Written Text/Oral Tradition
The all-loving God, who desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, revealed this great and blessed secret to me of His great loving kindness in a marvelous way, without any human intervention. For five years I was a professor and I led a gloomy dissipated sort of life, captivated by the vain philosophy of the world, and not according to Christ. Perhaps I should have perished altogether had I not been upheld to some extent by the fact that I lived with my very devout mother and my sister, who was a serious-minded young woman. One day, when I was taking a walk along the public boulevard, I met and made the acquaintance of an excellent young man who told me he was a Frenchman, a history student who had not long ago arrived from Paris and was looking for a post as tutor. His high degree of culture delighted me very much, and he being a stranger in this country I asked him to my home and we became friends. In the course of two months he frequently came to see me. Sometimes we went for walks together and amused ourselves, and went together into company which I leave you to suppose was very immoral. At length he came to me one day with an invitation to a place of that sort; and in order to persuade me more quickly he began to praise the particular liveliness and pleasantness of the company to which he was inviting me. After he had been speaking about it for a short while, suddenly he began to ask me to come with him out of my study where we were sitting and to sit in the drawing-room. This seemed to be very odd. So I said that I had never before noticed any reluctance on his part to be in my study, and what, I asked, was the cause of it now? And I added that the drawing-room was next door to the room where my mother and sister were, and for us to carry on this sort of conversation there would be unseemly. He pressed his point on various pretexts, and finally came out quite openly with this: "Among those books on your shelves there you have a copy of the Gospels. I have such a reverence for that book that in its presence I find a difficulty in talking about our disreputable affairs. Please take it away from here; then we an talk freely." In my frivolous way I smiled at his words. Taking the Gospels from the shelf I said, "You ought to have told me that long ago," and handed it to him, saying, "Well, take it yourself and put it down somewhere in the room." No sooner had I touched him with the Gospels than at that instant he trembled and disappeared.
I am a believer in the adage, "This Book will keep you from sin; sin will keep you from this Book" almost to the point of "worshipping the Book," so that for me the most troubling, the most difficult verse in the whole Bible is (Jeremiah 8:8) "How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain." I mean, I go by, (Psalm 31:6) "I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD," where God and lying vanity are on opposite sides, but what happens when the Bible itself is vain? I don't know. Perhaps scholarship will help.
I can begin to understand Jeremiah 8:8 better if I look at how our study of the Bible is affected by ignoring its traditional King James Version presentation. ‘Plato criticized the Egyptian god and inventor of writing: “You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise.”’ The King James Version is remarkably easy to memorize, while we need reminders of what the other versions say.
“Written texts had the possibility of replacing traditional community-centered wisdom. One no longer had to depend on the community for knowledge and wisdom because the written word itself could confer knowledge. Viewed from this perspective the emphasis on a written text in the Josianic Reforms and in the Book of Deuteronomy was not only a novel development but is also a dangerous one. Although it couched itself in the antiquity of the Mosaic revelation and was originally employed by the Deuteronomic reformers to reassert traditional orthodoxy, the written text also had the power to supplant orthodoxy.” I find that while modern versions “couch themselves in the antiquity of the [Hebrew and Greek] which were originally employed by the [Protestant] reformers to reassert traditional orthodoxy, the [modern language] text also had the power to supplant orthodoxy.”
I'm getting closer to understanding Jeremiah 8:8, but let's take a look at a contemporary situation.
It was worse than the Barras. He estimated there were close to three thousand people thronging the place, an area about the size of the pitch at Fir Park. There was no doubt room for more, but the sense of constant motion as the crowd moved around the stalls and platforms gave the impression of a greater host.
Okay, here I get the sense of our crowded lobby at church, packed together, with room for more, but the shuffling back and forth gives us the sense of a larger crowd.
The omnipresent Barras paranoia of having your pocket picked was unlikely to set in either: Steff felt pretty confident of being the poorest person present. All around him were shiny adults dragging along shiny kids, miraculously born of these shiny parents who simply looked far too wholesome ... There were shiny teens and shiny adolescents in attendance of their own free will.609
Okay, I can leave what little I possess and bring with me at the coat rack in church without any fear of it being taken. Everybody looks so clean-cut, with the young ones willingly there too.
Once he started moving around the place, he was able to glean some idea of the format. The crowd, seemingly amorphous upon first impression, was in fact divided up into groups around each stall or platform, with a rectangular hub of food and drink stands in the centre of the concourse. On closer inspection, he saw that some of the canopied stalls were actually entrances to tents, inside which a selection of meetings and activities was taking place, from biblical puppet shows to your basic, bog-standard sermonizing. At the far end there was a wide stage, raised about seven feet, upon which stood a small choir singing excruciatingly hoaky countrified hymns to the accompaniment of a woman strumming a steel guitar, which Steff thought should be confiscated with the instruction that she'd get it back when she had learned what such a fine instrument should really be used for.610
Okay, we've got our coffehouse with the food on the counter, various little groups split up into, various Sunday School classes, a sermon, and choir, and we are instrumental.
