The Reading of the Word

This week’s lesson is brought to us by Good Word from Walla Walla. To listen to the audio conversation, please visit the Good Word website.

Leading question: In an age when reading seems to be less important, can the example of long hours of reading make a difference for good in today’s world.? Nehemiah 8 is a remarkable chapter that features long hours of the public reading of Scripture. Four key issues are worth exploring here: 1) What are the gains and losses that come from the interruption of hard work for the public reading of Scripture? 2) To what extent is the public reading of Scripture in Nehemiah’s day comparable to the “oral” model for the modern Contemporary English Version, the first modern version to be heard by the ear? 3) How does one know when to weep or rejoice when seeking the Lord? 4) This event was triggered by lay people: Is that model for today?

Questions: Nehemiah 8 suggests that the returned Jews dropped all their other activities to spend several mornings in the public reading of Scripture.

  • What were the real benefits of such a dramatic break in the work routine?
  • Does the Sabbath represent the same kind of break from our work routine? Would it have the same kind of positive benefit.

Questions: The public reading of Scripture appears to be something unique. These questions come to mind:

  • Could this form of public worship be made into a “habit”?
  • In our day a recent Bible translation, the Contemporary English Version, is the first translation designed to be heard by the ear. Has the electronic explosion changed the social situation enough to make the Bible Society’s rationale obsolete? If everyone has their Bible on their cell phone, what does that mean for the “unifying” role of the reading of Scripture?
  • What are the plusses and minuses of having the Bible on our phones?

Questions: In Nehemiah 8, the people wept when they heard the reading of Scripture. Nehemiah rebuked them and told them that it was time to rejoice. These questions present themselves:

  • When is it appropriate for a church leader to call the people to account for their emotional reactions to the reading of Scripture?
  • Is it possible to “command” our emotions to take a different course?
  • If nearly a half of the psalms in our Bibles are laments/complaints, what does that suggest about modern forms of “be happy” religion? Was Nehemiah the forerunner of the prosperity Gospel and all its feel-good offspring?

Questions: In Nehemiah 8, the public reading of Scripture was instigated by lay people. There is no recorded rebuke of Ezra and Nehemiah, but these questions come to mind:

  • Is there an implied rebuke of the leaders when the laity took the lead?
  • Is this chapter a model for the church today when the leaders seem to have neglected their proper role?
  • In Adventism, a crucial turning point for the church was the year 1888. Are there points of contact between 1888 and Nehemiah 8 represented by this EGW quote?

Peter exhorts his brethren to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” [2 Pet. 3:18]. Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative and seek to avoid discussion.

The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God's people should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition and worship they know not what. (Testimonies 5:706-707 [1889]; also in GW 297-98 and CWE 38-39])

Questions: Nehemiah 8:8 is generally seen by biblical scholars as a clear example of the development of the “targum,” an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures. The people could no longer understand Hebrew, since it was no longer the spoken language of the returned exiles. In Jesus’ day the everyday language was “Aramaic,” not Hebrew. A few phrases of Aramaic are included as transliterations of the original Hebrew. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter for example, his words were transliterated (as well as translated): “He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’” (Mark 10:41, NRSV). Interestingly enough, when Luke tells the same story, he drops the transliteration of the Aramaic and only gives us the translation: “But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’” (Luke 8:41, NRSV). All that gives rise to these questions:

  • Could the difference between Luke and Mark help resolve the differences between those who want only the KJV and those who want a modern translation?
  • Does the turn to Aramaic in Nehemiah 8:8, link up with the two versions of the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 10, Luke 8) in such a way as to justify both the use of the “formal equivalent” translations (KJV and its many offspring: (e.g., RV, RSV, NRSV, AV, NASB, NKJV, ESV), those that seek to stay as close to the language of the author’s day, and the “dynamic equivalent” translations, those that seek to adapt to the language of the receptor readers (e.g. NIV, CEV, Message, NLT)?

