How to Let the Bible be Read by You
However, the other part of me is bothered by some of the ideas. Not bothered in the sense that they're bad or harmful ideas, they definitely aren't. But bothered by the fact that I, well, how can I say this, I try so very hard to understand the big chunks of Scripture, but, I don't do what Paul suggests. That strikes me as odd. Why don't I do it? I'm not sure.
So, let me encourage people to go and read Paul's blog entry, he makes some good points; but, let me also share a few steps I do as a starting point to letting the Bible be read by you.
Step one: I bring the text into a word processor (I use OpenOffice) and strip out all the verse and chapter divisions.
I'm essentially deconstructing the intrusion of the discohesive effects of these two additions to the text. I understand that the chapter divisions were very poorly done. The chapter divisions were not arrived at through any linguistic analysis. Believe or not, sometimes it was simply where the manuscript ended one page (leaf) and began another. So, in a nutshell, the chapter divisions are worthless. The original author did not write the chapter divisions and modern English letters do not have chapter divisions. Using them is (dare I say it?) bad translation--it's not rendering in English any meaning the original had.
Step two: After stripping out the distractive verse numbers and chapter divisions, I paragraph the text.
How to do this? Well, use something. I use my Greek NT (GNT) and simply break up the text in the same way the GNT does. A little later in my efforts I develop my own paragraphs (which generally agree with the GNT, but not always). You could use your favorite commentator; however, note that many commentators are verse oriented so they're not nearly as sensitive to the paragraphing as they need to be. On the positive side there appears to be more movement toward discourse level observations. And you should use these.
For an example at a higher, sectional level: Scot McKnight has observed some discourse markers in Matthew (see Jesus on Being Missional 1). He observes that Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 form an inclusio boundary defining Jesus ministry. Therefore, I conclude that Matthew has syntactically defined a cohesive section. Scot has made a powerful and astute observation. These community driven observations can be very helpful in paragraphing, and even sectioning (as in the Missional discussion), a text.
Step three: I then read the entire letter. If you can't do this with the time you have, well, you need to get more time. Seriously, the book is to be read in one sitting and this will really help you. Yes, I know Luke will be very difficult (I haven't done it either), but don't start with Luke, start with Ephesians or Philippians or James (James is incredibly cohesive but few commentators recognize it). No note-taking (Paul Whiting stresses this, and he is exactly right). However Paul's 5 steps move much, much too quickly into the analysis. You have to read the book a half dozen or more times before you get any type of feel for what it is actually saying.
I think this is because of two reasons:
Firstly, we are way, way too verse oriented in our approach to Scripture. That is, we've habituated a verse oriented interpretive framework within our mind. Scripture is special--very special. However, it is not special in the sense that it tosses basic communicative facts. We are made in God's image and therefore communicate in the way he communicates. The very first thing God did with us after he created us was to communicate with us (see Gen. 1:28). However, we've habituated a way of interpreting his communication which isn't the way he communicated. We habitually bring an interpretive die and press it against the text. The verse-oriented die is foreign to the text (except for poetry) and, therefore, we need to toss it. It takes a lot of work to break this habit.
Secondly, we bring way too much theological baggage to the reading. While the first issue is syntactic, this issue is much more semantic. Therefore, this takes even more effort to overcome. It essentially boils down to a willingness to submit to the text and it's Author, and a humility before those with whom we disagree. In other words, we need to be able to dialog within a diverse community. I desire and long for a time when the people within a diverse community--as a community--willingly pursue understanding of larger texts. The coherence in the text will drive the unity of the community and the unity of the community will drive an accurate understanding of the text.
After several readings I start to get a feel for what the author is saying. What you can do at this point is review the paragraphing. That is, you can start to adjust the paragraph divisions. I know I said above to resist doing analysis; however, what you're doing at this point is getting a feel for the patterns the author is using. It's not detailed analysis--you don't say: "O!, Paul uses a genitive here, I wonder if it's an objective or subjective genitive?" You're allowing the author to show you, to carry you, into how he has structured the text. You want to notice some bigger syntactic things I'll mention in a moment. You also want to notice larger semantic things like the extended metaphors. For example, 2 Cor. 3:7-18 utilizes an extended metaphor having to do with open illumination. He uses words (taken from the NIV translation) like: glory, fade, veil, dull, covers, unveiled, and reflect.
The linguistic fact that supports this is that an author (and therefore the reader should follow the author's lead by doing the same thing) will chunk a text into cohesive units of thought. Frequently what happens in my trips through the text is I'll notice a chiastic structure or an inclusio (sandwich or bookend) structure. These syntactic clues lead me toward the authorial intent simply because I'm chunking the text in the same way he did.
So, those are the first few steps I follow. The goal is to capture the syntactic structure as accurately as possible. If you've done your work correctly, the whole text starts to flow. You start to get a feel for how the unit of thought of one paragraph leads into the unit of thought of the next one. If it doesn't, or there's a place where you think, "Hmmmmmm...the Apostle Paul has a senior moment here", then you've missed something. He's right; you're wrong. You're structuring the text wrongly; a word or two is translated poorly; or you're interpreting something based on a bad assumption (one you might not even know you're making).
Well, I hope that helps in some way. I'd be interested in any feedback. Especially by anyone willing to try what I'm suggesting.
O!, one other thing: what does this have to do with making Better English Bibles? Well, understanding the authorial intent is prerequisite to accurately choosing the correct words in translation. It's the context that disambiguates the word choices. And context is a word that is often misunderstood. It is not the stuff that goes before and the stuff that goes after--it is the stuff that you and the author are thinking within. I tend to think we should translate clauses (not words) within paragraph boundaries. That is, it's the unit of thought expressed by the paragraph that should guide our efforts at accurately rendering the clauses.
But, first, we have to let the Bible have paragraphs. And they need to be the paragraphs the original author syntactically and semantically chose. Allowing the text to be what the text is, will enable us to read it. Perhaps, even, in a way that feels all the world like the first time.
May God's message have it's way with our lives. Isa 55:8-13.