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Translating/Interpreting the Bible
08-09-2013, 02:01 PM
Post: #1
Translating/Interpreting the Bible
To give an outline so you understand my intention here, I have been debating with a Jehovah's Witness recently regarding truth in the bible and I have been questioning how someone can put so much faith in the specific words of the bible for a few reasons. 1) We have no proof that the bible is in fact the word of God, other than what it says in the bible. 2) How do we know meaning wasn't lost in translation from God to the writers and from the original writings to the current translated versions? 3) Certain practices in the bible are no longer practiced because they are deemed to be irrelevant, while other lines are still quoted to be true. Ie. Leviticus 20:10 says "‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death." Most Christians no longer do this, but yet as per Leviticus 20:13, many still accept that homosexuality is still an abomination. I am having trouble understanding how followers of the bible know which lines are no longer relevant and which are still relevant.

To further clarify, I am an Agnostic Atheist and a former Catholic. I am simply asking this because I do not understand how people can live their lives by a book that raises so many questions. I sincerely appreciate the input from anyone willing to try and help me better understand.
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08-09-2013, 08:20 PM
Post: #2
RE: Translating/Interpreting the Bible
(08-09-2013 02:01 PM)QuestionMark Wrote:  To give an outline so you understand my intention here, I have been debating with a Jehovah's Witness recently regarding truth in the bible and I have been questioning how someone can put so much faith in the specific words of the bible for a few reasons. 1) We have no proof that the bible is in fact the word of God, other than what it says in the bible. 2) How do we know meaning wasn't lost in translation from God to the writers and from the original writings to the current translated versions? 3) Certain practices in the bible are no longer practiced because they are deemed to be irrelevant, while other lines are still quoted to be true. Ie. Leviticus 20:10 says "‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death." Most Christians no longer do this, but yet as per Leviticus 20:13, many still accept that homosexuality is still an abomination. I am having trouble understanding how followers of the bible know which lines are no longer relevant and which are still relevant.

To further clarify, I am an Agnostic Atheist and a former Catholic. I am simply asking this because I do not understand how people can live their lives by a book that raises so many questions. I sincerely appreciate the input from anyone willing to try and help me better understand.

I can't speak for all Christians, but my denomination does not stone either adulterers or homosexual to death, nor asks to (unfortunately some Christians do want to stone one or the other or both to death), and yet both are equally considered to be unlawful within the confines of our denomination.

For us Mormons, the second thing you mentioned is an important article of consideration. We believe it is very evident that Christians disagree on how they understand the Bible as pertain the important doctrines of what God's nature is, how does salvation work, what is in store for man, and so forth. So we believe the Holy Spirit is important to understand scripture, the same Holy Spirit which also bestows revelation and prophecy and so forth. So we put the source of the Bible (the Holy Spirit) above the interpretations commonly made of the written book, because I mean, think about it: if God exists, the Bible is written in his heart. The Holy Ghost knows the Bible forward and back, and the right way. Besides the Spirit would know more truth than that confined to the pages of the Bible, useful for clarification and understanding.

We do believe there are questions produced by the study of the Bible that have no decisive answer yet, precisely because they are secondary to the important doctrines of salvation, etc, and God will give us clearer understanding later. We try not to worry about these things, but we are free to speculate, as long as we do not pass our speculation as dogmatic revealed doctrine or something.

I think Holy Spirit aside, the best way to understand the Bible is this:

Try to understand the context of Bible passages, and the substance, done by trying to understand the meaning of words in their original tongues, knowing other references to a passage from elsewhere in the Bible, and knowing historical context. Also, seek to find the way the earliest commentators close to the sources would have understood the passages. For example, to understand the New Testament, instead of going to the Protestant reformers or to the post-Nicene Church Fathers for inspiration, go to the first generation Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp), and the early second generation of the Church Fathers (Papias and Justin Martyr). They are also of assistance in understanding the Christian view of the Old Testament that existed in the days of the apostles. To understand the way the Old Testament may have been understood by pre-Christian Jews, it helps to look into Jewish commentaries that make reference to oral tradition, and you need to look into the Talmud for that. I do not suggest that Christians accept every interpretation given by the early Jewish commentators on the oral tradition ad doctrine, but rather that they take note of the oral tradition itself, and use it to understand the scriptures within the apostolic context.

