Discussion of translation issues continues to heat up the biblical blogosphere. As it should be. Most everyone I know, if they know the Bible at all, know it in the wording of the translation of their choice. Even if they studied the biblical languages, they cannot recall the text in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, only in translation.
Serious students of the Bible do well to commit to memory as many blocks of the text in the original languages as their noggins will hold. Menahem Mansoor, one of my mentors, taught me the importance of this principle. He had an extraordinary number of passages on the tip of his tongue in casual conversation. Someday, I imagine, LOGOS or some other outfit will make scripture memorization in the original tongues easier than it is now through appropriate software.
In a few days, a member of my congregation will be off to Teen Challenge in Milwaukee where she will be asked to restructure her identity based on an intense regimen of Scripture memorization in the context of daily worship and fellowship with other struggling believers over several months. If the process works for her, she will be allowed to stay longer in the hopes of a complete and definitive detox. A few days ago, in Duluth MN, with more than 70 United Methodist youth from Wisconsin, I heard a presentation by 40 men, almost all in the facility on court order, in that city’s Teen Challenge men’s unit (by the way, the “teens” run in age from 18 to 69). After hearing some of the testimonies, I couldn’t help but thinking: anyone who doesn’t think that an intense battle between good and evil is going on around us and within us has his eyes wide shut.
Permit me to dream for a moment. How about a Teen Challenge program of memorization of Scripture in the original languages? Going into the program, inductees would have to have a firm grasp of the languages already, and a commitment to detox from a culture that tells them it’s normal to know dialogue from their favorite TV shows and song from their favorite songstresses by heart, but not Psalm 23 in Hebrew and 1 Corinthians 13 in Greek even if they studied the requisite languages for years. Coming off the program, graduates would be able to pick up their original language Bibles and sight-read a core of important passages with ease and pleasure. A foundation on which to build.
As of now, biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are for forgetting, not remembering, in the life of most people who have studied them. I used to think that the placement of knowledge of biblical languages into cold storage by those who studied them, however cursorily, is a mountain that will never be moved in our generation. Then I saw the movie Chariots of Fire and thought, if someone can give their heart and soul to an athletic sport with such tenacity, why can’t a few men and women give their heart to fulfilling Deuteronomy 6:6- 9 with the same tenacity?
וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל־לְבָבֶךָ
וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל־יָדֶךָ
וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ
וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל־מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ
the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart!
Impress them on your children;
recite them at home
and when you travel on your way;
you lie down and when you get up.
them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.