version would be almost indecipherable. For several years after we were first married, he was not able to read at all - something he's not ashamed of, and therefore happy to share here on our blog. He learned to read as our cubs did (I taught them all 3 together!) and is now able to read quite sufficiently for personal pleasure, but he will always find the King James Version quite difficult to decipher, and so he prefers to use the New American Standard Bible for his personal Bible study. To us (and to our Church) there is no problem with this. It's far more important that he reads the Bible at all, than that he did not read it because the only translation available is beyond his reading ability. To make things even harder for him, he was raised in a home in which English was not spoken except to strangers - and in point of fact, there is no Bible translation at all in our mother tongue. For us, this is not a barrier to our growing in faith, but it could easily be for other people of our culture, and for other cultures, for which there is no easily accessible Bible translation and no guidance from well-informed people around them to assist in making it accessible.

God wants everyone to know His word - no one should be excluded from being able to know the wisdom and truth that the Bible contains. We are certain that whichever translation we are convicted to read, is still the Word of God. We ask Him prayerfully to guide us in our choises, and we are certain that it is through spiritual inspiration that we choose the translations that we do - and understand them too. What matters to us is not so much the version that we choose (although sensible consideration does need to be given to the quality of the translation and whether or not it reflects accurately the original written texts), but the very fact of us actually seeking it, reading it and most importantly of all, taking it into our hearts, and learning from it.

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works"
(2Timothy 3, 16 - 17).