This post was originally supposed to be only a draft for future development, but somehow it got published. I am sorry about that. You may have noticed that I have been on hiatus for a while. I have been trying to calm my prophetic sense, which has been in overdrive over how serious the future is beginning to look. By future, I do not mean 15-20 years out, but five years or less. That aside, I decided to buckle down and finish the originally planned development of this topic.
There was a scene in the recent Heroes episode (NBC, Monday 9 pm), where one of the protagonists threatens his enemy (a former friend) with memory loss. One of the recurring characters in the story has the ability to strip away selective memories. In essence, he can erase the who, what, and where that makes up the you, you have been, which is a significant portion of who you are.
Then I read an article on the Belmont Club (Memory Hold the Door) in which Wretchard discusses how the memory of an event is changed by others after the original players have left the scene. As those with direct experience disappear from the discussion, the custodians of memory switches to those with opinions and agendas, not direct experiences. In the end, the memory of the event often becomes a parody.
Wretchard’s specific focus is World War I. As that seminal event has receded into the past, its vital voices have been silenced by time, and it has become the stuff of history, which as history in our modern age is usually the province of the specialist. However, it eventually also becomes the source of story and song; it becomes entertainment, which is how the masses will hear it, see it, and remember it. The problem is that in the story process, in the translation, much is lost, sometimes even going to the proper name of things.
One example of how the Great War is remembered today is through the influence of popular music. Iron Maiden, for instance, released a hard rock track called Paschendale, loosely based on the battle, but so loosely, as Todman wryly notes, as to use the wrong spelling in addition to the wrong facts. What was arguably the most important event of the 20th century has become parody. And maybe it can’t be helped. As one member of the audience observed, fiction sufficiently repeated becomes fact. Finally Passchendaele becomes Paschendale.
[Passchendaele, the WWI battle in which 708,000 were killed and wounded.]
When tradition and story take over, things change. They become something else. Why is this important? As a Christian I need to ascertain how much of my understanding of of my beliefs are Paschendale rather than Passchendaele. This is no mean task when you are two thousand years removed from the actual events.
One fortunate aspect of being Christian is the accessibility of the writings of the actual participants: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, and Peter, as well as the works of their early students. First-hand accounts tend to limit some of the slippage, some of the inevitable change. This is why one of the core themes of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura and why for me, this affirmation is paramount (About me and God: Starting Point: Sola Scriptura).
This intersection between slippage and my need to know the truth is why I look at all translations with a wary eye. Every translation, no matter how scholarly, no matter how committed to preserving the original intent of the author, is in the end a commentary. Only the original text (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) avoids that implicit problem.
However, since these are ancient languages, even their direct use is tainted by my distance from the original context that was second nature to native hearers of the time. I cannot think their thoughts, so far removed from the situation. In the end, we are all left with one guide to our efforts, which Jesus himself laid out for us as recorded by the Apostle John.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:30-32 [The initial promise that we WILL know the truth and in that truth there is freedom.]
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:5-7 [Not a truth, but THE TRUTH, and we know him and the Father.]
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17 [Helper, Spirit of truth (Holy Spirit) is with us, within us, forever.]
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:25-27 [Helper and Spirit of truth (Holy Spirit) is the Father’s witness to the Son.]
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word… John 17:18-20 [This includes us, who believe through their word – Scriptures.]
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:12-14 [The Spirit of truth (Holy Spirit) declares to us, guides us into truth.]
So now more than ever, I rely on the Word (Scriptures) to define both me and my beliefs, who I am as a Christian. That Word is not a single translation, no matter how attested, not even the original text in the original language, no matter how well transmitted. It is more; it is that text informed by the Spirit of truth, who, since I have been born again by water and the spirit, lives within me, directing me and guiding me into the truth promised by Jesus Christ my Savior.
If I submit to that truth, to the will of him with whom I have to do, it will strip away the accretions of time, recovering the Passchendaele from the Paschendale, with not a jot or tittle passing away until all is accomplished. Only then can I contend for the faith, once delivered to the Saints (Jude 3) and not for someone else’s parody of the truth.
That is and has been my passion. That is my goal and purpose for the time that remains. May God, by grace and peace keep me on task and on point and by his mercy keep my ears tuned to the still small voice that is there to declare and guide me into the truth I seek. May you, if he so directs, join me in this journey, while the Spirit of truth, our true memory, holds the door for us.