Two weeks ago, shortly after protests began over the gratuitous public murder of George Floyd, the chapter of Bible to read with my daughters was Numbers 35. It couldn’t be more relevant for contemporary America… and actually the whole world.
“ ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17 Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death….20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies 21 or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer… 30 Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 31 Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death…33 Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.’”
which I take to be a nicely indirect way of reminding us that we have statues of God everywhere — living and breathing human beings. That’s why God refused to allow any idols to be made representing him in wood, stone or metal.
We all do well to remember that.
Those are the statues we should defend; especially those living and breathing statues God has sent our way to care for.
It’s hard in these coronavirus lockdown days when loved ones die and you can’t be with them at the end and when funerals can’t happen. Christians know it doesn’t really matter for the dead, but for the living. Some funerals are being live-streamed, but every attempt falls short. What can be done?
It occurred to me that a rural community in NW Nigeria might teach us something.
If Leviticus is the deathbed of many a read-the-Bible-in-a-year resolutions, I reckon Job is generally just ignored or never reached, which is both a pity and quite understandable. Happening to read it in the last month or so with my 11-year old daughter Rebekah, I’ve really been struck, however, by its relevance as wisdom for our time… and not just the first couple of chapters, a few memory verses in the middle and the last bit.
Let me back up. Reading the Bible with Rebekah is quite interesting; there’s always some good interaction, even if brief. Having directed what we read for most of her 10 years of hearing the Bible, I’ve let her have a bit of limited choice in what we’ll do and she’s interested in getting into hitherto uncharted territory.
“If God had wanted me to die thinking I was a clever fellow, he would not have got me into the business of translating the Bible.”
…and even more so when you’re working outside your own culture.
I was reminded of one of my own humbling moments as I read some helpful tips on translating the tricky word πνευμα / spirit / ghost Some time in late 2012 I think, I was working with an enthusiastic, impatient and somewhat struggling Ninkyob* translation team, we came across various spirit-related words in Luke’s gospel and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of relying completely on an English gloss given by the translators to understand the words they were proposing for the Ninkyob translation. After all, when you’re discussing key spiritual or unusual terms through a second language there’s a distinct danger of getting trapped in catastrophic circular reasoning that simply conceals and reinforces misunderstandings. So I thought it would be clever (and useful) to step back a bit and talk more generally about how Ninkyob people discuss ‘spiritual beings’.
As a committee we adopted “mercy seat” for a number of reasons, but we recognize that “propitiation” is also supported by many, and we list “propitiation” or “place of atonement” in a footnote.
By this point, if you’re a Christian who gets very excited by these kind of things you may well be interested. At the same time, I’m just trying to imagine myself actually using any of these terms in actual conversation about the issues Paul raises in Romans chapter 3. I suppose the choice of terms all comes down to who you think is going to be reading your translation and what they are going to do with it. The committee rightly point out that whatever term they choose it’s not supposed to change the meaning. Whether you choose propitiation, mercy seat or atoning sacrifice or something else, it will only actually mean something to someone who has already been told what is going on here.
I know it’s bad to obsess about statistics for live issues – whether election results or pandemics – but whilst recognising there are individual people and tragedies behind every number I have to admit it has been fascinating to look at stats on worldometers.info and gov.uk and Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
One thing is clear – as different countries try different techniques within their own abilities and contexts, not all stats are comparable. So the UK issued ‘recovery’ stats for about a week, 15-22 March, then stopped at 135 recoveries. This does bad things for worldometers.info‘s graph of deaths vs recoveries, which is clearly more meaningful for other countries.
Just as we were expecting to be packing up to head to Nigeria, the world went crazy with this Covid-19 Coronavirus virus and Nigeria very sensibly shut down all its international airports. We had already received advice from Wycliffe Bible Translators to stay where we were, so we’re here in the UK a bit longer.
While we were gearing ourselves up for a culture and context shift, what’s interesting is that the world around us all has changed.