Form and Function

For hundreds of years people had access to well preserved Egyptian hieroglyphics without knowing what they meant. The Rosetta stone helped to break the code and since then the meaning has been deduced, though we still don’t know exactly the sound of the words. This is a great reminder of how important it is that we don’t merely pass on the appearance or letters of the Bible – or anything important – but also the meaning. And similarly it’s important for future generations to have access to the past that we pass on not just the meaning, but also the appearance or form.

Hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I.jpg
By Jon Bodsworth – http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/british_museum_29.html, Copyrighted free use, Link

In last year’s Vernacular Scriptures at ECWA Theological Seminary in Kagoro we saw how Jerome’s remarkably successful Latin Vulgate translation made the meaning of the Bible available to many people for over 1000 years. However, until the European enlightenment Latin-speaking (Western) Christians neglected the study of Hebrew (and Greek) to the extent that they lost contact with the original languages of the Bible. By this time Latin itself and the church and social environment had changed so much that there was a real need for reformers to correct increasing distortions of the Bible. Then as Latin’s hegemony fell apart (as too the rule of English will disintegrate) reformers were able to preserve an understanding of the meaning of the Bible by returning to study it in the original languages.

Clearly not every Christian needs to know the original languages of the Bible, but in each generation, SOME should. It’s not just a rite of passage for theological students. And I don’t think every theological student needs to study Greek or Hebrew as long as they recognise that someone should be staying in contact with the original languages the Bible was written in.

We need to preserve the form and the meaning of the Bible. Why? Because it is God’s testimony about himself and his dealings with people. It’s too valuable to let go of.

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