of pine nuts, acorns and mustard seeds | Jesus’ Creed
February has been a busy month in our homes, but now is the time to return to The Bible and ancient science by Denis Lamoureux.
What is the message of the Bible? Denis finds that for him “reading the Bible is a mystical experience. It is a spiritual encounter between us and the Lord, facilitated by the inspired words of Sacred Scripture.“(p. 64) But lives are changed by the message of the Bible, not by a legalistic or literal rendering of specific words. Words, by the way, written and spoken in ancient languages and ancient cultures , using images of the day.
Consider Mark 4: 30-32.
Again he said, “What shall we say that the kingdom of God is like, or what parable will we use to describe it?” It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet, once planted, it grows and becomes the tallest of all garden plants, with branches so large that birds can perch in its shade. “(VIN)
The mustard seed and mustard plant provided an image that was immediately understood by the original audience. On the other hand, how many ordinary Americans know what a mustard seed or a mustard plant looks like? Isn’t mustard that yellow stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle?
Pines and pine nuts, oaks and acorns are images that most North Americans will immediately understand. I found two versions of “The Message” by Eugene Peterson online. In the YouVersion we read (and this is the version referenced by Denis in his book):
“How can we imagine the kingdom of God? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as the seeds disappear, but once planted it turns into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest there.
In contrast, the version of The Bible Gateway has:
“How can we imagine the kingdom of God? What kind of story can we use? It’s like an acorn. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as the seeds disappear, but once planted it turns into a huge oak tree with thick branches. Eagles nest there.
This is the version I originally found online while preparing this article and had to search (thanks Google) to find the pinion reference Denis uses in his book.
Depending on where you live, the gable or acorn creates a much better connection with the audience and it’s these images that Peterson uses to make a connection and get the message across to his audience. Jesus told down-to-earth stories to his audience, and a paraphrase that conveys the message rather than the particular ancient images can be very effective. My father-in-law, towards the end of his active ministry, found Peterson’s paraphrase particularly effective when addressing young people who were not accustomed to “Bible language.” While I usually study more literal translations, I’ve also found that Peterson’s paraphrase sometimes provides important new insight. The point Jesus makes in Mark 4: 30-32 is the same in all of the versions cited above. There is an important place in the church for translations of paraphrases which aim to present the scriptures in the words of ordinary people.
The bible was written in a culture and to an audience with an understanding of cosmology that was very different from our understanding today. God’s message was conveyed through words and ideas that they understood. The intention was to bring people closer to God, not to correct ideas of cosmology and biology. Here is therefore an exercise which deserves reflection. Is it possible to paraphrase Genesis 1 in a way that conveys the essential message of the text, while using ideas from 21st century cosmology and biology rather than ideas from the tenth or twentieth century BC?
To begin this exercise, we must first think carefully about the essential message of the chapter. Denis suggests that the essential messages are: (1) that God is the creator of the world – of everything in the universe. (2) That creation is good. (3) That God created the diversity of plant and animal life on the planet. (4) That humans and only humans are created in the image of God. (5) That humans, men and women, have an important role given by God in the world, above all fish, birds and land animals.
Given this message, it is relatively straightforward to write a paraphrase consistent with the message and with our current understanding of science. Denis gives examples on pages 73 and 74 of his book. If you believe that the message and intention of Genesis 1 is to provide a piecemeal account of creation, no such paraphrase will seem satisfactory. If, on the other hand, Denis has the right essential message, such a paraphrase will provide important insight and can provide a useful tool to help reach many people in our world today. There are many reasons to believe that the intention is not to provide a detailed account and that Denis identified several of the most important elements of the message.
What do you think?
If you want to contact me directly, you can do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
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