A Word in Edgewise

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“Why not just explain it?”

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Frank Couch and I recently traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia to speak at Liberty University. We were invited by Dr. Vernon Whaley, head of School of Music. He and his staff did an excellent job preparing for our visit and making us feel welcome.  If you haven’t noticed, Liberty has grown exponentially in the last decade.  The university has 85,000 students (most of those online) and a $1 billion endowment. And, believe it or not, the school is only 41 years old.  The university is building new buildings, starting new programs, and realizing its grand vision like few schools I’ve ever seen.  If you have a son or daughter preparing for college, you might want to check it out.

Liberty UniversityFrank and I talked with several hundred students over two days about the Voice project and the reading of Scripture in worship.  We had a great time thanks to the good folks there.  Along the way Frank and I fielded a number of great questions. I wish I could remember them all. Some of the questions we had heard before, but there was one which sticks out in my mind.

After Frank and I gave some of the reasons why we translated the Greek word Christos as “the Anointed,” a student asked why we didn’t just explain what Christos means and stick to the traditional rendering “Christ.”  Now we’ve discussed this issue at some length in our new book, The Story of The Voice, so I don’t want to repeat that here, but let me give you another side to that.

Go back to the prophets. The word “prophet” means literally “one who speaks for God.”  So we find in the Scriptures a number of prophetic oracles or speeches in the prophetic books (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc). But when you read through the prophets, you’ll also notice that sometimes God calls prophets not just to speak a message; he calls them to act it out. And to be honest, God’s servants did some pretty bizarre things. Isaiah walks naked and barefoot for 3 years (Isaiah 20). Jeremiah buys a piece of real estate just a few days before the country is invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 32). Ezekiel laid mock siege against a brick he called Jerusalem and laid on his left side by the road for 390 days and then turned over to his right side for 40 days (Ezekiel 4). You might ask: why didn’t Ezekiel just explain God’s message and be done with it? It would have saved him a lot of trouble. Why didn’t Jeremiah just explain his message, keep his money, and not invest in what everybody else thought was a lost cause? It would have saved him a lot of trouble. Why didn’t Isaiah just explain his message and not go through the shame and humiliation that came from what God asked him to do?  It would have saved him a lot of trouble. Well the reason is simple: they sensed God directing them not just to explain a message but to act it out. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. Had they simply stood up one day in a single place and given a sermon, then I doubt we’d be reading about them today. Their message would have been . . . well, forgettable. It was the combination of word and action which imprinted their messages so clearly on the hearts of their followers.

Now, I find what the prophets did instructive. In the Christian tradition we are encouraged to imitate the noble saints of the past. So, sometimes it is more important for us to act out and live out the message than it is to just explain it.  As we were involved in this translation project, we sensed God directing us to do some things differently with this translation.  We could have just explained the meaning of these key terms in a well written and clear essay somewhere but frankly, that would have been . . . well, forgettable. 

A few of our translation decisions may seem controversial to some, but the scholars, writers, and editors we gathered were aiming to do something unique with this translation. What one writer told me is this: when controversy comes, consider it a teachable moment. This translation project has given me an opportunity to share with hundreds of thousands of people (via television, radio, personal appearances, etc.)  key elements of the Christian faith.  What we continue to hear is how people are hearing in fresh and helpful ways the Voice of God.

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