Steff felt a blow to the ribs and looked down to see a face-painted child reel away dazed, now moving with less rabid enthusiasm towards the candy floss stall, or ‘Manna on a Stick’, as it was advertised.
Okay, we are patriotic, acknowledge the cross, and have a healthy sense of dunk tank humor. Now comes the crucial part.
‘Let me tell you about the information superhighway,’ said a voice. He turned around to see that it had come from one of the stalls, where an adolescent male in a 'True Love Waits' T-shirt was standing on a platform beside a cardboard fake computer. Steff moved a little nearer, to the back of the small gathering, around which the skinny blonde True Love the speaker was presumably Waiting for was handing out accompanying leaflets.
A real head-scratcher, that.
Recent technology, such as print-on-demand, e-books, e-mail, and the ubiquitous Internet, disseminate the written word more quickly than was possible in any previous era. ...
Before we criticize them for their own closed minded perceptions, we should consider ourselves who think that the plain and straightforward language of the Bible can be translated well into modern complex and wordy English. We do better with the sacred dialect of the King James Version, in fact.
Now on to particulars.
Since its beginnings it had been said in America that rock 'n' roll was the music of Satan. Steff always thought that was fair enough, given that for centuries longer it had been said back home in Scotland that ‘the de'il has aw the best tunes’. The Believers obviously could not be playing the music of Satan, and although the beat, chord structures and arrangements matched the standard criteria, it would be folly to describe what they were doing as rock 'n' roll.
Now, I know which side of the bread to put the butter on. I believe in creation not evolution. Evolution is hoaky while creation is miraculous. I don't know all the answers to what scientists say, but I know some of the answers. But I'm pretty sure it begs the question to say that apparently ancient bones are there as a test of our faith. It's one thing not to know the answer; its another thing to make up a hoaky answer of our own.
Then they launched into an attemptedly thrashy affair called 'Exit Only', an instruction to homosexual males as to the exclusive function of the anus. Steff felt he ought to defer to superior knowledge on this one: if anybody was an expert on arseholes, it had to be the singer up on that stage.
As the preacher pointed out there is truth and lies, true or false. You are in Eugene or in Springfield depending on which side of the interstate you are on. There is singular or plural. Some doors are exit only and some allow entrance also. The door in question also allows entrance for an enema, or for a convict to hide contraband, and were I to allow my writing to degenerate further, I could discuss what a married couple could experiment with. But before we criticize the song for this, we might want to consider that the end of a seemingly right way being plural ways of death comes out singular in the NIV.
Next up was the inevitable power ballad, in which the Believers betrayed their formative listening years to have been coloured less by speed metal than by Speedwagon. It was, Steff gleaned from Sally, the title track of their new double-CD, 'True Love Waits', a plodding power-chord symphony about two dreamy teens resisting the temptations of pre-marital sex and reaping the rewards on their wedding night with the shag of the century.616
Probably going a little overboard there. Maybe on some levels the honeymoon will be the shag of their life, but I doubt two inexperienced lovers would engage in the shag of the century. Sex might be a lot of fun, or just so so, or it could be a disappointment or just plain bad that has to be worked through. It is "for better or worse," after all. The real surprise of joy is probably the children, ... or a conversion.
A similar exaggeration is made in the opposite direction concerning mixed marriage with an unbeliever, where untold misery is said to await. Trouble in the flesh, marital conflict, sure, but not necessarily overwhelming troubles. Then again, if the partners understand something of what marriage requires, they can have great joy in it, lack of Christian faith notwithstanding. Some people bloom when married, the 'for better' part.
The NIV takes it to the extreme of paraphrasing Paul to forbid mixed marriage of the widow, when he said no such thing.
In a gleeful morbid way, Steff was now starting to enjoy it. There was an element of suspense about seeing just how bad it could get. He would have to get a tape of these guys to take home: stick this stuff on the stereo after a few spliffs and everyone in the room would be pissing themselves for hours.
At first that might sound a harsh judgment about people who are sincerely trying, but please remember they were representing ‘All the information in the world, at your fingertips, everything you need to know, everything you could ever need to know for living on this planet." And since we have been making the same kinds of mistakes by using a NIV Bible that forsakes the traditional wisdom of the community in the KJV, we who espouse the NIV could also be called ‘so many stupid people in one place.’
I'm not sure if I completely understand Jeremiah 8:8, but I know that it is included in the canon, and that (II Tim. 3:16-17) "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, throughly furnished unto all good works."
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Copyright © 2005, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.
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