Can I Take It Pass/Fail?
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) – Hebrews 12:18-21 (NRSV)
Friends, I have a confession to make. I am terrible at Ancient Greek. Like, really quite bad. I took two years of Greek in college, plus a semester of private tutoring in Greek before seminary. And there were classmates of mine who came to seminary never having heard of the verb LUW who surpassed me in the first semester.
Why do I mention this? Because the book of Hebrews is beyond my ability to translate. It is hard. Like, hard hard. When looking for the main verb of a sentence, it might be clear in another county from the subject. The subordinate clauses have subordinate clauses.
This isn’t an accident. Hebrews is written in a highfalutin’ style that resembles Greek philosophy of the day. The intelligentsia of the first century CE felt that Christianity was too basic. So the author of Hebrews took the faith and translated it into a philosophical treatise with sentence structures like a bowl of overturned spaghetti. As odd as it sounds, Hebrews is super hard because it was trying to make the faith appealing to more people.
Not every part of the Bible is intended for every audience, and that’s okay. It’s okay that some things drive me up a wall. Because some blessed individuals out there are excited to parse the nuances of a third declension noun.
Not every part of the Bible needs to appeal to you, that’s not what it’s for.
O Holy Spirit, as odd as it to say (and forgive my aside, you know I’m prone to them): thank you for our mixed up, complicated, wonderful scriptures.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.