In the early 1990s I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I was thrilled at the prospect of learning Spanish and doing life in a completely different culture. My parents decided to surprise me and flew down to spend a week with me and my team. Everyone took turns making the meals and one blistering hot day, after cleaning a filthy medical clinic and performing music and skits in a park, the lot fell to me.
My mom and I struck out for the market, armed with my rudimentary grasp on Spanish and a state-of-the-art pocket translator. Finding the chicken vendor and gazing on the heaps of dismembered fowl, I quickly decided I was not in any mood to debone anything. We would splurge and buy boneless chicken breast for dinner! Grabbing the trusty translator, I typed in the word, “breast” and was rewarded with the Spanish equivalent, pecho. I politely proceeded to ask, in my best Spanglish, for a kilo of pecho.
The young man behind the counter looked confused. Undeterred, my mother launched into a set of charades, using her arms and hands to make mounding motions in her chest area, all the while chanting, “Pecho, pecho.” Our clerk still seemed dumbfounded — even when I turned the translator towards him and pointed at the word and slowly repeated, “Pecho! Pecho!”
Just then, as I saw vendors from the surrounding stalls craning their necks to look at us, it dawned on me that perhaps the word I was using wasn’t a direct translation. A fit of giggles overtook me as I realized what I had been asking for. I collapsed on the poor man’s counter and laughed till I cried. Talk about armed and dangerous!
Many people approach the Bible with a limited understanding or complete ignorance of the original languages, culture and context in which the Scriptures were written. We read something that we are unfamiliar with and try to explain it from a contemporary, Western mindset but it ends up not really making sense.
Additionally, to make Bible reading and study easier, the early Bible translators inserted chapter and verse divisions that don’t always accurately reflect the original writer’s intent. We’ve all experienced the mischief of a misplaced modifier. Punctuation counts because it can completely change what is being communicated.
Add to that the fact that the Books of the Bible are not arranged in chronological order but grouped categorically and, in places, from longest to shortest in length and you can begin to see where there may be some cause for wandering in the wilderness in Biblical interpretation.
However, where we really get lost is when we begin imposing our own agenda on the Scripture and begin cutting and pasting and taking it out of context to make it say what we want to hear. When we do that, we are like a friend who would drive around with his thumb on the check-engine light. Avoiding truth doesn’t make it go away.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We live in a time and age where many excellent resources are available to help us better understand the Bible, but none is as important as talking to the author Himself. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
By the way, if you ever need to buy chicken breast in a Spanish-speaking country, the phrase you want is pechuga de pollo! May God bless you in your quest for truth.