"To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty." -Justin Martyr
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08-12-2013, 10:15 AM
Post: #3
RE: Translating/Interpreting the Bible
(08-09-2013 08:20 PM)shiverleaf15 Wrote:  
(08-09-2013 02:01 PM)QuestionMark Wrote:  To give an outline so you understand my intention here, I have been debating with a Jehovah's Witness recently regarding truth in the bible and I have been questioning how someone can put so much faith in the specific words of the bible for a few reasons. 1) We have no proof that the bible is in fact the word of God, other than what it says in the bible. 2) How do we know meaning wasn't lost in translation from God to the writers and from the original writings to the current translated versions? 3) Certain practices in the bible are no longer practiced because they are deemed to be irrelevant, while other lines are still quoted to be true. Ie. Leviticus 20:10 says "‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death." Most Christians no longer do this, but yet as per Leviticus 20:13, many still accept that homosexuality is still an abomination. I am having trouble understanding how followers of the bible know which lines are no longer relevant and which are still relevant.

To further clarify, I am an Agnostic Atheist and a former Catholic. I am simply asking this because I do not understand how people can live their lives by a book that raises so many questions. I sincerely appreciate the input from anyone willing to try and help me better understand.

I can't speak for all Christians, but my denomination does not stone either adulterers or homosexual to death, nor asks to (unfortunately some Christians do want to stone one or the other or both to death), and yet both are equally considered to be unlawful within the confines of our denomination.

For us Mormons, the second thing you mentioned is an important article of consideration. We believe it is very evident that Christians disagree on how they understand the Bible as pertain the important doctrines of what God's nature is, how does salvation work, what is in store for man, and so forth. So we believe the Holy Spirit is important to understand scripture, the same Holy Spirit which also bestows revelation and prophecy and so forth. So we put the source of the Bible (the Holy Spirit) above the interpretations commonly made of the written book, because I mean, think about it: if God exists, the Bible is written in his heart. The Holy Ghost knows the Bible forward and back, and the right way. Besides the Spirit would know more truth than that confined to the pages of the Bible, useful for clarification and understanding.

We do believe there are questions produced by the study of the Bible that have no decisive answer yet, precisely because they are secondary to the important doctrines of salvation, etc, and God will give us clearer understanding later. We try not to worry about these things, but we are free to speculate, as long as we do not pass our speculation as dogmatic revealed doctrine or something.

I think Holy Spirit aside, the best way to understand the Bible is this:

Try to understand the context of Bible passages, and the substance, done by trying to understand the meaning of words in their original tongues, knowing other references to a passage from elsewhere in the Bible, and knowing historical context. Also, seek to find the way the earliest commentators close to the sources would have understood the passages. For example, to understand the New Testament, instead of going to the Protestant reformers or to the post-Nicene Church Fathers for inspiration, go to the first generation Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp), and the early second generation of the Church Fathers (Papias and Justin Martyr). They are also of assistance in understanding the Christian view of the Old Testament that existed in the days of the apostles. To understand the way the Old Testament may have been understood by pre-Christian Jews, it helps to look into Jewish commentaries that make reference to oral tradition, and you need to look into the Talmud for that. I do not suggest that Christians accept every interpretation given by the early Jewish commentators on the oral tradition ad doctrine, but rather that they take note of the oral tradition itself, and use it to understand the scriptures within the apostolic context.

Thank you for your response Shiver.

I can see that the passage comparison that I used was a little flawed, but I still don't understand how it can be accepted that the bible says that adultery is unlawful, but it is no longer accepted that adulterers should be put to death? Who's decision is it that certain words that come from God are no longer relevant while others remain relevant?

Also, why are adulterers and homosexuals seen as equally unlawful? Adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments and homosexuality is not. Wouldn't that suggest that adultery is worse? It seems like in society (I don't know any Mormons, so I can't speak towards them), homosexuality is more frowned upon than adultery though. Maybe that is just my own observation and does not hold truth everywhere, but I never see adulterers being refused rights or people having anti-adultery marches.

