Why are those most committed to the Bible sometimes the very ones who put up the biggest roadblocks to getting more people reading it?

I’m not talking about Christians who don’t always live by what God’s Word says. We all have that problem, including me. No, I’m talking about a more recent phenomenon: Bible paranoia.

A few weeks ago I got a call from an assistant pastor of a large, Bible-focused church.  I thought he might want to talk about our E100® Challenge program and I was excited to think that such an influential church might “take the challenge.”  But he had something else on his mind.

“One of our members gave me a copy of your Bible Guide…” Uh, oh.  I was back in the principal’s office.  “It has a quote from The Message,” he continued.  “Does Scripture Union endorse that translation?”  It felt like a trap, but I told him our policy.  “No, Scripture Union doesn’t endorse any specific translation of the Bible,” I said.  “Sometimes we include a short quote or phrase from a classic or contemporary version, but our material is usable with any translation.”

That wasn’t good enough.  “Well, we don’t want our people reading The Message,” he said.  “I’ve been instructed to bring your answer back to our elders.”  We had a friendly chat for a few more minutes and I assured him that whenever people ask about translations, we refer them to their pastor, minister or priest.  “Like I said, we don’t endorse any translation,” I reiterated.  “Our goal is to get more people reading and living the Bibles they already have.”

But as I hung up, I felt conflicted.  That assistant pastor is a good man, and I’m thankful his church has a high regard for the Scriptures.  And personally, I’m not a big fan of The Message.  But if we really believe the Bible has the power to change lives, shouldn’t we be less paranoid about which translation people read, and more encouraging of their efforts to start reading any translation at all?   And with research showing a decades-long decline in Bible engagement, even in the church, isn’t that the bigger issue?  That’s why at ScriptureUnion we’re committed to helping people of all ages meet God in his Word, any way we can.

Charles H. Spurgeon

Since that call I’ve been thinking about a friend of mine who has a high-level job in a Fortune 500 company.  He’s a faithful church-goer and very committed to helping the needy.  Yet he’s never been much of a Bible reader.  Then he got hold of The Message, and now he reads the Bible all the time.  He even quotes from it in meetings.  In fact, he reads his Bible so much the binding is falling apart.

His experience reminds me of what Charles H. Spurgeon, the 19th  century preacher and author, once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”  I agree.  And I’d say that’s a lot more important than never, ever reading the “wrong” translation.

Bible Paranoia

17 thoughts on “Bible Paranoia

  • October 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm
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    I don't believe God gave us only one path to find him, any more than he gave us only one food to eat. In my heart, it feels like a sin for people to discourage others from following their path to God. In every Christian religion it says the people who truly seek God will find him. We should worry more about helping people understand how to truly seek him and put him first, and less time criticizing everything different about them.

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  • October 29, 2013 at 2:25 pm
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    If it hadn't been for comic books I would not have become a reader. So it shouldn't be surprising that I couldn't understand the King James Version while growing up either. Then 4 years ago I found a 1972 tattered copy of Good News for Modern Man which turned me around 180 degrees. On the verge of celebrating my 60th birthday I am a 3rd year EFM (Education for Ministry) student with several Bible versions and a Nook at my side using the online Bible websites to compare versions and commentaries. I now acknowledge and trust God's Way. So go for it and don't be afraid! Knowledge is good. Your faith will develop a deeper root.

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  • October 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm
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    It amazes me that with as much knowledge that you have you still lack the courage to encourage people to read a “good” translation explaining lovingly that there are “good”
    and “bad”, and some not translation but paraphrases Shoild we not trust the Spirit who inspired the word, not a paraphrase or twited Scripture, to guide people to read a wholesome word and not a corrupted word? Should not the strong help the weak not by general instruction, “read any thing you want thats called a bible”, but rather tell them that “this is not the best translation or thatit is a paraphrase, maybe as you begin to read a paraphrase you may begin reading a translation. Dare to be a Daniel.
    I would give a sarving man poor food but good food, if has need to get use to eating i would do it maybe a little bit at a time maybe milk and not meat but i wouldnt give him
    junk food and then somehow think i ve done a good job.

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  • October 29, 2013 at 11:14 pm
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    I wouldn't give a starving man poor food but good food, unless I think the kind of food really doesn't make any difference.
    Correcting my above errorrs, but I really dont need to do that because you know what I meant don”t you or do you so maybe I needed to clarify. Is this not a slip that adds to the thought words do need explainig clearly.

