Jack Uldrich
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Unlearning the Bible: What Was Lost in Translation?

Posted in Religion

I have just started reading Marshall McLuhan's book, "The Gutenberg Galaxy" and early in the book I stumbled this nugget which, to paraphase, suggests that Thomas the Aquinas believed that Jesus did not commit this teachings to writing because his "type of teaching was not possible by means of writing." In other words, in keeping with the strong oral tradition of the time, Jesus focused on telling stories because they — and not written words — were the best and most meaningful way to deliver his message to his audience.

It is not my purpose to get into a religious discussion with this post. It is instead to encourage believers and non-believers alike to ask themselves what might have lost in translating Jesus' parables into the written word — and what steps might be taken to enhance and reclaim that tradition.

Secondly, it is to ask this question: Is it possible that if believers want to get closer to the word of God that they might need to rely less on the Bible's written words and more on "hearing" what Jesus was really saying?

As someone who attended years of Catholic schooling, I recognize that this a big unlearning step and I am not even claiming that it is necessarily the right step; but I do believe it is an idea that thoughtful people should at least be open to.

Alternatively, and as an additional exercise in unlearning, believers should ask themselves this difficult question: If the Bible was intended to be the literal translation of God's word (and, personally, I don't believe it is) why didn't Jesus take on the critical job of writing the story himself? Why did he leave it to his disciplines? Worse, why were various versions of the disciples writings then allowed to be selected centuries later through an, arguably, political process by church officials?

4 thoughts on “Unlearning the Bible: What Was Lost in Translation?”

  1. Pat (twitter patsumie) says:

    Jack, I’m happy to see Unlearning as topic for Bible teachings. Jesus also taught in word-pictures (parables)–people forget details in written/oral stories and the point gets twisted. But the morals of visual stories are remembered. Think of the kind man (Samaritan) helping the less fortunate. That one makes it impossible to see the ‘other’ as lacking good values…
    I hope to see you apply Unlearning to more Bible truths!

  2. Jack Uldrich says:

    Thanks for the note. I am always a little reluctant to write on what is often a very sensitive topic for many people but I’ll take your advice.

  3. Lonny Eachus says:

    Is it possible to unlearn some of the strictures of Big Religion, and still keep the essential message?
    Tim Minchin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0s68-GLGWY

  4. Lteston says:

    The essence of the incarnation is one of experience. There is much “taught” in error about incarnational living to say the least. This forum itself defies the learning of such things….Hard to be real to you or “neighbor” from a keyboard.

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