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December 9, 2009

Casting Lots vs. Gambling

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

An op-ed article in this morning’s Record made me giggle.

THE BIBLE, it turns out, is too liberal.

At least the Conservative Bible Project thinks so. The group has set itself the task of “translating” the Bible in a more conservative way, so as to eliminate liberal “misinterpretations” and prevent liberal “misconstruals.”

One of the funny things about the Bible has been the way politically liberal and conservative thinkers use the book to advance a political agenda. Both sides have, for the most part, raised up various points of Holy Scripture that portend to show that God is on their side. No matter the issue — abortion, helping the homeless, the death penalty, you name it — liberal and conservative thinkers say that God really promotes their agenda, so the other side should just shhh!

When it comes to bible translation, there are a number of people who have complained that more modern bible translations tend to be more “liberal” in their interpretation of the original languages. The complaints are always centered around words the words that were chosen to describe actions. For instance, when Jesus is crucified and the Roman soldiers are “casting lots” for his garments (thus fulfilling a prophesy), some conservative theologians believe that the phrase “casting lots” is a little to cagey. They want a more clear cut way to describe the act of the soldiers.

Hence, they want to replace “casting lots” with the word “gambling.” Not the worst thing in the world, I admit. It does render the translation more relevant.

But then go off the reservation. Apparently, the bible is also very socialistic when it renders workers as “laborers” (think – we’re laborers in the harvest field sounds too much like something Stalin would say). They complain that the English Standard Version of the bible, the one we use in church, only uses the word “volunteer” once, a word they consider more conservative.

On the other side, liberals tend to ignore some of the more direct writings in Scripture. When Scripture states that the priesthood is a role given to men, liberals tend to blame the culture that Saint Paul grew up in that minimized the role of women within the faith. Forget what Paul writes, they say; instead, use a more enlightened understanding of Holy Scripture. Instead of male-female direct references in biblical translation, liberals tend to translate roles by removing gender. By removing gender, they remove a critical translation component that renders the original languages irrelevant. They also tend to ignore that while abortion is not specifically mentioned in the Old or New Testaments, that the Word of God is clear that each child in the womb is a creation of God.

Of course, I could go on all day writing about both sides.

But the topic – from which political bent does the Word of God come – is one that will be argued until Christ’s second coming.

I have always believed that when society and the church raises up the Word of God and uses it in a political context, the real intent of the book is being missed. It is not a social contract – it is a book explaining God’s plan of salvation for humanity. It is God’s Word that shows how He justifies the sinful through the blood of His Son. It is a book that explains in a most impassioned way the life that God wanted for His creation –  a life free of sin, where the Law that was written on the tablets would be written on our hearts where we would love God above all things and those fellow humans as we would love ourselves always.

In our falling into sin, we fall away from God’s intent and struggle in our day to live better lives. God’s Word is that impetus that gears our heart to repentance so we can receive His forgiveness for our breaking of His holy Law. From that forgiveness, centered on our faith, we work hard to fulfill the Law that is simply loving God above all things and loving humanity without question. And as we live forgiven lives by our faith, we are different than what society tells us we should be like.

We just do good because that is who we are – justified before God, emboldened to show what Christ’s work for us at the cross really means.

I am a conservative theologian. My conservative Lutheran credentials are clearly stamped; just listen to me in church and in bible class. Yet, to use the Word of God to make a political point is not the intention of the Bible.

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