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  • October 30, 2013 at 2:33 pm
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    I would be in agreement with the pastor who called. The Message isn't actually a Bible trnslation. It is the interpretation of a man who has deep and unsevered ties to the Emergent church and heretical beliefs. It is very New-Age and is not the Breathed Word of God. It is important that we defend Scripture's sanctity. In this case, that Associate Pastor is doing the right thing and protecting his flock, rightly so.

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  • October 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm
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    Ultimately, Christ came to spread the message of LOVE. Does it matter how God gives you your individual message? Are we just like the Jews caught up in the legalities and law of following? Or are we focused on spreading the LOVE in a unique way to each of Christ's children who are diverse and full of sacred worth? I applaud Scripture Union for channeling the message from a multitude of avenues! Thank you for giving the reader credit of being evolved and educated individuals free to think and discern for self. Thank you!

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  • October 30, 2013 at 10:18 pm
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    Julie
    It is true that we are to speak the message of God's love but it can not be separated from the truth, rather we are to speak the truth in love. LOVE without truth is not God''s Love and truth without love is not they way to speak His message the message that Jesus said of Himself I am the way the truth and the life and NO ONE comes to the Father but by ME. He did not say I am a way a truth or a life or i am way truth life rather I am the way the truth and the life it would not be good food to leave out the the and add an a
    or leave it out entirely. This is not legalism it is the truth spoken in love

    lenny

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  • November 6, 2013 at 12:18 am
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    Thanks to all of the commenters so far for a good healthy debate. I agree there is an important difference between a paraphrase and a translation, but would contend that both have a place and can be “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In my own case, when I was in college I devoured The Living Bible, which was similarly criticized when it first came out, and yet it's part of what helped me become a regular Bible reader today. I resonate with those who favor an “essentially literal” translation, but my point is that the energy we put into discouraging seekers from reading a particular translation or paraphrase could be better spent in encouraging non-Bible readers to start reading it in the first place. Isn't that our bigger mission? As I said in the article, I'm not a big fan of The Message, but I'm so glad no one stopped me from reading The Living Bible many years ago.

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  • November 18, 2013 at 10:03 pm
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    To take offense because someone is reading “The Message” as opposed to, lets say the “King James Bible” or The “NIV” would be the same as someone taking offense at a person who reads the Old Testament in anything but Hebrew and the New Testament in anything but Latin and Greek. If I felt people should read the Bible only in the language God first spoke to humanity-Hebrew-then most Christians today would not be able to come face to face with the Living Jesus. It feels somewhat like a “my way, or the highway” attitude bearing an insensitivity to the seeker. I trust God absolutely, and His Word has touched me through many translations. Scripture is a living, breathing representation of God's desire for a relationship with His children. We have to be careful to allow people to be defined by God Himself. Jesus Christ came as the Word made flesh, and He cannot be contained. Neither can His Word by contained in one language or translation.

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  • November 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm
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    The Bible is inspired by God and written by man by what was given to them by God. I believe the many different translations are there as references for understanding for some who may not necessarily understand all the thee, thou, and thy ways of speaking. The ultimate question is, does it get the truth across to those who are lost and need guidance and encouragement? Has the message been distorted or is it the same message just a different interpretation?

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  • November 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm
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    I began my journey with Jesus Christ by first reading The Message, as a way to open the door the Christianity. This was the way I was introduced, in a way I could understand (laymens terms). I now have been reading the NIV study bible with a far greater understanding of the story of the Lord. I can't say with total clarity whether it was The Message that opened my eyes, however I know for certain I was on an un-Godly road prior to it. God bless you all.

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  • December 5, 2013 at 10:02 am
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    Hello,
    Excellent blog. Originally starting out as an effort to revise The Living Bible, the project evolved into a new English translation from Hebrew and Greek texts..

    My Gospel Shop

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  • February 9, 2014 at 7:24 am
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    How apt; I am in agreement. Thank you for sharing this, and to Whitney and all.

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  • August 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm
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    A spirit of FEAR can make us withdraw into only what we know, afraid that something new might lead us astray. Trust in the Almighty, All Powerful, All Knowing and All Sufficient One, who watches over His Word to perform it.

    Reply

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