Literal or non-literal

At church last Sunday, the band played a familiar worship song that was occasionally sung at both another church we have attended as well as at the evangelical churches we attended in the States. What I found interesting, however, was that the English words were translated somewhat differently into Italian.

Church 1: Potrei cantar del Tuo amor per sempre

Church 2: Cantero’ sempre del Tuo amore

The translations are similar, but not identical. The first one is more literal and takes some mild liberties with the words in order to maintain the meter. The second slightly modifies the meaning in order to better accommodate the grammatical structure of the language.

Church 1: I could sing of your love forever.

Church 2: I will always sing of your love.

In like manner, every Bible translation features many such minor variations that depart from every other translation. For the most part, these variations are extremely trivial, although a few of them have led to some serious problems of interpretation, such as the English translations from Hebrew “ratsach” to “kill” rather than the more accurate “murder” and “‘ôp” to “bat” rather than “flying creature”.

This is why I think it is such a massive mistake for Christians to make a fetish of Biblical perfection. While I believe the Bible is the Word of God and is to be applied in the most literal manner possible, I do not believe that the human mind is capable of properly comprehending either the Word of God or the Will of God. There is, I submit, considerably Biblical evidence to support this contention, especially in the words of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. Now, this does not mean that one can pick and choose whatever sections of the Bible one happens to think makes the most sense at any given moment, but it means that there is no need to concoct elaborate structures of illogic in order to paper over what appear to be minor contradictions or to insist that the entire verity of the Bible stands or falls on the perfection of every translator working in every language.

The Bible itself is abundantly clear that to fetishize Scripture is a massive mistake. No one knew the Law better than the Pharisees, after all. One of Jesus Christ’s primary occupations was to point out, again and again, that it is the underlying message and the spirit of the texts that matter most, not the literal letter of them. And that is why I contend it is both counterproductive and downright Pharisaical to claim that one’s faith in Jesus Christ and ultimate salvation has connection whatsoever with one’s literal belief in the accuracy in a passage from Genesis, Nehemiah, or 2nd Peter.

I simply don’t believe that God cares at all if we believe that He created rabbits in a single 24-hour day or that they evolved from some proto-rabbits in the post-Cambrian. After all, He knows what happened so all of our various speculations can only amuse Him. I suspect our varying opinions on that and many other supposedly important matters are about as important to Him as our opinions on the passage of Obamacare and whether Brett Favre is going to play football in the 2010 season or not. God cares about our love for Him, our obedience to His Laws, and our willingness to place our faith in His Son and bend our knees before Him.