Why Justin Quit Reading the Bible

“I’m wondering why Justin has quit attending Bible study regularly,” said the youth pastor, after he’d settled in at the table with a cup of coffee. Wendy Schermer, Justin’s mother was sitting across from him.

“Attending Bible study has always been voluntary. I know he hasn’t been attending much recently. He doesn’t seem to be that interested in the study any more.”

Copyright © Henry E. Neufeld, 2011. This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

“How long ago did his attitude change?”

“You should be able to figure that out as easily as I can.”

“But you’re his mother.”

“Yes, but you know when he quit attending Bible study on Sunday nights.”

“True.” The youth pastor paused. “It’s odd that it seems to coincide with a time when our youth group has been really digging in to study the Bible. The young people are giving up other literature and focusing on serious study of God’s Word.”

“Is Justin the only one who has quit attending?”

“No, there are about half a dozen young people who quit about that time. I’m guessing they don’t like the new intensity in our study.”

“You really think that?”

“Well, with many of the young people I think it’s possible. These youth are getting rid of their secular literature and focusing in on the pure Word of God. Some of them don’t want to go there. They don’t want their lives to change that much.”

“But Justin was quite ready to change his life as he studied. I can think of many things he did change over the last year or so. Just ask his younger sister!”

“That’s what I was thinking. The others, maybe. But Justin? So I had to ask.”

Wendy hadn’t been very anxious to talk to the youth pastor. She was pretty sure she was going to change churches, and she didn’t like a big argument. But the youth pastor seemed so sincere. “Do you really want to know? You may not like what I have to say.”

The youth pastor paused a moment, startled. “Yes,” he said finally, “I really want to know.”

“Well, you recall that speaker you had a few weeks back?”

“Yes, I do. In fact, it was as a result of his teaching that we started digging into the Word more seriously.”

“That was the very weekend. I don’t interfere with Justin’s study and reading very much. He’s a better reader than I am. But he told me about that weekend. He mentioned how the speaker warned them against Bibles that weren’t really the Word of God. I don’t remember the names, but I think I recall the Living Bible . . . ”

“More likely the New Living Translation,” put in the youth pastor.

“. . . and something called The Message. There were Bibles they were supposed to use instead. But Justin thought they were less enjoyable to read. He also mentioned some of the secular reading your speaker asked the kids to give up. Justin reads science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and a good selection of the great literature.”

“Yes, our speaker asked the kids to voluntarily give up that sort of thing and stick with the Bible, Christian books, and those books required for their schoolwork. That kind of books doesn’t help build character and prepare for the kingdom of heaven.”

“Well, I think Justin doesn’t agree.”

“You’re his mother. Do you agree?”

“Yes, I’m his mother, but I’m not ashamed to admit that in many ways he’s smarter than I am. He reads books I can’t really understand. But many of them I can. I don’t particularly care for science fiction, but I don’t see anything wrong with what I’ve read.”

“But that’s the problem. You don’t see anything wrong with it. But what’s right with it? What good does it do?”

“Well, before you suggested he not read that kind of books he was also attending Bible study.”

“It seems to me that it’s a form of addiction. When he was asked to give it up for God, he just quit reading the Bible.”

“Who said he quit reading the Bible?”

“I thought you did.”

“No, I said he quit attending your study. As far as I know he still reads the Bible.”

“Probably using those paraphrases.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that. I think he tried your speaker’s suggestions for a week or so, but he told me that they were just badly written, and he didn’t see any benefit in struggling through mangled sentences so he could be closer to some theoretical idea of God’s Word. Those aren’t exactly his words, but they’re close.”

“The danger I see here is that this is rebellion against God.”

“You mean not attending your study is rebellion against God?”

“Not attending Bible study is a symptom.”

“So if he had refused to switch to one of your favored Bible versions, and had refused to burn his science fiction books, you’d still welcome him in Bible study.”

“Of course we’d welcome him. Nobody’s perfect.”

“And you wouldn’t spend all your time pushing him to go along with your reading list?”

“Is that what he told you?”

“No, he didn’t really tell me anything. I just got the impression that much of the time in your study was now spent ‘encouraging’ everyone to burn their secular books and change their choice of Bible versions.”

“We have to encourage the young people in their discipleship,” said the youth pastor.

“I think there you see your problem. If your time is spent telling him to burn books rather than studying the Bible, then I suspect Justin isn’t going to want to attend.”

“But what do you think? Shouldn’t you make the choice here?”

“Well, Justin is 16 years old, and I don’t think I’m going to order him to attend Bible study. But if I was making the choice, I think I’d make the same one.”

“Why? Do you think you’re qualified to make a choice regarding Bible translations?”

“Well, I don’t have a theological education like you do. I’ve never thought I was terribly smart. But I do see what is happening around me. When Justin was 14, he was nothing but trouble. I had to drag him to church. I had to practically sit on him to make him do his homework.”

“Then he started reading the Bible . . .”

