Monday, 30 April 2012

What exactly are they witnessing?

At tract ive?
In 14 years at our previous house, thanks to its relative isolation, we never got Jehovah's Witnesses at the door once. Now, in a more cosmopolitan area, we get them regularly. In my head, beforehand, I am happy to engage them and challenge them on their own level - but somehow when they turn up I crumble. So there was that jolly smily person with the neat opening line:

'Do you ever think about the Lord's Prayer?'

And all I could do was mutter (after a bit of a pause) 'I'm afraid I'm at work.'

So, with their usual politeness and lack of pushiness, they gave me a tract and left. In fact the one occasion when I've desperately wanted to invite Jehovah's Witnesses in (for the only time in history it was two incredibly attractive women), I was at home ill with flu and had to send them away.

Usually the tract goes straight in the bin, with the usual observation about look and feel. I don't know why it is, but material like this from the US always has a look and feel that seems very old fashioned. But this time I happened to glance through it. Given they'd mentioned prayer, my eye was caught by a section on prayer. I don't know the Bible off by heart, but I have read it and am familiar with most of the key bits, and something seemed wrong with the quote they had used. It says:
Jesus taught us to avoid repeating set formulas in our prayers. "When praying," he said, "do not say the same things over and over again." (Matthew 6:7).
It just didn't seem right. So I dug out the real thing. It actually says
'In your prayers do not go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard. Do not imitate them. Your Father knows what your needs are before you ask him...' And then it gives the Lord's Prayer.
Now of course all English bibles are translations. My version, the out-of-favour New English Bible will be different from the US version they used. But I think their 'translation' reverses the meaning. Our JW's are saying it says 'don't use a set formula', where the text actually says 'don't go on and on with miles of specific detail, just use a set formula (and here it is)'.

What is fascinating here - and I think it's something we should bear in mind when anyone of any religion says they are doing something because that's what scripture says - is how easy it is to take the same original text and put two very different interpretations on it - in this case pretty well opposite interpretations. I almost felt like running after them and finding them and pointing this out. But I didn't.

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting.

    >> I almost felt like running after them and finding them and pointing this out. But I didn't.

    And if it had been the two incredibly attractive women? :-)

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  2. I think in that case Peet I would... have done exactly the same thing.

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  3. Hello, I'm one of Jehovah's Witnesses; I'm happy to see that you had interest enough to get your Bible out and check it. That's what we want. :)

    I have many different translations of scripture (including the New English Bible) and I tend to find that reading a verse in more than one brings out different shades of meaning that are contained in the Greek text. In this case, I don't think the translations of Matthew 6:7 should be viewed as opposite in meaning, but rather complimentary.

    For example, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the underlying Greek word here means "'to babble' in the sense of trying to achieve success in prayer by heaping up repetitions." Both translations of Jesus' words are essentially recording him as warning against showy, drawn-out, mechanical, insincere types of prayers.

    In other words, Jesus doesn't want us mindlessly babbling in terms of length or in set formulas, he is counseling us to pray from the heart in sincerity. His following model prayer serves as a list of priorities, from greatest to least, that should be closest to a Christian's heart: the sanctification of God's name, the arrival of his kingdom, his will being done on earth, then the more temporal and immediate personal needs.

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