I believe that one of the most useful strategies for studying, understanding, interpreting, and then applying the story of the Bible to my story is to read multiple translations and paraphrases. It is remarkable the wealth of faithful translations available to us English speakers to help us in this regard.
One of my references in this regard is Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase of God’s Word, “The Message.” He grew out of his pastoral life as he taught one of Paul’s letters to his congregation, where he found himself translating the scriptures into their common language as they studied together so they could understand and understand it. easier to apply. It was only at the instigation of an editor that Eugene then continued this work for the entire Bible.
The other day, while studying John’s biography of Jesus, I pulled my last copy of Eugene’s Pastoral Gift off the shelf and read this in his introduction to John’s story:
“In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God is presented as speaking from creation to existence. God speaks the word and it happens: heaven and earth, ocean and stream, trees and grass, birds and fish, animals and humans. Everything, visible and invisible, called into existence by the word of God.
“In deliberate parallel with the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking of salvation in existence. This time, the word of God takes on a human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and enlightenment, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. All that is broken and fallen, sinful and sick, called to salvation by the word of God.
“For somewhere along the line things have gone wrong (Genesis also tells this story) and desperately need to be fixed. Fixing is accomplished entirely by speaking – God speaking about salvation in the person of Jesus. Jesus, in the story (of John), does not only speak the word of God; he is the Word of God.
“By keeping these words company, we begin to realize that our words are more important than we ever imagined. Saying “I believe”, for example, marks the difference between life and death. Our words acquire dignity and gravity in conversation with Jesus. For Jesus does not impose salvation as a solution; it chronicles salvation in existence through quiet conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, passionate prayer, and, to put it all together, sacrificial death.
“We don’t casually walk away from words like that.” (“The Message Devotional Bible”)
I love how Eugene describes Jesus and his work of salvation: “it tells of salvation through quiet conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, passionate prayer, and – all together – sacrificial death.”
That’s a striking way to think about it, isn’t it?
Jesus is the Word, his life telling the story of salvation as he lives it, creating salvation for us. And it seems to me, as his disciples who take on the role of bringing his story of salvation to the world, that we do so in the same way. We tell of his salvation in our time, where he placed us, through quiet conversations, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, and passionate prayer.
And we put it all together by dying to ourselves and living for Jesus and others, taking up our cross daily and following him for those who do not yet know our King (Luke 9:23).
We don’t casually walk away from words like this.
Reverend Matthew Molesky is senior pastor at Grace Church.