Not Another Paraphrase

Credit: Les Klassen Hamm

I don’t like biblical paraphrases. I’ll admit, some of that is due to a knee-jerk negative reaction to John 1:1 in The Message reading, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” But mostly, I don’t like paraphrases like The Message or The Living Bible, because they don’t typically acknowledge what they are.

One person writing his or her own interpretation of the Bible, as is the case with The Message and The Living Bible, is not the Bible. It’s a biblically packaged commentary. If there was a phrase in the Bible that was ambiguous in the original Greek, I would like it to be translated to be ambiguous in English. I would prefer not to have someone tell me unambiguously what it “means.” Part of what I like about reading the Bible is sifting through all that is there, even if it is conflicting, or redundant, or confusing. It allows me to appreciate the intricacies that come with reading texts written hundreds of years ago.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t like paraphrases. I just don’t. But use them. Highlight them. Read them to people. Do as you please. While you do though, please also acknowledge that they are one person’s perspective on the meaning of biblical text, not a translation of biblical text. And, if you’re in the mood to read one person’s perspective already, I would encourage you to check out some of these commentaries and interpretations. Each provides a new way of interpreting scripture you might not have explored before.

A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings, edited by Fernando F. Segovia and R. S. Sugirtharajah, offers a perspective on the New Testament that considers the implications of colonialism on the writers, the stories, and the way we read them. With chapters from a wide variety of biblical scholars, this book not only challenges current ways of reading the Bible that are contributing to injustice, but also offers ways forward in an attempt to decolonize our reading of the Bible.

Feminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible and Related Literature, edited by Luise Schottroff and Marie-Theres Wacker, brings up questions and issues in the field of feminist interpretation of the Bible that are often overlooked. Its scholarly essays still maintain accessibility and readability. It’s relevant to current feminist research, and it has extensive resources for further reading. With a diversity of voices represented, this book finds relevance for many people working with contextualized biblical scholarship.

Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible, edited by Ken Stone, gives an introduction to the way a queer reading of the Bible makes a difference in the interpretation of it. This book features contributors who stem from a number of religious backgrounds, as well as many parts of the LGBTQ* community. Chapters explore actions within and outlooks towards this subject within their historical context, and the ways in which we interpret these things in our current context.

With each of these books coming in at more than 800 pages, I don’t suggest you need to read them all cover to cover. I also won’t pretend I’ve read each of them cover to cover. But as you read pieces, specific books, or specific pieces of scripture, you will see a new picture of the Bible you may not have found before. I think books that show us new perspectives are the kind of biblical interpretations we need to look for.

Emily Hamm is a summer intern at Geez Magazine. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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1 Comment

  1. well said. thank you for highlighting the joys of commentaries. also, the button in the photo is awesome.

    lisa Pennsylvania, USA June 28th, 2016 11:48am

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