Ask the Anarchist Reverend is a weekly feature here on the site. If you have a question you’d like to ask, you can send me an email (anarchistreverend at gmail), find me on twitter, or submit your question using formspring.
Today’s question: You’ve lived some radical changes between your fundamentalist upbringing and now. Out of pure curiosity, what have the Bibles of your life been, and (how) have they related to those bigger changes?
This is a fun question!
I grew up reading the New International Version (NIV) pretty exclusively. There was some KJV thrown in there, but in my home and church we used the NIV. It’s funny because my grandparents were independent fundamentalist Baptists and used only the KJV. I thought our use of the NIV showed how “progressive” we were! I remember having a paperback version of the NIV Teen Study Bible that I had highlighted and underlined.
I also remember struggling with the Bible throughout my teenage years. I knew I was supposed to read it every day (to have a daily quiet time) and to really cherish it, but I often struggled to read it with any regularity.
When I was in high school, Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix: The Bible In contemporary Languageparaphrase came out (or at least the Christian testament and Psalms) and I really enjoyed reading that because it was so different. It gave the words new sounds and meaning. I knew, though, that it was just a paraphrase and not to be trusted as much as my handy NIV. (Although, I still really enjoy “The Message” as something that makes you hear passages in a totally new way. I still use it.)
In college the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was all the rage for serious scholarly study. I bought a huge, leather bound version but could never really get into it. The language just left me feeling empty.
Before I continue, I want to detour for a second: I just finished reading The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal and I want to highly recommend it. It’s part short history of how the Bible came to be and part meditation on how we view the Bible. It’s a very easy read and brings up a lot of important things. I want to share a brief portion about the NIV and NASB:
“In 1959 the inerrantist Lockman Foundation enlisted a large committee to revise the American Standard Version. Twelve years later, it published the New American Standard Bible (New Testament 1963; whole Bible 1971). This form-driven, often very wooden translation quickly gained popularity over the Revised Standard Version in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist circles. It was the best-selling Bible in America in 1977, and it continues to be popular among inerrantists to this day. The following year, 1978, saw the publication of the New International Version (New Testament only in 1973), which has dominated the Bible market ever since. Like the New American Standard Bible’s translators, its large committee of biblical scholars and ministers were explicitly committed to biblical inerrancy and aimed to revise what many conservatives saw as problems with the Revised Standard Version (both, by the way, restored the virgin to Isaiah 7:14). But the more neo-evangelical leaving New International Version was dramatically different in that it moved away from word-for-word translation and toward the new functional-equivalence, or meaning-driven, approach.” (pg 143, paperback version)
I find this really interesting, as it’s clear that both of the Bible translations that were prized by my church (and my college was affiliated with my denomination) were translations that set out to prove a specific theological point. Of course, I wasn’t privy to any of this history growing up, but knowing it now certainly explains a lot.
After college, when I worked in an American Baptist church, I was introduced to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and still use that one to this day, especially when I am doing scholarly work.
This past year I have been using the new CEB Common English Thinline Bible with Apocrypha DecoTone Black (CEB) and REALLY enjoying it. I trust the translators and the translation is easy to read. This is the Bible that I am using in my quest to read through the entire Bible this year.
Now to the larger question of how each translation has related to my spiritual journey: I feel like I could talk for hours about how my relationship to the Bible has changed over the years and what it means to me now, but I’ll try to keep my remarks relatively short!
One of the things that Timothy Beal talks about in his book is the idea of the Bible as this ideal that we think will answer all of our questions and should be easy to understand. He talks about how when people read the Bible and it doesn’t answer questions or isn’t easy to understand that they get frustrated and walk away. That was definitely where I was in relation to the NIV and NASB. I thought the Bible was the inerrant Word of God meant to answer every question and to be followed to the letter (well, or most of the letter). And along with that belief also came the belief that I was hopelessly messed up and could never live up to that standard. Hell, I couldn’t even manage to make myself have a “quiet time” every day!
Reading through the portions of those Bibles that I have highlighted and underlined point to my own confusion and frustration and also my grasping to be, and do, better.
Once I left evangelicalism and fundamentalism behind, my faith got very intellectual (I’ve written about this shift before) and so it makes sense that I gravitated to the NRSV as it’s often used in churches and seminaries that prize higher criticism. And I am thankful for that time as it was necessary for me to unpack a lot of harmful theology I had internalized growing up. But still, I am thankful for my fundamentalist, evangelical upbringing because it did instill in me both a ridiculous knowledge of the Bible and a love for it. (I was able to test out of both Hebrew Scripture and New Testament knowledge courses in seminary without studying because of my upbringing!)
And now this shift to the CEB seems to fit with my shift to again reading the Bible devotionally (while also reading it as a scholar). It echoes my fusion of head and heart: knowledge and felt mystery.
Learning all I have learned about the history of the Bible, historical criticism, the Jesus seminar, Roman context, etc. etc. etc. has not made me love the Bible less, instead it has made me love it more. I love it in its mystery and complexity. In its contradictions and problems. I still see it as a guide but not as an answer book. It’s like a love affair that changes and grows with time. And I am thankful to have been raised to love it in the first place.
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