Visiting my mother in Nashville one Easter season, my wife, unexposed to southern customs, and I attended a religious play at a local Pentecostal Church my mother’s church of preference at the time. She had many over the years. Frequently, she abruptly broke off her ties with a particular denomination over some perceived slight or a minor misinterpretation in doctrine. The once wonderful place and people became the worst church she had ever been to. She would vow never to return, but that also changed too.
On this particular Sunday, the members recited scripture around bad acting and bathrobes. They spoke with their customary southern accent, slowly and often pronouncing words and phrases in tones unfamiliar to the untuned ear. Someone with me said, “Why do they speak so slowly? I know! It must be so they can get it written down for the bible.”
We really laughed about that. Some of the laughter was meant to make fun of the simple, amateurish presentation. All was not quite so harsh since I had grown up with this soft, slow, southern sound. I retain some of that still, despite the years that have passed since it was preferred and familiar. How did the authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really get it all down accurately? There were no recorders, no Gregg shorthand, not even a ballpoint pen? The truth is that it didn’t. These four Gospel writers did not always know they were in the presence of greatness.
Every word did not get written down! Every phrase and minute inflection was not recorded! So at some point, the writers had to transcribe what they remembered. Some will say divine inspiration and the hand of God made it all possible. OK, I wont argue lest you portray me as a heretic. Whole denominations have been started and split over a single word, an adjective, pronoun, or preposition. Didn’t he say they came out of the water? They must be immersed therefore for baptism to be Jesus’ way. “No”, others say, it’s OK to be touched by the water. “No” still others say, the water is only a symbol, not really that important.
The “Telephone Game” is a simple and childish example of how anything gets lost in translation following simple repetition. What got lost in the time from when Jesus said it until it was written down?? Did the slow, soft, sound of a region affect how something was said? Didn’t Jesus speak with the accent and language of the day? Suppose all of this history had occurred in Watts or Detroit? The Gospel writers being Maurice, Maury, Leroy & Jesse using their language.
Would we still argue over the words and add our interpretation the the Bible to fit our prejudices? Of course! We still do it anyway with those messages from current religious teachings. Blessed are the peace makers. Isn't that what they called six-shooters in the old West.