March 11, 2018

Just tell the story: and other reflections about manmade traditions

On Friday nights, I AWANA. I’m with the k-2nd grade group, and it’s a fun class. Especially the kindergarteners. They’re sweet kids who get super motivated and competitive about those little plastic “jewels” they earn from memorizing Bible verses.

Anyway, the lesson one week was about Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower.” Now, if you grew up in church at all, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you didn’t grow up in church or spend much time in a traditional (expositional) church, you may not make the connection immediately. Why?

Because “sower” isn’t a word for the average 21st Century English speaker.

And this is where the trouble began. Even after reading the whole story to the kids, even after watching a cartoon showing the action of a man spreading seeds along various types of soils, they still had it in their minds that Jesus was talking about someone who makes clothes and fixes buttons. Not a farmer.

(It was actually a very good lesson, once we got over this hump. And the kids did get it in the end. Just to say.)

But Jesus was talking about a farmer.

But instead, we use the word “sower.”


Because it’s the KJV word, and darn it, we use the KJV word even in the ESV, the NIV, the HCSB, and mostly whatever English version you have, because – tradition. That’s really the only reason. Manmade tradition.

And then we have to spend waste time explaining to people what a “sower” is before we can even get to the point of the story.

I find myself getting frustrated by these things more and more frequently. “Joy” instead of “happiness.” “Sower” instead of “farmer.” “the LORD” instead of “Yahweh” (that one goes way beyond frustration for me, actually.")

Why do we purposely obfuscate plain meanings of Scripture? Is it because we feel more spiritual, or more learned, if we use the “old” English word for something? I mean, we don’t go so far as to insist on “thee” and “thy” anymore, usually. Because we know that’s a linguistic stumbling block for the average 21st century English speaker. And I feel pretty confident saying that, when translating the Bible into other languages, they choose the most accurate contemporary equivalent for individual words and phrases as possible.

Why are we so uncomfortable doing this in English?

Why don’t we give up the other sacred cows of our churchy vocabulary and recognize that saying “farmer” instead of “sower” doesn’t dilute the power of the Word any more than translating the Bible from Latin into English did? In fact, I dare say it would have the same beneficial effect.


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