Tag Archives: injustice

What does Love do about Unjust Suffering?

In the beautiful thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul writes a paean to love. When I was fifteen, I memorized that chapter, and even though my old age makes my memory foggy, that chapter remains a treasure in my heart. I learned it in the King James Version, and that is the version that is most often quoted, even when the teachings are abused, because of its poetic qualities.

The King James Version, however, is not an all-purpose translation. As I learned to understand the archaic language that challenges any contemporary reader, I learned that there was value in using a variety of translations. One reason is the complete impossibility of a “word for word” translation from any language to any language. The “word for word” concept relies on the denotative meaning of a word, but anyone who ever looked up the definition of an English word knows that the denotation of a word may include a long list of varied definitions.

Unwillingness to delve into the usage, the definitions and the clouds of connotation around words may lead some readers of that beautiful chapter astray when they try to apply it to daily life.

Furthermore, we all learned in high school about the difference between the connotation and the denotation of a word, and that connotative cloud makes things even more complicated. Look up the word love for example, and think about the connotative cloud around every possible denotative definition of that word. Right away you will begin to see why even the most faithful, dedicated, and conservative scholars have long conversations when they share the work of translating the ancient manuscripts of the Bible.

This discussion explains why it is valuable to use a variety of translations when studying the deep meaning of any passage. The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible, but unwillingness to delve into the usage, the definitions and the clouds of connotation around words may lead some readers of that beautiful chapter astray when they try to apply it to daily life.

Take 1 Corinthians 13:5, for example.

The English Standard Version, today’s direct descendant of the King James Version, says, “[Love] is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

The most conversational translation around is The Message, and it not only takes a few liberties with precise language, but it also suffers from the problem of being the work of one man. Nevertheless, it does a good job of helping a contemporary reader see the word resentful more clearly. Peterson translates the final clause this way: “[Love[ doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.”

Stop and Think About the Bible

Torah ScrollLearn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed. Isaiah 1:17 NRSV

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Hebrews 13:3 NRSV

  • Secular thinkers believe they can figure out what is good by observing what makes them feel good. This means that the good is relative to the person making the choice. Christians teach that the Bible is where we learn what is good. Christians believe that the Bible reveals absolute good. How do you explain to a secular thinker the value of an absolute revealed good?
  • Do you observe oppression in the USA? Who is oppressed?
  • Social and political activists say that it is unfair that more people of color are imprisoned than white people. What do they think determines the rate of imprisonment? What do you think determines the rate of imprisonment? Are people of color routine oppressed because of their color by US society? By the government? What does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says we should show empathy for prisoners? Does this statement justify activism to release prisoners on the basis of skin color? What do you think determines the number and proportions of the prison population?
  • In Muslim countries Christians are frequently arrested for blasphemy. In socialist countries they are arrested for unauthorized worship. In countries with a history of animist religions they are arrested by not participating in rituals that are considered necessary for the prosperity of their communities. What must imprisoned Christians do about these threats? What must US Christians do?
  • These differences also turn on a difference of perception of what is good. What can Christians do to help others understand how we discern what is good?