Alden Thompson includes in his original piece on Good Word, a sequence of three articles on Bible translations, originally published in the NPUC Gleaner which you can read here. Nehemiah 8:8 raises the kinds of questions that this cluster seeks to address.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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First, how many in any group knew how to read in whatever language in Nehemiah’s day?

Not clear what you mean (imply) by calling RVM RSV, NASB, NKJV, ESV “offspring” of the KJV. The King James version has not spawned any of those mentioned except the “New King James”. Of all those listed, the King James has the least integrity as to reliable manuscript support.

We don’t believe in verbal inspiration - do we?


Alden means offspring in terms of the kind of “equivalency” not that the versions came from it. The KJV is in the family of “formal equivalent” translations. Word to word translations, staying as close to the original (even grammatically) as the original languages. The others listed (NIV, CEV, NLT, etc.) are “dynamic equivalents.” That mean taking original languages and getting as close to current understanding in present language. What the readers get as opposed to being as close to the original as possible.

The KJV was put together in a hurry by Desiderius Erasmus in competition to see who could get the first Greek text printed. Erasmus found some 12th century manuscripts of Acts, and the Epistles which were printed from his marked up copy. Revelation came from a hard to read manuscript (minus the last page) from the German, Johannes Reuchlin. Erasmus filled in the last six verses by translating them from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek - verses never found in the original Greek. That is what the KJV was translated from. The question, then, becomes, “word-for-word” from which language manuscript… For the next three hundred years, editions of the NT were based on Erasmus’ original edition, which in turn, was based on just a few manuscripts, and for parts of Revelation, from a translation of a translation. …if all that matters.

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As to Alden’s statement, it is not concerning manuscript base, but simply how, from whatever base is sourced, the translation is done. Word for word or more colloquial.

There’s always the question as to how much editing (colloquializing) we can do without destroying the original intent. If we’re not concerned with verbal inspiration it shouldn’t matter. The only question comes when one a group prefers one edition over another in order to preserve their unique interpretations that come from only one particular edition.

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“I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; [a]for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” 1 Cor 14:5 & 9

Paul writes about importance of understanding words so they can edify listeners as it is applied.

When Religious/theological lingo is heard…such as justification, sanctification, reconciliation, glorification, incarnation, it can be like unknown tongues if not explained.

Christian cliches like …God is in control, Let go & let God, Ask Jesus to come into your heart… are other ways to speak in unknown tongues…even though they are English words.When bible verses & religious terms are not exegeted or explained…how can the listener apply in the life?
Inductive method of teaching–acquire knowledge, analyze it, apply it…or observe, explain, apply.


It actually does matter in the area of interpretation and how it is communicated. As I understand verbal and thought inspiration it has to do with how the prophet receives messages from God. Verbal would say that everything written is a straight word from God. Thought inspiration says the prophet is impressed with thoughts and they write in their own words. Of course, there appears to be some verbal at junctures were the prophets says “thus saith the Lord” or the inscription of the Ten Commandments. But by in large the SDA Church views inspiration as thoughts impressed and the writer choosing the words.

When communicating what was written (translation from one language to another) it is important to preserve so much as possible the actual content expressed, unless there are idioms, or words that just can’t be communicated in a particular language (hence, getting into formal equivalent and dynamic equivalent issues). This is, indeed, thought being communicated in words as best as can be communicated, but it isn’t “inspiration” as such. It is trying to preserve what inspiration was recorded.

I think there is danger in wholly holding to one particular version as “the version” for all faith and doctrine. That isn’t a healthy means of arriving at the truth, or message, being communicated. That should be avoided. If one prefers a version over another they must be open to understanding the variations that do exist and why they exist (manuscript differences, range of meaning in a particular word, consistency of how a word in particular form, genitive, state, etc. That is healthy bible study. But to hold to a version that suits a particular notion of a doctrine due to words used, that isn’t so good. And one has to be careful not to jump all over the Scriptures to locate verses that “sound right” as to what is supports as a teaching. We are guilty too often of doing such. I had to rewrite Revelation seminars because of how they were arrive at the “truth.” Kind of maddening to have to do.

