Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 3 (1992 edition)
Relationship – No, you won’t find this “verse” in the Bible. It is a citation from the 1992 copyright edition of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional. But it isn’t what Chambers actually wrote! When Chambers first penned these words, he wrote, “Once you get into personal contact with Jesus Christ, . . .” The 1935 original has been “updated” for our contemporary culture. In just 60 years, Chambers’ idea of “get into personal contact” was changed to “have a personal relationship.” The text was altered to fit evangelical presuppositions. But no one bothered to mention it.
Why do we care about some editor altering the original text of Chambers’ devotional? After all, it was altered so that it would be easier to read. A good motive, right? The problem isn’t the motive. The problem is accuracy. There are subtle differences between “get into personal contact” and “have a personal relationship.” For one thing, the first is an action; the second a possession. The first implies continued effort; the second implies steady state. One fits the evangelical theology of the permanence of salvation. The other carries some uncomfortable implications. But even this isn’t the real problem. The real problem is the clear contemporary example of the willingness of publishers and editors to change the text in order to meet the assumed needs of the reader. The reason why we investigate this obvious example is this: if it took only 60 years for the evangelical community to alter the text of one of its great heroes of the faith, what do you suppose happened to the biblical text over 2000 years? What are the consequences of changing the text to meet the assumed intellectual levels of the readers as opposed to insisting that the readers meet the intellectual milieu of the author? The alteration of Chambers’ material is but a single clear example of the tendency among Christians to be comfortable with communicating the meaning rather than insisting on accurately transmitting the message. And as we must know by now, meaning is subject to the culture.
Do you read Shakespeare in the original? Probably not. Chaucer? Unlikely. Even the King James Bible no longer reads the same as the 1611 version. Language changes. Meanings change. “Gay” doesn’t mean “exuberant” anymore. This begs the question: Do you read Paul as he wrote it? Or James? Or Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses? If Oswald Chambers’ material can be altered to fit the new meanings, what do you suppose translators of Scripture do? Why do we need 52 versions of the English Bible? Are there really 52 different messages?
We are on a quest. That quest is to understand what Scripture says according to the language, culture and paradigms of the authors. That’s why we dig behind the translations. We want to know what God said, not what the translation committee thought we should absorb. That’s why reading Scripture isn’t quite so easy anymore.
Topical Index: Chambers, translation, relationship