“Actually, no. Then he borrowed a science fiction book from a friend. After that he joined the reading club at school, and began to read various other books. Then he decided to get serious about his faith, so he bought a Bible. That was about a year before you arrived at the church. He did some research and made a choice of books to use in studying. He attended Bible study right up until your speaker showed up. He tried your ideas for a couple of weeks, but they didn’t work out.”

“I can understand if he didn’t have the will power to follow through . . .”

Wendy interrupted. “Is that what you think? Justin has plenty of will power. He just thinks you’re wrong, and doesn’t see any reason to spend his time every week arguing with people who think they’re holier than he is.”

“Is that what he told you?” The youth pastor was becoming angry, but he was controlling it carefully. One had to be polite to the parents of the youth, however one might feel.

“No, he didn’t tell me anything. He just quit attending. But I know him, and I know you. I may not be book smart, but I do see things.”

“I don’t want to anger you,” said the youth pastor after a pause. Nonetheless, she could hear the tension and anger in his voice. “But I must tell you that God is going to hold you accountable as Justin’s mother. It’s too bad he doesn’t have a father to keep him straight on these things.”

Wendy stared at the youth pastor for a full minute. He didn’t realize it, but she was getting control of her own temper. “I guess he’ll just have to do with a mother, then. And if I do say so myself, he’s a fine young man. I thank the Lord for him.”


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The God-Talk Club and the NIV2011

After Ellen had brought everyone their orders, she joined the God-Talk Club group herself.

“Wow,” said Mark.  “We have a full house.”

“I just got off work,” said Ellen a bit defensively.

“You don’t have to justify yourself,” said Justine.  “I like it when you can join us.”

“My boss is a little bit touchy about having me join one of the groups that meet here.  I think he’s afraid I’ll offend someone about their theology, and then they might not come back.”

“If anyone was going to get offended in this group, they’d probably already be gone.”  Jerry had worked his way through some bad moments with the outspoken group.

“Speaking of offending, I have a question for the Christians in the group.”  Everyone turned as Bob Norman spoke.  He wasn’t that regular, but he could always start a big argument with just a few words.

“OK, I’ll bite,” said Mandy when Bob didn’t continue.  “What?”

“I’m wondering why you Christians need so many different Bibles.  It would seem that you could get it right with fewer tries.”

Both Mandy and Jerry started to answer, then tried to defer to one another, then finally Jerry spoke.  “You don’t make new translations because the others didn’t get it right, but because language has changed.”

“But I was reading the other day somewhere that there were new revisions of the New Living Translation and some translation, Christian Standard something or other, I believe.”  Bob looked at Jerry, expecting him to fill in the blanks.  Jerry looked blank.

“That’s probably the Holman Christian Standard Bible,” said Mandy.  “It’s closely related to the Southern Baptists.  And yes, I’ve read that it is being revised.”

“OK, so what about it?  Is the Bible getting updated?” asked Bob. “I remember now what I read about yesterday.  It’s an NIV2011.  The 1984 edition isn’t good enough, there has to be a 2011 one.”

“I wouldn’t say updated,” said Jerry.  “Sure, scholars can make errors translating, but mostly the improvements are in the language used.  I’ve used both the original NLT and the updated NLT and there really isn’t that much difference.”

“Sometimes there are new discoveries that help us understand some text better,” said Mandy. “You know, the Bible is a very ancient book from a very different culture.”

“It’s good to learn new things,” said Justine.

“My church teaches that to some extent the message of the gospel was lost and that the Bible does need some correction,” put in Ellen.

“But the changes aren’t very significant,” Jerry objected.

“What about 1 John 5:7-8?” asked Mac.

“I can’t get over how you just come up with these verses,” said Bob, bemused.

“I like to know the Christian stuff.  Then they can’t put something over on me.”

“What’s the problem with 1 John 5:7-8?” asked Jerry.

“It’s in the KJV, but it’s not in most of your modern versions.  It’s the best text you have for the trinity, and it’s not really in the Bible!”  Mac emphasized that she felt she had scored by drawing the ‘1’ with her finger in the air.

“I don’t need 1 John 5:7-8 to teach the doctrine of the trinity,” said Jerry.  “It doesn’t really change anything.”

“Don’t you base all your beliefs on the Bible?” asked Mac.

“It depends on whether you mean ‘on the Bible as a whole’ or ‘on one single text’,” said Mandy.

“Precisely,” said Jerry.  He was always glad when he could agree with Mandy, as he thought she was the most committed and well-informed Christian in the group, other than himself.  He was less sure about Justine.  But Mandy still had a tendency to take a subject to places he’d rather not go.

“But you don’t have any text for the doctrine of the trinity,” said Mac.

“We have lots of texts!” said Jerry.

“Well, no single text that expresses the doctrine,” said Mandy.  “But there are lots of doctrines that are that way.  That’s why we write doctrinal statements.  They summarize what we have learned from scripture.”

Mac had her mouth open, but Bob cut in.  “I know enough about Christianity to know that we could spend all evening on the trinity and never discuss anything else.  I want to know about Bible translations.”  He paused.  “How can you trust a book that has to be updated regularly, and that has been translated so many times.”

