Since the Bible is not sufficient...
[Things have been quiet here at BBB so I'll try to shake things up.]
This semester at the Mozambican Bible Institute, my third-year students have been studying the Pauline epistles. What is different about this semester is that the day students and night students are studying all the third-year courses together. The day students are Christians and pastoral candidates with a long history of involvement in the church. The night students are for the most part pagans. We have journalists, school teachers, and shopkeepers all in this night course because they're hoping to get a degree. The mix of secular and saintly students is a recipe for excitement. It is the most stimulating course I have ever taught. Discussions range from hot to heretical. But they are never dull.
As part of the course, I paired the students up and asked them to make a short presentation to the class on difficult passages in 1 Corinthians. This led to some awkward moments such as when the attractive young lady from the night students was paired up with one of the male day students and their topic was Paul's instructions on couples abstaining from sex. In general, the students have done an excellent job even if by and large they haven't the foggiest idea how to exegete the text.
Last night was a good example of the exegetical problem. Two groups made presentations. The first group explained the passage where Paul instructs women to keep their heads covered (1 Cor. 11:2-16). The second group spoke on Paul's instructions regarding believers taking each other to court (1 Cor. 6:1-12).
Regarding disputes between believers, there were direct connections between the Corinthian and Mozambican situation. But the presenters on women's head coverings were pretty much flummoxed by this passage. They were able to make the connection between ancient culture and Mozambican culture and assert that "women normally have long hair." But they weren't really able to make any kind of exegetical leap and say something like, "In Paul's day, women covered their heads as a sign of modesty. The women in our churches should likewise dress modestly." Very few of the students have study Bibles and most of them are too busy to spend time hunting for information in the library. So they just have a bare bones Bible. And with obscure passages like this one they have to make guesses at how to apply the message.
Which brings me back to the teaser in this post's title. Assuming that the average reader will misinterpret much of the Bible most of the time should we be looking for a better Bible: a Bible that disambiguates? The options are legion in the English speaking world, but step across the linguistic divide and you will find the majority of believers around the world using Bible society editions. Bible Societies like ABS have a mission that involves "producing materials that avoid endorsing or advocating any doctrinal positions."1 So they get the sixty six books and maybe a couple of maps. I'm thinking about those students in my third-year class. They are heading into society, some of them into pastorates, with a Bible that they do not understand. And yet a proper understanding of 1 Corinthians would be incredibly helpful in addressing the problems they will face in their churches. Since the Bible is not sufficient in this situation, what needs to be done?