Clarification of idioms is very important in communicating truth. Well said.

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Idioms are hard enough to translate; but any translating is difficult. Anyone speaking more than one language knows some expressions can not translate at all. The words may be carried over, but the subjective feelings they carry can’t be duplicated.



Sirje, that’s very true. Literal translations may appear reliable, but often they may not actually pass on to the translation the original meaning in the prior language. Translations that carry on the meaning are much more valuable than simple literal translations.

For example, what would this mean in English, “That guy is a neck meat?” Anything? Nothing, right? It’s a literal translation of an expression in Portuguese. Now, if I translate is as, "That guy is a real trouble," … well, now we have the meaning. Easy to see which translation is best.

You are right, “Anyone speaking more than one language knows some expressions can not translate at all.”


This week’s memory verse is so significant.

The hundreds , if not thousands, of Christian denominations are the result of giving the WRONG sense of bible passages.

This fulfills SATAN plan to promote DISCORD among Christians which is an abominations with GOD (Prov 6:19)

Differences in doctrine reveal DECEPTION.

It is not a matter of disagreeing agreeably with one having a vanilla doctrine and one having a strawberry doctrine.

Discord leads to fanaticism and conflict even murder.

Did you ever meet another person that believes in the same exact package of beliefs that you do? One, just one person?
YES ____
NO ____
As I always say, please just answer the questio Y/N, no explanation necessary. Thanks.

Who/what decides the RIGHT “sense”?


Unfortunately it’s one of the pitfalls of pragmatic approach to Christian narrative. The language of religious ambiguity is likely an unconscious calculation of trying to walk the line in a church where there’s no consolidated experiential context. So, one can resort to ambiguous “horoscope-like” language for people to interpret in a way they see it fit.

In the past, it was more of a necessity. There were no precise relationships that were understood, instead of some “wisdom” that was packed into narrative stories.

Today, people want more precision, because our understanding is more refined. And the more they understand, the more precision and clarification they need.

For example, in the past conceptual paradigm, “Jesus in your heart” made sense, because thinking was done with the heart. So, for a child that conceptual reference would be consistent.

Today, my 7 year old is confused how Jesus could live in his heart, since he actually got to see images and videos of his heart during the numerous treatments of congenital heart issue. He would often ask where is Jesus in there, and as a parent there’s a lot of unpacking to be done as it relates to this issue in a child who has precise understanding of functional organs via personal experience. Of course, in children that don’t, this hyperbole simply slides through and shifts into the broader cultural paradigms of Christian romanticism as they progress into puberty.

The broader issue is that Christianity and Adventism are structured around that language, which is largely conceptually incoherent and imprecise in the present cultural setting. Much of the time it doesn’t fit into the actual language of reality, and it doesn’t work with the new generation that speaks a different language now, unless they are living in a bubble. But the moment they exit that bubble, their faith decoheres, since there is no conceptual continuum to maintain it… especially as they fall into “all or nothing” catch-22 set up by fundamentalist approach.

The previous generation manages to maintain loyalty to these concepts in some literal sense… but there are no broader efforts to shift the language in order to unpack these idioms and hyperboles into actual meaning of everyday life.


Differences in doctrine can reveal contextual nuance. Peanuts can be food for some, and poison for other.

Most of the issues are contextual. There are very few absolutes.

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"Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over."

Do you really care…?

Anyone else here think that the latest replies are the result of this tolerant , multi-cultural, can’t we all get along, I’m ok, you’re ok …Burger King…“Have it your way” social mode?

“If anyone wills to do His will he shall know concerning the doctrine.” JN 7:17

What kind of answer is that?

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