As to the rest of your response, I guess the disbelief in the biblical God is what is preventing me from understanding much of the bible. If I believed that He existed, I assume it would be much easier to accept the teachings more readily. Though I used to believe and my questions going unanswered by God, priests and teachers are what lead me to where I am today.

I feel like, even if I did believe in God, I would still be confused regarding which beliefs I should accept and which are no longer relevant. If God did exist, why would He create scripture that becomes irrelevant over time? If He is infinite/timeless, shouldn't He have known what to write to speak to all people for all times? If He wrote laws that are subject to change over time, why can't we accept that other views (such as views towards homosexuality) are changing now, much like views towards women and slavery have changed over time?

Shiver, I don't expect an answer from you for all of my questions. I am just really happy that I found a place where I can put my questions into words. Hopefully there are some others here who have asked these questions before, either to themselves or to others, and have explored the answers enough that they can share some of their findings with me. But if nothing else, it feels good to materialize some of these thoughts that I've been dealing with internally for quite a while now.
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08-12-2013, 11:02 AM (This post was last modified: 08-12-2013 11:07 AM by shiverleaf15.)
Post: #4
RE: Translating/Interpreting the Bible
(08-12-2013 10:15 AM)QuestionMark Wrote:  Thank you for your response Shiver.

I can see that the passage comparison that I used was a little flawed, but I still don't understand how it can be accepted that the bible says that adultery is unlawful, but it is no longer accepted that adulterers should be put to death? Who's decision is it that certain words that come from God are no longer relevant while others remain relevant?

Also, why are adulterers and homosexuals seen as equally unlawful? Adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments and homosexuality is not. Wouldn't that suggest that adultery is worse? It seems like in society (I don't know any Mormons, so I can't speak towards them), homosexuality is more frowned upon than adultery though. Maybe that is just my own observation and does not hold truth everywhere, but I never see adulterers being refused rights or people having anti-adultery marches.

As to the rest of your response, I guess the disbelief in the biblical God is what is preventing me from understanding much of the bible. If I believed that He existed, I assume it would be much easier to accept the teachings more readily. Though I used to believe and my questions going unanswered by God, priests and teachers are what lead me to where I am today.

I feel like, even if I did believe in God, I would still be confused regarding which beliefs I should accept and which are no longer relevant. If God did exist, why would He create scripture that becomes irrelevant over time? If He is infinite/timeless, shouldn't He have known what to write to speak to all people for all times? If He wrote laws that are subject to change over time, why can't we accept that other views (such as views towards homosexuality) are changing now, much like views towards women and slavery have changed over time?

Shiver, I don't expect an answer from you for all of my questions. I am just really happy that I found a place where I can put my questions into words. Hopefully there are some others here who have asked these questions before, either to themselves or to others, and have explored the answers enough that they can share some of their findings with me. But if nothing else, it feels good to materialize some of these thoughts that I've been dealing with internally for quite a while now.

When it comes to my understanding of Mosaic law, I believe Jesus "fulfilled" it. This doesn't mean he arbitrarily ended it, as that would equate with abolishing it, rather he "filled it full". Different categories of the Mosaic law were fulfilled in different ways. To understand the full meaning of this, one needs to study both the Old Testament and New Testament as best as they can.

Let's focus on the subject of adultery/homosexuality and the old penalties given for said acts. I'm going to separate the penalties from the law-breaking here. I understand that the Mosaic law had very unique penalties for all sorts of acts, also known as "judgments". Now the New Testament says that Jesus was made a curse for us that he may rid us of the curse of the law. Some people interpret this in very fancy ways, and I think they miss the mark in so doing. Paul gives us the context: the Torah says that anyone hanged upon a tree is cursed. So Jesus was "cursed" by hanging upon a tree, in a special sense. What is the real "curse" of the law, though? I think it means the penalties, the judgments, nothing else. This explains why Christians early on did not stone people to death, even though they still opposed things like adultery and homosexuality. The "curse" (the penalty/judgment) was "fulfilled" in Christ in a mystical sense. It wasn't "abolished" arbitrarily.

