Opening Up the Bible 2008
1. How We Got the Bible
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON
Sunday April 20 2008
Children's Message Prep:
Display of “My Favourite Bibles”, on altar
Earth-Day Colouring Page
-Who has a favourite Bible story?
[When I was your age, I really liked Samson,
as well as David and Goliath.]
-How many of you have your own Bible?
-Did you get it as a present on a special day?
-If you don't have a Bible,
I hope you'll ask someone to buy you
a Children's Bible this week
so you can have one of your very own,
and read it.
-I'd like to challenge you
to read a story from your Bible
every night this week at bedtime!
-And I'm going to challenge the adults as well!
-Maybe you could even remind your parents this week
to read you a Bible story each night.
-And then you'd both be taking up the challenge!
-I have lots of Bibles.
-On the altar are some of my favourites.
-Let me tell you about them ....
(include Bible in pda)
and for a few Sundays after that,
I'd like you to bring your favourite Bible to worship.
Thank you Jesus, for coming to us through the words of the Bible. Help us all to want to meet you through the words of the Bible. Amen.
-Today is Earth Day,
a special time to recognize that all creation
is connected in inter-dependence.
-Here's a colouring page to remind us
of how all creation is important.
a federal appeals court1
agreed with the overturning of a death sentence.
-In the first trial,
a man had been declared guilty of kidnap, rape, and
-But that verdict had been subsequently overturned.
-And that overturning had been upheld on appeal.
-The reason for giving the convicted murderer
-According to the judge,
it was because jurors had inappropriately brought in
extraneous material – Bibles.
-And then they used their Bibles
for an unsanctioned discussion of the passage
“An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth....
Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death.”2
-The saddest part, however,
is not that Bibles were banned from the deliberation.
-Saddest is that the jurors hadn't noticed
that in the Gospel of Matthew,
Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule,
calling us instead, to “turn the other cheek.”3
-One religious scholar4,
commenting on this story, wrote:
“Who's most at fault here?
The jurors ... who may well have known of Jesus'
repudiation of the old law,
but chose to ignore it?
Or any liberal [juror present]
who didn't [even] know enough
to bring up [Jesus' view]?”
-Sometimes it seems that the Bible is either misused –
as it was by these jurors –
or not used at all –
in the case of those who either ignored Jesus' words
or maybe didn't even know them.
-In surveys5, it's been discovered
that fewer than half of North Americans
can name any one of the 4 gospels.
-Most don't know
that Genesis is the 1st book of the Bible.
-And a sizeable minority think that Sodom & Gomorrah
were a happily married biblical couple.
-They're not – Sodom and Gomorrah were towns6,
in trouble with God.
-You may have heard about one of the
so-called mega churches:
Willow Creek church in Illinois.
-Each weekend they see an average of
-Sometimes we look at congregations like that,
and think they must have it all figured out.
Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek,
made a somewhat surprising confession:
We made a mistake... [he says.]
we should have started telling people and
that they have to take responsibility
to become ‘self feeders.’
We should have gotten people,
how to read their bible ...on their own.7
-Our new national Bishop, Susan Johnson,
met with the National Church Council last month.
-Together they discerned five pillars
to help us be more faithful
in discerning and following God's call
to be a church In Mission for Others.
-One of these five pillars is “Spirited Discipleship”,
and it includes Bible Study,
because God is calling us deeper into discipleship.
-Our sister church, the ELCA,
has also heard a call from God to study Scripture.
-They're calling it “The Book of Faith” initiative,
and it “invites the whole church
to become more fluent in the first language of faith,
the language of Scripture,
in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, empowered, and sent
by the Word.”8
“Part of our calling is to know, hear, share,
and be rooted in, Scripture”
proclaims this study initiative.
-There seems to be a common consensus
that an emphasis on Bible Study
would be helpful for the church –
across denominations – today.
-Did you know that the Bible
is the best-selling book of all time?
-If it were listed on the New York Times
“Best Seller” list,
it would appear virtually every week!
-Millions of copies are sold every year!
-Today, the Bible exists in more than
2000 languages and dialects,
so that 97% of all the world's peoples
can read it in their own native language.9
-Did you know
that if we were to read the Bible
in its original written languages,
we'd need to learn Hebrew and Greek?
-Hebrew, because that's the language of
God's people in the Old Testament.
-And Greek, because in New Testament times,
Greek was the most-widely-known language,
so the New Testament was written in Greek.
-Later, when Latin supplanted Greek
as the international language of choice,
the Bible was translated into Latin.
-Martin Luther was one of the first
to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek
into the language of the people –
in his time and place, that was German –
so that everyday ordinary folk could read it.
-Most of us are familiar with the King James
translation of Scripture,
released in 1611
in the language of Elizabethan England.
-Much like the language of Shakespeare,
it can be difficult to understand today.
we have many translations into modern English.
-But the Bible was not always available in written form.
-Did you know
that long before writing had even been invented,
the Old Testament originated as stories?
-Stories about God's interaction with us.
-Stories which were told and retold carefully,
and then eventually written down –
also very carefully.
-The printing press wasn't invented until Luther's time.
-And of course,
photocopying didn't become a reality
until our time.
-So these stories were written by hand.
-And then these early writings
were meticulously copied by hand,
so that more people could read them.
-As an example of the scribes' accuracy and care
in making these copies,
an early copy of the book of Isaiah
from about 100 years before Christ
was compared with a copy of Isaiah
from 1000 years later.
