Undermining Popular Fallacies

A couple of years ago we had the relatively short-lived hype of The Da Vinci Code movie.  While the hype soon dissipated, the effects of Dan Brown’s book and then the film have surely continued below the surface for many uninformed readers.  How many in our churches are under the impression that Jesus’ deity was a decision made by a vote three centuries after He was on earth, or that the New Testament canon was formed in a smoke-filled room by leaders with a hidden agenda?  The absolute historical fallacies promulgated by The Da Vinci Code called many of us to address them directly at the time (special Da Vinci Code messages).  However, the effect of such teaching is longer lasting and perhaps we need to think through whether we need to subtly address underlying false assumptions about the Bible, Christ and history?

In a recent seminar I used a video clip wherein members of the public were giving their personal views of the Bible.  Most of them saw very little value in the Bible and so didn’t read it for themselves.  Several times the same fallacy came through.  “So much has been lost in translation,” and “it is poorly translated” and my favorite of all – a mini-beard stroking “intellectual” who stated, as if every informed person would know this information, that “the Bible has been translated over five million times!”  This kind of misunderstanding is common in the streets and even the universities of our towns.  The so-called “New Atheists” love to take pot-shots at the Bible, as do other major world religions that do not advocate the translation of their “holy book.”

While the Bible has been at least partially translated into over 2000 languages, we need to make it clear that the Bible people are looking at as  they listen on a Sunday morning has been translated once.  From the original language text into English – direct, by highly competent linguists, once.  We do not have the end result of a two-thousand year game of Chinese Whispers.  We do not have the last link in a chain of translation and mis-translation.  Once.  We have very accurate translations of original language texts based on overwhelming manuscript evidence, the likes of which no other historical work can even come close.  Just once.

In a culture where peoples’ understanding of the authenticity and authority of the Bible cannot in any way be presumed, we as preachers need to think about how to establish the trustworthy nature of the text that we preach.  A great message is so easily undermined if there is no confidence in the text from which it comes.

5 thoughts on “Undermining Popular Fallacies

  1. Hello again. Again, very good insight.

    But shouldn’t we invert the cause and the effect?
    I believe that the reason The Da Vinci Code was so popular is that it expresses, rather than teaches, the spirit of the age
    Also, I suspect that the low view of Scripture in churches is not a result of phenomena such as that book/film, but rather the unnoticed influence of culture there too.

    So, I completely agree with the importance of undermining popular fallacies, but I think we need to go beyond the obvious ones that are put forward – cause issues of reliability like the number of times the texts have been translated only stick in peoples minds due to the suspicion of all authority except for the self. I believe preaching needs to question the self as the way to get to the core of the doubts.

  2. I was wondering which Bible translation version you use and why. What’s your opinion on the Complete Jewish Bible? I know a family who is using only that and declares that all other versions are inaccurate because they have been westernized and ignored the Jewishness of Jesus. What do you think?

    • I prefer the New American Standard (’95 Update is free of the “thees” and “thous”), but also use the English Standard Version (since it is hard to get people outside the US to buy an “American” version – unfortunate decision on the part of the translators!) Why do I prefer these two? An informed personal preference for the critical text over the majority text and for more formal translation over dynamic equivalence. Since the NIV is still the pew Bible in most UK churches, I usually preach from the NIV, but I do my study in the more formal translations and the original languages.

      My opinion of the Complete Jewish Bible? I have no opinion since I’ve never heard of it. My guess is that it might be pushing a Hebrew versus Greek New Testament, maintaining consistently Jewish names and underlining the fact that the Bible is one book, rather than two totally distinct collections. It may be the work of one translator/author like the original Living Bible was. I do however, have an opinion on people pushing an “all other versions are inaccurate” agenda. This is uninformed and unhelpful. We do need to recognize the Jewishness of Jesus, but we can’t deny the world into which he came, and the “Greek/Roman” context in which the gospel first spread, and importantly, in which God inspired the New Testament books to be written. I have come across similar arguments in the past that essentially end up attacking Paul and doing the Marcionite heresy in reverse – i.e. reject everything with a Gentile connection in the Bible. We do need to understand the whole canon, absolutely, but it is possible to slide into error when there is an over-emphasis on the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is one Book, but in that one Book there is a progression of revelation too. It is important that we wrestle with the discontinuities between the Old and New Testaments, as well as the continuities.

      Do I reject the Complete Jewish Bible? No, I haven’t seen it. I’d be interested to read it and think through the agenda of the writer. I’d be very hesitant to jump on a bandwagon of one writer to the exclusion of all other godly voices in biblical studies. I would urge care and restraint in the arbitrary dismissal of “all other versions,” especially in respect to their accuracy (especially when you have no training in the original languages to be able to speak with authority on such a matter).

      Hope this helps.

  3. I’ve looked at the Complete Jewish Bible a few times (I assume you mean the one by David Stern). My impressions are that it’s a useful tool, and has some interesting insights.

    I believe that the OT is paraphrased, and Peter is right that the NT is made ‘more Jewish’ to fit its culture- which seems sort of right, but does rather ignore that the NT was written in Greek!

    It really is BY David Stern rather than by the Holy Spirit- it’s not a translation of manuscripts. In that respect I’d say it was much like Peterson’s ‘The Message’, and so has some value. But to replace an actual translation of the Bible with this would be a mistake, I think.

  4. Thank you, Peter and Dan, for your input! I agree that it’s very dangerous for some people like the family I mentioned to assume that all other translations are inaccurate.

    I, myself, have not seen the Complete Jewish Bible, either. I’m curious :). I wish I knew Hebrew and Greek; I would love to read the original manuscripts.

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