Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Intro: Most people are aware of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), i.e., “any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.” (source)
Modifying nature can make better “products”; however, GMOs may also be harmful. They might result in unintended consequences, thus controversy and conspiracy theories abound around this practice. As the old ad campaign for Chiffon Margarine goes, “It’s not nice to fool mother nature.” Most of us tend to think of GMOs in the food supply.
I’ve been thinking about a different kind of “genetically modified food,” as it were, genetically modified as in altered by humans; food as in “spiritual food”.
GMBs (Genetically Modified Bibles)
When it comes to the modification of that other food, the spiritual kind, I’ve been thinking about how this can happen to the the “milk and meat” of the Word of God, or the Bible, specifically by way of Bible translations.
This topic is also controversial, having both its pro and con sides, the con side apt to stir up a lot of contention among preachers, teachers, Bible publishers, and the rest of us–the other 99% in the pews who can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible versions, let alone trying to figure out which is the one we can trust!
I mean, if you think about it, there we sit, like infants awaiting our dinner, trusting that the preacher or teacher in the pulpit, the spiritual parent, if you will, is giving us untainted nourishment from the unmodified Word of God. Only we may not be so trusting, for various reasons.
For one thing, seeing as how there are so many cults out there, some of us might be wondering if we have ever been unwittingly caught up in some old, new, or re-packaged heresies based more on “truthmanship” (like “spin“) than Truth by some self-proclaimed prophet–for profit.
Or maybe the preacher or teacher is just, well, human and subject like us all to error, an off day in the office, a bit of undigested or poorly digested manna, so to speak, or maybe just subject to youth and very human zeal that may lack certain knowledge to go with.
Not to mention that the preacher/teacher might interpret God’s Word through the lens of his or her own denominational, doctrinal bent that has broken off here and there from–or added to–the original context, languages, sources, and Spirit.
And, of course, there are those who intentionally modify the Word to suit their own taste, carefully adjusting their sheep’s clothing before ascending the platform to sell their gospel…
Put another way, how can we know who is inspired by the Holy Spirit and not some other spirit of an all-too-human variety who thinks he or she has some Better News for a New Age than the Good News for all ages?
And there is also that notorious other spirit to be wary of who is not only well-versed in God’s verses but also in how to snake in between the lines–minds, and the hearts of men to wreak what havoc he may.
It’s a problem that not only weighs heavy on the mind, at times, but on the spirit, as well.
To skip to the punch line for a minute: here is a search list with recommendations on any number of suitable translations available for various purposes. In my writing I often reference the King James Version (KJV), the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the Amplified Bible (AMP), and occasionally others, while keeping a finger on the tab for the Interlinear Bible for a more accurate study of individual words in their original languages and meaninags AND always ready to read the various and trusted commentators for additional insight. I also have brothers and sisters in the Lord to whom I am accountable.
And, of course, the Word of God itself comes to the rescue at all times by way of some advice from St. Paul on the topic of the Berean believers (see below), which also underscores the most important safeguard of all: discernment–no matter which Bible translation is used or which teacher or preacher is at the pulpit, authoring the book, or featured on the video.
Enter the Bereans
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
A Bible teacher I have long admired and learned from always says something along these lines when he begins and/or completes whatever topic he is talking about: “But don’t believe me. Do your own homework. Be a good Berean.”
This reminder of his both irritates and inspires me.
It irritates me because, honestly, I’d sometimes rather just sit there in the pew, or stretch out in my recliner watching YouTube sermons and have somebody else who has done the work, has all the education–and perhaps wears a white collar and black robe to boot–tell me something I can believe, feed me the truth.
To be honest, I don’t always want to have to feed myself.
Or, worse, whether or not a believer, me or anyone else, is interested in–even passionate about–doing the homework, he/she may be refused the opportunity to “test the spirits“. Certain sects lead their congregations (or perhaps only some of their congregations, e.g., the women) to believe they have no business, anyway, attempting to interpret Scripture for themselves. To be blunt, it is implied by doctrine or tradition they’d best just sit down, shut up, and listen to the “ordained ones”.
(I prefer Mary’s place at Jesus’ feet, myself.)
But the Bible teacher’s reminder also inspires me because, after all, I want to avoid as best I can the temptation to follow man instead of following God.
Not only that, by understanding the “nobility of the Bereans,” as per St. Paul ‘s commendation, I know that when I unscroll the New Testament Scriptures that are sourced in the Old Testament (aka New and Old Covenants), I am mandated to discern if the path I’m being lead is that true, narrow one, and not some random spiritual rabbit trail that only seems right and leads, well, who knows where, ultimately. But we can guess where, especially when we test the spirit behind it.
