Lost in translation

As we entered the British Museum in London, we noticed a large group of people crowded around a display holding up their cameras. We had seen the same phenomenon in the Louvre in Paris. There it was the Venus de Milo, whose one arm was just about visible above the cluster of cameras. Here it was the Rosetta Stone.

I don’t really think many of the onlookers fully understood what it was, and they certainly weren’t taking time to read the carefully written notice beside it.

The Rosetta Stone was discovered by the French in 1799, but repossessed by the British shortly after and carried off to London. It has been in the British Museum since 1802, where it is the most visited display, to which we can indeed bear witness.

The stone, which dates to a couple centuries before Christ, records the same text in three different languages, one of which is Greek, one the Egyptian written in that day, and the third is in the ancient script of hieroglyphics. Because scholars already understood the Greek, they were able eventually to decipher the hieroglyphics, and this enabled them to understand the language and history of ancient Egypt, which prior to that time had been completely undecipherable, and probably would still be were it not for the stone.

And that got me thinking.

The whole culture and history of ancient Egypt, amazing as we now understand it to be, was literally lost in translation until the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

What really concerns me now, though, is the thought that the Bible itself is being lost in translation.

I don’t mean that we are unable to translate the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic correctly. I mean something different, and maybe a lot harder to correct.

And that is this. Our culture, with its mass of apparently enlightened but in truth utterly fallen values, is blinding us to an accurate understanding of the Word of God.

A small encouragement to me is that the Apostle John had the same problem. The seven churches to which he wrote (and certainly the church in Laodicea) were in varying degrees blinded to the truth of Scripture and what the Spirit was saying to them. The reason for their blindness was the pressures of the pagan culture in which they lived. People who refused to take a side of emperor worship with their entree of Christianity were in big trouble with the politically correct and powerful people of the day. John called them liars, people who professed Christ but compromised, and who were endangering their entry into the kingdom. The great scholar G.K. Beale suggests that “cowards” is a better translation - people who are afraid of losing their inheritance in the world but think mistakenly they can have their share in the kingdom as well.

When the church alters two thousand years of teaching (on any subject) simply because it does not conform to the prevailing values of the pagan culture in which we live, its days are numbered. German theology, weakened by years of liberalism, easily succumbed to Hitler. Men like Bonhoeffer were the courageous exception.

I’m going to leave it to you to spell out what this means for you and the church or movement you are part of.

But please don’t mess with the Bible. Reject it if you want, but don’t try to clothe your compromise with a veneer of Christian faith.

Remember the Laodiceans and what God said about them.

The world today is in desperate need of an uncompromised and undiluted Christianity. Let’s give it to them. If we western Christians become social outcasts, then we can rejoice we are suffering for the sake of the Name, though in a measure still small compared to our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.

Don’t let your message and your life get lost in translation.

Photo by Thomas Quine