Monday, February 3, 2014

One Step at a Time

Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

The shepherd turned king penned this illustration, drawing a visual for his readers of his dependency on God's Word.  The whole chapter of Psalm 119 is a verse by verse discourse of the value of God's Word - check it out sometime.

But as we try to modernize the written Word of God, if we are not careful the true meaning can be lost.

I got in an interesting discussion this weekend about translations and paraphrases.  As most of you know, with a translation of the Bible the translators go back to the earliest manuscripts and either translate word for word or thought for thought from the ancient languages.  A paraphrase takes an already translated script and just modernizes the text.  This is dangerous, friends - paraphrases are not upholding the integrity of the written word, though they are much easier to read.

Let me use this verse as an example.  The above translation is from the NASB (New American Standard Bible), which is a word for word translation.  As we look at the verse, we can understand the main message, that God's Word lights our way through life. But if we spend some more time on it - think through the author and what his life was like, it looks more like this:
  • David was a shepherd
  • As he cared for his sheep at night, he could have a fire but if he was walking in the dark, he would have a lamp with him
  • Back in those days there were not high powered flashlights that would light up a hillside, but rather oil lamps like the one pictured above
  • The light from an oil lamp would simply show one step ahead - a clear place to set your foot 
  • As a shepherd on a moonless night, you would be completely dependent on that small light for your safety
  • This is the picture that David is giving us of the Word - it illumines our steps, not our whole future - it is not a high powered beam that shines in a straight line, showing us exactly where we will be in the next days, months or years, but it is an intimate, guiding, step-by-step light which we are to be completely and utterly dependent upon
  • God wants us to be completely dependent on Him - He wants us to cling to His Words for our very next step - in this dark world, He is the source of light
Okay, so all that makes sense, right?  Understanding the author and the context/culture really increases the picture, doesn't it?

Now, take a very popular paraphrase - the Message.  Here's what it says: "By your words I can see where I'm going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path."  What do you think?  Has the meaning been skewed at all by the paraphrasing?  Did this paraphrase enhance the meaning or did it minimize it?

Perhaps this is just my issue, but I struggle when the Word is not handled with extreme care.  I want to know what God wants me to know.  I don't need it modernized so that it is more readable or understandable, because I think the message can actually be changed with familiarity.  Studying the Word is not necessarily easy but it is rewarding.

Let us today be thankful for the hard work of the translators who have delicately handled the careful and accurate translation of God's Word into our language, let us thank God for His oversight of the process and let us consider what Bible we actually use.

But most importantly, let us thank God for the guidance and protection that comes from the light of His Word that leads us one step at a time.

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