-In all that time,
as various scribes made their hand-written copies,
95% of the text remained identical!
-It's not like the game of “Telephone”
in which a message is whispered along a line of people.
-In the game of “Telephone”
the message changes drastically as it's passed along!
-Sometimes hilariously so!
-But the biblical scribes took such care,
that over 1000 years,
the copy was as good as the one they compared it to.
-Even photocopiers today
wouldn't be able to duplicate that feat!
-Imagine making a photocopy of a photocopy,
and repeating it 500 to a thousand times!
-The final would be so faint as to be
-But how did these stories –
which were eventually written down and then copied –
how did these stories, traditions, songs, wise sayings,
poetry, and prophetic words
get collected into the one book we know as the Bible?
-It happened as a process
which too place over a period of many, many years.
-None of those who first wrote down these oral stories
would ever have dreamed that their works
would be gathered together as Scripture.
-They were simply recording in written form
the important stories and traditions of their people.
-Or, in the case of the New Testament,
authors of the gospels
were simply recording in written form
what they had heard or seen of Jesus.
-St. Paul never intended
that his letters to various congregations
would be considered Scripture.
-These people were inspired by God
to create something that would be helpful
to God's people.
some of these various writings
became recognized as the most valuable.
-For example, there are more than 100
different gospels, written about Jesus,
but the Bible gathers only four of them–
those recognized to be the best of the best,
as congregations came to see their value.
-The Bible was created by the church
through a process of sifting and selecting –
a process which took time.
-The oldest book of the Old Testament
was first written down about 1100 BC.
-The first five books of today's Bible
came to be regarded as Scripture about 400 BC.
-But it wasn't until 98 AD
that a council of Jewish scholars at Jamnia
sifted through the various possibilities
and agreed upon what was to be the Hebrew Scriptures.
-Our books of the New Testament
were written between 50 AD and about 125 AD.
-But it took many centuries and many disputes,
until the present list of 27 New Testament books
was adopted as our New Testament.
-Luther himself continued to raise questions
about including the book of James in scripture.
-How we got the Bible
was through a long process of discernment
-Stories, traditions, songs, wise sayings, poetry,
and prophetic words
were first told, and much later written down.
-These writings were then laboriously and carefully
copied by hand,
circulated, and preserved.
Jews and Christians gradually sifted through the possibilities of writings,
eventually choosing those that would be considered
-Those choices, as well,
were laboriously and carefully copied by hand,
we read translations of these copies.
-Through the centuries,
these books we know as Scripture
have served to reveal God to us.
-They've inspired, challenged, corrected, and nourished
-They've formed us in faith,
and they've integrated us into the family of faith.
-They've provided a solid basis and foundation
for our understanding of God's will for us.
-Starting next week,
I'd like you to bring your favourite Bible to worship.
-Over the next few weeks,
we'll take a look at some of the highlights of Scripture,
and it will be helpful to have a Bible with you
as we do so.
-It's my hope that in the process,
we'll get better acquainted with Scripture,
and better equipped to be met by God
through the words of the Bible.
#514 O Word of God Incarnate
Sending Thought: “Translation Please”
Since very few of us read Hebrew or Greek,
almost all of us read the Bible in translation.
because these days there are
so many different translations –
or versions – of the Bible.
And that's a good thing because sometimes
the King James translation
can be misleading.
I remember talking with a woman one time,
who made the comment that children are treated
far too well these days.
Part of her concern
was that we were ignoring Jesus' teaching
that children should suffer.
I couldn't imagine what she was thinking,
until she told me that Jesus said:
“Suffer the little children to come unto me.”
This woman had based her entire view of children
on a misunderstanding of what Jesus said –
a misunderstanding that had arisen
because of the translation of scripture she used!
In Elizabethan times,
the word “suffer” meant “permit” or “allow.”
Today the word “suffer”
means something quite different!
So you can begin to see
how important the translations are which we read.
Another reason that translations are important
is that it's very difficult to move from one language
When I sat in worship with my grandmother,
I remember noticing that many of the hymns
listed in our worship book had German titles.
Whenever I'd ask Grandma what any of the German words meant,
she'd always answer by saying “It's a little like
such-and-such an English word,
and a little like another English word.”
For example, she'd say
“It's a little like peace
and a little like joy.”
By reading different translations of Scripture,
we get a fuller sense
of what the original Hebrew or Greek
might have meant.
This week, I'd like you to go home
and find your favourite Bible.
Find out which version or translation it is.
Look at the first few pages
to learn about who was involved
in doing the translation,
and what their working guidelines were.
The New Revised Standard Version, for example,
is the translation used by the ELCIC for worship,
because it is the only modern translation
written by mainline, interdenominational scholars,
and one of the very few translations
which used inclusive language for people.
If your favourite Bible is the King James Version,
it's probably time to update it
so that you won't have to translate the translation
as you read!
And if you don't have a Bible at home,
it's definitely time to go out and buy one this week!
Please bring your Bible with you
to worship next week,
as I'll be pointing to some of the
highlights of scripture.
In the meantime,
you might even want to use the list of
Daily Bible Readings
which Karen has printed in the bulletin.
The Benediction follows ....
4Stephen Prothero, chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University, author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't.
7http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html and http://www.charismamag.com/display.php?id=16429
9Jackie Nunns: OpeningUp the Bible. 2004. http://www.easternsynod.org/docs/resources/bishop/otb_Study_Guide.pdf