Tuesday, January 6, 2015

So, When Should You Talk About A Textual Variant?

Henry Neufeld chimed in earlier on a few scenarios that I presented in a previous post. The gist of the question is, when should a teacher talk about a textual variant when they teach? You can read his post here. There is a tension when you teach. The Bible is inspired, and everyone who reads it should be able to understand it, whatever Christian translation they are using. The last thing that anyone should do in a class, a Bible lesson, or a sermon is deconstruct a person's faith in his or her Bible. Translations have variance because languages have variance. Application of a biblical text has variance because our lives have variance. What a text means, on the other hand, does not have variance. It means both what God and the original author intended it to mean.

I think every teacher should really place talking about these things in the Lord's hands. In other words, I'm not so sure that there is a cookie-cutter decision that you can make beforehand regarding talking about textual variants that you will encounter in your study of the New Testament. I think it's different than pronouncing Greek words while your teaching. I encourage all of my students to not use Greek words when they teach. Yes, even if the word is ἐκκλησία . . . . In fact, especially if it's that word! I just say don't use them when you teach. Use them like there's no tomorrow when you're studying in preparation to teach, just not when that 70 year young lady up front is faithfully listening to your lesson and wanting to know how the passage you're teaching should impact her life. Use the Greek when you teach and you'll turn her ears off. And it won't just be hers. You can explain the meaning of a passage without using the actual Greek word.

Dealing with textual issues is different. I can't draw a real hard line. My own inclination is to teach a passage wherever "I've landed the plane." Textual discussions might come up. But I've never had an onslaught of people riot after I taught in a local church, or rush me at the door, or leave their Bibles on the pew and walk away from the Lord. These discussions are teaching moments best managed in smaller circles. I don't want to risk confusing ten people because one person was cued in on an issue. My task when I am teaching a passage is telling people what the passage means. If I need to mention a textual issue, I need to work hard in my preparation before I teach so that I can say what I need to say about an issue in three or four sentences. A serious risk is making the message the variant instead of keeping the message the meaning. The biggest risk is tearing down people's faith in their Bibles. That's why whatever we say, it needs to be calculated and clear. You might even want to run it by your spouse or a teenager or a trusted friend. Let them hear what you're going to say, and let them give your their assessment. That makes sense. I get it. When you're teaching, though, be a million times more excited about the meaning of a passage!!!! That's what matters. That's what is most important. If you're focused on that, those you teach are going to focus on that.

If you're teaching regularly in a local church, this would be a really important thing to cover in a Sunday school session. Why not teach people about this in a focused setting? –especially since everyone is prepared for it and you can have more time to answer questions.

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