Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The perils of reading The Subway Bible

Some people are almost as passionate about the Bible translation they use as they are their college football team. They swear by their version and swear about the others, warning of the dangers of studying the wrong one. For me, the bigger concern is not who prefers the KJV, the NRSV, the NIV, the ESV, or the HSCB, but that too many of us read The Subway Bible.

By that I mean we view the scriptures somewhat like a foot-long sub left out on the kitchen counter overnight: the bits at each end are rather hard to swallow, so let’s just cut them off and stick with the slightly softer parts in the middle.

But then, in my best Screwtape analysis, I think: what better way to leave someone wandering about rather aimlessly than to keep them from seeing where they have come from and where they are going? The absence of a beginning and an end sounds like a recipe for round-the-mountain-one-more-time, to me. There’s a lot of talk in the church these days about the importance of “story,” but you can’t really have a good one if there is no plot. You might say that minus an A and a Z we don’t have all we need to be able to write well.

Without wanting to get too militaristic about it, we end up with an army with no marching orders. So then I plunge back into Genesis and Revelation, believing that they offer principles at the start and promises at the end that are important for me to grasp as I make my way between here and there.

The trick has been to avoid the mythologizers on the one hand, who say you can’t take any of what you read in the first and last books of the Bible seriously, and the heresy hunters on the other, who demand you take them too seriously, as it were, insisting they are, in turn, a science primer and an outline of the “Left Behind” series.

Somewhere between the two—and I have found it to be a shifting line—that awkward, crusty end piece becomes fresh, satisfying bread of life. Surely too good to just throw away. Worth another nibble.

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