WE DON’T READ THE BIBLE that was originally written.
We read English translations of Greek and Hebrew Bibles hundreds of years old. Some are more than 2,000 years old. Those are books and parts of books found among the famous library known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden away in caves beside the Dead Sea.
I’ve been spending the past year paraphrasing the Bible into the Casual English Bible.
No one’s paying me to do this. It’s something I feel compelled to do, in spite of the fact that there are Bible translations everywhere I turn.
I’ve written plenty of through-the-Bible books. To name a few:
But what I’m doing now is different.
I wanted it to be. I didn’t want to write another Bible overview book. I wanted to dig a little deeper.
Look at it this way. A Bible overview book is like a helicopter tour of a forest. Your guide points out the biggest tree, the deepest canyon, and the bears eating the campers.
See Dick run.
But now I have to put into casual English every single word. That puts me out of the helicopter and on foot, walking through the woods, examining every tree in the forest.
Some trees don’t look like they belong there, so I’ve got to examine leaves and look at the roots.
I am genuinely surprised by how often we are left guessing about what the writer meant.
I’m not using “we” as a big “I,” like I’m talking about me. I’m talking about top Bible scholars who write 900-page commentaries on tiny little Bible books like 1 Corinthians, which has just 16 chapters.
I can tell you that every page in that commentary would be needed by any scholar worthy of his stripes (not stripes on a sleeve like those of a Sergeant, but proverbial stripes on the back for getting whipped by church bosses who don’t agree with them).
It’s sometimes incredibly tough trying to make sense of what the writers said. Jesus, Luke, Paul. It doesn’t matter. At one time or another, they all seem to leave us guessing.
I would very much like to help the writers out. God forgive me. At times, I say it right out loud: “This guy needed a good editor.”
Maybe the writers did a fine job in the original copy, but we don’t have the original copy. Not of one book. Not of one page of one book.
Example from speaking in tongues
Let me give you a sense of what I’m talking about.
I was working yesterday with 1 Corinthians 14. Paul seems to be telling the Christians at the church of Corinth, in what is now Greece, to stop puffing the gift of speaking in tongues. He puts that gift last on the list of spiritual gifts.
Speaking in tongues is described as a Spirit-enabled ability to speak in a heavenly language that sounds like gibberish to the people who are listening. Imagine grown-ups talking like babies in a hurry to get their Mum-mum treat.
Paul told the Corinthians that “speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 NLT).
I had no idea what that meant.
As confused as I was, my confusion got worse with the next verse.
“If unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy” (1 Corinthians 14:23 NLT).
At this point I’m starting to think Paul may be a little off, too.
I happen to have several thick commentaries on 1 Corinthians. One commentary runs nearly 900 pages. Another runs nearly 1,500 pages.
Neither scholar figures out Paul.
Still, I had to include those verses in my Bible paraphrase.
What to do?
Here’s my beta draft, with the necessary footnote.
“The mysterious language of tongues isn’t a sign intended for God’s people, the believers. It’s for nonbelievers. Prophecy is just the opposite. It’s for believers, not for nonbelievers.
So let’s say you church folks get together for a worship service. Suppose everyone starts talking in the heavenly language of tongues. When visitors or nonbelievers show up, won’t they say you are crazy as all get out?” 1 Corinthians 14:22-23 Casual English Bible
It’s intimidating to work on a project like this. Scholars will write essays about a single word. But all I can do is pick a word and then, as needed, add a few sentences in the footnote, hoping to give readers a little insight and a bit of a nudge into deeper study.
Blog subscribers who win books this week
The first three Stateside readers to write a comment in response to this article will get a free, signed copy of one of my books.
It’s not that I’m soliciting comments, though they are always welcome. Fact is, it’s easy for everyone to see who the first three people are. I don’t have to make a judgment call.
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If you are one of the first three, I’ll give you the full list of books from which you can choose.
Peace to you.
 14:22. Some Bible experts say by “sign,” Paul was talking about a warning sign, not a miraculous sign intended to point nonbelievers to God. The theory comes from the fact that in 14:21 Paul was talking about the foreign language of Assyrian invaders from what is now Iraq. God punished the people of Israel by sending those invaders. By implication, the gift of speaking in tongues now serves as a warning to unbelievers. One reason scholars say they don’t see the “sign” of tongues as anything positive for unbelievers is because of what Paul says in the next several verses. There, unbelievers say Christians who speak in tongues are crazy.