And it gives me some hope that even mere mortals (even those of us without pedigree, robe, and collar) can know the difference.
Jesus also commented on this:
“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17, NIV)
So what are these “commands” and how do they precede receiving such an “internal advocate” (advocate as in paraklétos, “helper, aid, assistant”*)? More from Jesus:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
“See,” as in ὁράω–” properly, see, often with metaphorical meaning: ‘to see with the mind’ (i.e. spiritually see), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception).”
For more insight into the need to be “born again” as a precursor to the ability to perceive, comprehend, and discern, here is the verse above in its expanded context:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-7, ESV)
And here is an expanded definition of the who/what/why/when/and how elements of being born again.
So to Those Bereans–and to Us
This group of believers were acclaimed for their close study of God’s Word. In short, they did their homework.
And Paul was not at all intimidated, affronted, or offended by their practice.
However, at first read, knowing what we know about the noble St. Paul, and feeling about him as we do (as in holding him in very high esteem), the Bereans certainly sound a little self-righteous, no? A little arrogant–prideful, even!
Yet Paul holds them up to as noble, and by extension, us, too, precisely because they did vet him!
More accurately, they vetted Paul’s message–and so must we vet the message of whomever we are listening to, reading, or viewing, with, of course, help from the Holy Spirit, our “heavenly insider,” you might say, who enables us to poke and prod among all the nooks and crannies of interpretive nuance to make sure that what we hear jibes with Truth.
Although those called to the pulpit or lecturn have developed several useful ways to faithfully unpack God’s Word** even without the benefit of such formal, in-depth methods, as each of us prays for comprehension, reads the Scriptures, and applies knowledge to our daily walk with Christ, our faithful “Helper within” will guide us. Here is an expanded post for more in-depth explanation: “Is It REALLY “God Talking” or Commanding? Three Ways To Know–and What Jesus Said.
At Our Fingertips
But whatever method is used to vet what we hear, read, or view, we live in the most convenient age to do so.
We have literally at our fingertips all manner of resources: Bible verses in all the translations, trusted commentaries, vast amounts of information on what constitutes heresies, and so on.
No longer do we have to fear excommunication, imprisonment, or martyrdom for studying God’s Word. Most of us, anyway***.
And, of course, sometimes the powerful, healing, saving information God wishes to communicate to us can also be imparted quite simply, perhaps not even requiring words, but, say, by illustrations in nature (ever a font of metaphor!), perhaps by observing the life of a believer we know over time, perhaps by myriad other ways and means at God’s disposal. I tend to think very few believers receive Christ, i.e., yield to the Holy Spirit and the call of faith, through the classic “altar call”.
That said, the truth therein is still so powerful we can’t ever discount the push-back.
But like the man said, “Do your own homework”–on what I say, too!
By so doing, however, though it may take time and diligence, you–me, all of us–will not only be better able to detect GMBs but we will also be nourished, strengthened, emboldened–and eternally grateful.
*For an expanded definition of Who the Holy Spirit is and How He helps the born-again believer: He is, “in the widest sense, a helper, succorer, aider, assistant; so of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of gospel truth, and to give them the divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom” (same source as above, from the Interlinear Bible).
**Here is just one list of ways to accurately study the Scriptures ranging from Bible study for beginners to more advanced methods for preachers and teachers.
***It is said that there were more martyrs for the faith in the twentieth century than ever before, and because of the same reasons people always suffer for it: God’s Word is powerful to save, heal, deliver, enlighten, and free enslaved minds, hearts, and spirits. And, prophetically speaking, we may well be entering the most challenging era of all within which to be a follower of Jesus Christ. There are lots of wolves and enemies out there…
Image of book stack from Wikimedia Commons
Very good points raised here, Phyllis. Modern Bible versions is a subject close to my heart. You listed some good sound translations and I would add to it the NKJV. You probably use an older edition of the NIV. I have to point out that the 2011 edtion introduced gender-inclusive language. Some churches are now opting to use the ESV instead of the NIV. The Jerusalem Bible is the only modern translation in the Catholic Church that is free of gender modifications. Other versions are tainted. The worst one of all is the NRSV which mistranslates in many places in order to accommodate neutered language. The NRSV is the favoured version of many Protestant and some Catholic theologians.
Thank you for the clarification on the NIV, Colin. I had a qualifier in the first draft, but then deleted it. I completely agree, though. In fact, all my Bible versions are older due to the poisonous influence of politics as well as for other reasons. We really do have to be careful!
Agree totally Phyllis.
Nice to hear from you!
Excellent! Thank you.