It was Justine who responded this time.  “I hadn’t heard that translation would damage the original book.  I don’t see what the number of times the Bible has been translated has to do with anything.”

“Well, you lose something in translation, so if you translate a translation, you lose a little bit more,” said Bob.  “I don’t mean that many different translations of the same text are make it less accurate, though I don’t understand why Christians can’t come to an agreement on just how it should be done.  I’m talking about translating translations.  The Hebrew is translated into Greek, then the Greek into Latin, then the Latin into English.  How accurate can the final result be?”

“But that isn’t what happens to Bible translations,” said Justine, looking puzzled.  “I’m studying Greek now at the seminary and I will study Hebrew, and we read the texts in the original languages all the time.  Why would anyone translate the Bible from Latin today?”

“Bob is probably referring to some of the older Bibles,” said Mark.  “I know that Catholic Bibles had to be translated from the Latin text up through Vatican II.  We learned about that in church history.”

“But even Catholic Bibles today are translated from the original languages,” said Mandy.

“True,” said Mark.

“You’d have a hard time finding a Bible translated from Latin on a bookstore shelf today,” said Jerry.  “I did see a copy of the Douay-Rheims version in our church library the other day, but nobody really uses that.”

“Wasn’t the King James translated from the Greek in the Old Testament?” asked Bob.

“Well, they compared the Greek, but they worked form the Hebrew text.”  It was Justine again.

“You know, Justine,” said Jerry.  “I didn’t know you were studying Biblical languages.”

“I’m taking a concentration in Biblical studies for my Master of Divinity.  I’ve been studying the history of the Bible and I’ll get both basic Greek and Hebrew.”

“Interesting,” said Jerry.

“You’ll have to revise your opinion of her again,” said Mandy with a mischievous look.  Jerry was annoyed.  Why did Mandy have to say that out loud?

“Jerry doesn’t approve of women as ministers,” said Mac.

“My church wouldn’t allow them,” said Ellen.

“OK,” said Bob.  “This group is too easy to distract.  I’d love to talk about how reactionary barbarians can’t get that women can do pretty much any job, but let’s do it another time.  I want to hear about Bible translations.”

“I wonder what reactionary barbarians do,” said Mandy.  “Do they swing from trees?”

There was a moment of silence.

“OK,” said Bob.  “This time I didn’t stick to the subject.  So you’re all agreeing that most Bible translations are made from the original languages.”

“Yes,” said Jerry.

“But not from the original manuscripts, right?”

“No.  We don’t have the original manuscripts.”

“So that is one reason for revised Bible translations, isn’t it?  You find new and better manuscripts, so suddenly you know that your Bible is in error and you correct it.”

“I don’t know if I would say it’s in error.  But certainly if we find a better text we will follow that with new translations.”

“If it was wrong and you have to change it, then I’d say you corrected an error.”

“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Mandy.  We take the best readings we can from what we have.  If we didn’t correct it when something better came along that would be silly.”

“But that’s not really the major reason for revising Bible translations,” said Jerry.  “It’s more a matter of translation philosophy and changes in modern languages.”

“But why can’t you agree at least on how the Bible should be translated?”

“Why should we?” asked Mandy.

“Shouldn’t there be a right way and a wrong way?”

Justine started laughing.  “Have you ever learned a foreign language?”

“Well, I learned some Spanish in High School.”

“No translation is exact, Bob.  There’s not just one right way to do it.  We’ll even get multiple correct translations in class where we’re supposed to be translating very literally.”

“One of the big issues with the NIV2011,” said Mandy, “is the issue of gender language.  For example, should a group that is made up of both men and women be called “brothers” or “brothers and sisters?”

“Which one does the Greek use?” asked Bob.

“Neither,” said Mandy.  “The Greek uses a Greek for some reason.”

“Yes, I know,” said Bob.  “But what does it mean?”

“It refers to a group of people that includes both men and women in some cases.  What English word or phrase does that?”

“Here’s where Mandy and I disagree a bit,” said Bob.  “Not that there cannot be variation, but I’d prefer to use brothers, which has always been understood to apply to both sexes, while she wants the women mentioned explicitly.”

“But isn’t there already a revision of the NIV that does that?” asked Mac.  Bob was again surprised at her knowledge of Christianity.

“Yes,” said Mandy.  “There was the TNIV which has been quite popular for that reason.  It’s hard to say what the NIV2011 will be like, though it will likely use some of the vocabulary of the TNIV.”

“And this doesn’t bother you?” asked Bob.

Mandy shrugged.

“You know,” said Jerry.  “I bet that if we all agreed on this topic you’d be thinking that we were suppressing dissent.”

“I never said anything of the sort!”

“But that’s your impression of Christians, isn’t it?”

“Well, I do think you suppress free thought by expecting people to adhere to doctrinal statements.”

“Ah, doctrinal statements,” said Mark.  “I can’t deal with those tonight.  It’s about time for me to be going.”

And with that the group began to break up for the night.