Say What?

Let’s be honest… sometimes the bible can be a little confusing. I mean, it was written thousands of years ago in a combination of foreign and ancient languages, so it stands to reason it would be a little puzzling at times.

I think part of the issue is our interpretation, though. We’ve grown custom to reading the bible in such an antiquated perspective that we’ve nearly sucked the rich meaning out of it and grown blind to what we’re reading.

Need an example? Check out Matthew 5:33-37, which are a couple verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read it first in the New International Version:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Call me a saint, but I don’t think I’ve personally ever sworn on Jerusalem… never mind the fact that I don’t even know what that would mean.

I’m going to go seminary student on you for just a second and say that the NIV is great for personal bible study, because it’s in plain enough English to understand while still keeping some integrity of the text. However, sometimes it’s helpful to hear what other scholars have interpreted, because it can shed a whole new light on scripture. The following verses are the same as above, but taken from The Message, which is a paraphrase of the bible written by pastor and scholar Eugene Peterson.

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”

I wouldn’t recommend The Message paraphrase for all of your bible study, but I do feel like it helps to bring a whole new light to these verses. Jesus was telling people to not get caught up in fancy religious talk. Modern translation: Lose the “Christianese.”

Next time you read the bible, try to imagine it being written for you specifically. If you come across a part you don’t understand, check it out in a different version. has just about every version and translation out there, including The Message.

Even though the bible was written over thousands of years by multiple authors and compiled over a thousand years ago, it stills applies to our lives today because God inspired it. It’s how we know how to live in a relationship with our creator.


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