Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reading the Bible in a strange land

I thought I would start by explicating (or unfolding) the subtitle of this blog a phrase at a time. This will create the 'mission statement' for the blog, so that anyone interested in what might follow will know roughly what to expect.

I live in New Zealand. It is a strange land to read the Bible in for two reasons.

First it is strange for me because I was born and raised in Britain, and New Zealand is a long way away. I still feel new here, although I have now adjusted to the different flavoured Marmite.

But more importantly it is strange for the Bible. The Bible was written in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of thousands of years ago and in lands thousands of miles away. New Zealand has two official languages Te Reo Māori and English. New Zealand is also a 'developed' democratic nation with the technology, infrastructure, welfare state, and police services that go along with that. When the Bible talks about thirst, poverty, injustice, politics, or even worship, we have difficulty understanding what it could mean because our experiences are so different from those who wrote it. The Bible didn't make it to New Zealand until the 19th century, by which time it was already old, old, old.

When we read the Bible as if someone like us had written it, we are being careless and disrespectful. The Bible is an ancient and strange text, we need to treat it with respect, as an honoured guest. The other day I invited a Malaysian-Chinese family to our home for dinner. I had only recently met them. I knew I did not fully understand their culture, I had to work hard to see if they were comfortable or merely being polite. I had to constantly ask questions out loud and to myself. As host my concern was not that they would fit into my idea of a pleasant meal and conversation, but that I would fit into theirs.

The Bible is not 'my Bible' and it's not 'your Bible' either. If it really is God's word, then it is God's Bible and God is not much like you or me at all (Isaiah 55:8-9). When I read the Bible I must read it as a stranger, eager and careful to please my guest, not to conform the Bible to my idea of what it should be, but to be transformed by it (Romans 12:2).

3 comments:

  1. Mate
    Great to see you doing this . I was going to set one up and several have asked me to, but I will see how yours goes (i am sure it will be well).
    I look forward to contributing over the next year - especially in systematic theology.
    Kudos.

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  2. oi! we have 3 official languages; NZ sign language beacame an official language in April 2006.
    Other than that, a lovely idea to set up this blog. Very appreciated to get a re-run of Sunday's message too.

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  3. Jane, oops sorry. Didn't know. I will remember that :)
    Ant and Jane, I'm looking forward to both of your contributions, so dont forget to coment on the content as well as being nice to me :)

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