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.

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