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Thought for the weekend: God's Word calls for interpretation, not repetition

Allen Sleith: Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

A New Testament scholar wrote in a recent article that the work of such scholars was "interpretation, not repetition".

I concur with that and would expand upon it - anyone and everyone who reads the Bible is called to its interpretation, not just repetition, for, simply put, it has always been so and always will be.

The God witnessed to in the New Testament is a God of mission whose strategy is the self-communication of the good news of the grace of Jesus Christ to humanity.

Since this mission happens over time, which always involves change and occurs via language, which properly assumes the mutual back and forth of exchange between people, it can't possibly be reduced to repetition.

Jesus read the scriptures of Israel in Hebrew, spoke in Aramaic, was borne witness to in a New Testament written in Greek, which spread westwards throughout Europe largely in Latin, eventually reaching the common folk of this part of the world in English from the 16th century on. This process involved multiple translations from one language to another, a convoluted linguistic journey in which repetition is a vacuous notion, but one in which interpretation is of the very essence.

Furthermore, the proliferation of Biblical versions in English, let alone other contemporary languages, reinforces the reality of interpretation, not repetition.

And at the back of that lies the even more fundamental reality, that the early manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek papyrus, 'autographs', as they're called, are numerous and fragmentary, thus necessitating painstaking collection and judicious selection as part of the reconstructive task of even having a comprehensive biblical text to study and share.

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So-called elites may be despised in some quarters today, but without their dedicated academic expertise, the scriptures as we know them would likely never have seen the light of day.

But it's not the background history or the Church's insistence on the formal authority of the Bible I want to emphasise here, rather, it's the missionary dynamic of sharing God's good news in Jesus Christ.

Since that communication happens over time (change) and via language (exchange) between people of different cultures, in diverse contexts and with varying conceptualisations of how life is, it inescapably involves interpretation - imaginative, laborious, risky but wonderful - as is faith itself, enlivened by the Spirit of God.

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