Now what about the actual laws against adultery and homosexuality? Well I think that the idea is that this too is something "fulfilled" in Christ. Again, like I said, different law categories were "filled full" in different ways. When it comes to laws forbidding the body from acting on its natural passions, I think Jesus "filled full" these laws by making them stricter in principle, though not stricter in physical penalty (this was done away instead). This is why Jesus says things like, "It is written you should not kill, but I tell you, don't even get mad", more or less. Now what principle encapsulates the reason for this manner of "fulfillment"?

Jesus said: we shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven except we become as little children. This is the key. The key lies in the fact that our spirits must come to steward over our bodies in the same way parents care for their little children. Whatever thing a parent would not allow a little child to take part in, out of spiritual instinct, we should try to not allow our bodies to do. I think all parents agree that little children should not be allowed to engage in sexual activity, or get them to experience the sexual experiences adults experience at such a young age. I think the only sexual activity which is pretty much commanded in the Bible is "Be fruitful and multiply", and that is to be coupled with matrimony. This is the reason why every other type of sexual natural passion, heterosexual or otherwise, is not allowed by New Testament Christianity, and to a Christian who understands this best, it means he/she will want to refrain even from excessive heterosexual passions. The Christian who fails to understand this will instead think he or she has the right to engage in heterosexual passions while being incredibly opposed to homosexuality. Or alternatively, the Christian who fails to understand this will think he or she has the right to promote homosexual passions because he or she thinks he has the right to engage in heterosexual passions.

Here's what I understand: Christians are not supposed to perform any sort of physical penalties on anyone for any sort of "immorality". The New Testament simply doesn't teach that. So as a Christian, I don't support any sort of anti-homosexual legislation, attitude, etc, or even anti-adultery, etc.

Now, within the Body of Christ, Christians themselves, if they really are willing to heed Christ's words, will understand that "becoming like little children" means sacrificing their body's excessive natural passions willingly and meekly whenever God asks for it.

Note also this: I do not believe homosexual orientation is sinful. I don't see the scriptures ever teaching that homosexual orientation is bad. I think the only thing it forbids is man lying with a man, or woman lying with a woman, things of that sort, or burning with lust for people of the same gender. That's different from just feeling attracted, romantically for example.

Now for the Ten Commandments thing:

Once again, the misunderstanding here begins with the Christians themselves, and they are at fault, but I've learned not too long ago that there is no such thing as the "Ten Commandments". They're really called the "Ten Sayings" in Hebrew. The traditional Jewish understanding is that the "Ten Sayings" encapsulate the entire Mosaic law, the 613 mitzvot. I like this interpretation, and it rings true to me. As a consequence of this, I wouldn't consider the saying "Thou shalt not commit adultery" more-important than the commandment against man lying with another man, nor is it less-important.

I think it's fine that you are sincere with yourself, and want answers and seek for them, and I respect you for who you are. I feel that mainstream Christianity today is very confused and it's a broken system for the most part. It doesn't understand the scriptures as well as it claims, and its at war against itself and everyone else when it shouldn't be. I can see, therefore, how such system would confuse and startle just about anyone and everyone else who takes a good look at it.

"To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty." -Justin Martyr
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01-06-2014, 05:02 PM
Post: #5
RE: Translating/Interpreting the Bible
1) The Bible does NOT say that the Bible is the word of God. This is a rabbinic tradition that the apostles picked up on. Paul did not tell Timothy, for example, that the Bible was the word of God, he said it was "God-breathed". Big, big difference. The proof in Paul's claim is that the Bible's source is God, and nothing on earth can stop its spread. If you want "evidence", be sure you don't miss the great big purple gorilla hiding in plain sight.

2) I'm sure there are many meanings lost from the original writings, but the language of scripture comes across to us easy enough to understand. The lost meanings can't be that great.

3) Christians have never followed Jewish civil law. It's not because the practices are no longer kept, it's because THAT government stopped existing about 1940 years ago, and today we have gentile laws for the most part.

It's always a mistake to interpret Jewish scripture from a Gentile point of view. Confusion will surely follow.
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