The Familiar Division of the Bible into chapters and verses helps us locate our scriptures that interest us. Yet it took 1,200 to 1,500 years before translators and publishers put them there; and fortunately. However, like dishwashers, iPhones, and all other human devices, we may lack these useful tools.
An example is the division between chapters one and two of the Epistle to the Romans of the New Testament. This division prevents us from having two emotional experiences that Paul found important.
First, it lifts and highlights our blissful arrogance so that we can feel it, even bask in it while judging those it describes. Like the person in Jesus’ parable who thought, “I am not like the others,” we can also think, “I am not like those sinners Paul describes.
Delicious, isn’t it, this feeling superiority that comes when we compare ourselves to others who, as the old saying goes, “don’t love the Lord as we do”?
Haven’t felt it yet? Let’s examine our emotions as Paul presents 30 categories of people we think are “better than.” Some of them live near us; others work in the corridor; moreover, some of them are seated near us in church. Take a look at some benches. See them there?
Yes, they are located in Romans chapter one. Paul describes them as “filled with every kind of wickedness, wickedness, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, cunning; they are talkative, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards their parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” as well as those who applaud others who practice these sins.
“Since chapter one ends with a full stop, we can assume that Paul is finished. No, he is not.
As the first chapter ends with a period, we can assume that Paul is finished. No, he is not. He has just completed his first objective: to make us feel the full force of our own self-righteous “shock” in the face of the sins of others. But why are we shocked?
The Bible is full of vivid descriptions of human sin, even that “all have sinned.” Rather than being shocked, we should place ourselves on Paul’s list. Instead, these chapter-verse divisions distract us from identifying with his self-assessment “wretched as I am.”
We can point out certain sins or sinners without seeing each other. Or we can rank them from “worst” to “least” sin (“murder” to “cunning)” and recognize the least sinful as our own. Who does not hesitate to admit a little “cunning”?
This can be avoided by pushing after the artificial division of chapter 1:32 and reading chapter 2, which begins, “Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are.”
This brings Paul’s trap down on us. He continues: “When you judge others; for in judging another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, do exactly the same things.
That takes away the judicial robe, doesn’t it? Notice that he does not warn that we “may one day” do the same things as those we judge. We “do exactly the same things” as those we judge (present tense).
Remember the Last Supper, when Jesus informed everyone that one of them would betray him? Rather than accuse each other, each asked, “Is it me, Lord?” One of their best moments, right?
A similar answer might be ours if we were to read beyond the first chapter of Romans into chapter two. A simple “Uh-Oh! It’s me” response might be enough to get Paul’s point.
Indeed, where are we on Paul’s list?
The Bible editors can also fail us through another “study aid,” specifically, their commentaries scattered throughout the text. They can seem so normal and helpful that we think of them as scripture itself. They are not, and they can mislead us.
A classic example is their insertion of “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” above the famous parable that does not contain this phrase. Jesus did not call the Samaritan “good”. However, many editors have done this and they left us with a problematic “title” above Luke 10:25 (See NKJV, TEV, NET, JB, CEV, NIV, KNT, NRSV, NAB, Beck, NAS .)
Why is it a problem?
“Bible studies, Sunday school teaching and so many sermons call the Samaritan something that Jesus never called him: ‘good’.”
First, he leaves an indelible mark in the fields of law, literature, art and, of course, Bible studies, Sunday school teaching and so many sermons that call the Samaritan something something that Jesus never called it “good”. The accompanying misrepresentations last a long time and may never be fully corrected.
Second, the Samaritan story. They had separated from the Jewish tribes and intermarried with non-Jewish religions at a time closer to Moses than to Jesus. For centuries they had read a different scripture, worshiped in a different place, held different beliefs, and harbored daily social resentment toward Jews who felt the same way about them. There were no “good Samaritans” back then.
By design, then, Jesus chose a hated Samaritan for embarrassing Jewish leaders by implying that he stood for salvation, not them.
Third, when the misnomer “good” Samaritan is carried over into the experience of “neighbors”, another false assumption is attached to it. Specifically, how do we measure the goodness in ourselves as neighbors?
In measuring, defining, and judging a “good neighbor,” we probably still rely on the methodology that has been used by us from our high school days through every level of higher education we have attained. Yes, those “letter notes” with the little plus and minus signs attached to them. Do you also remember the red ink?
Jesus’ assessment is not on letter grading system. It’s a pass/fail. Either we are neighbors or we are not neighbors. He asked the recipient of his parable, “Now who was the neighbor? without an interested rating scale. No “degree of goodness” can hide our failures to be a neighbor.
Finally, however, we must cease our criticism and be grateful and supportive of Bible publishers who “add to Scripture” very helpful guidelines for finding and interpreting it. Their field is fluid; that is, new discoveries in the biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, and some Aramaic offer new insights into how our modern translations should be paragraphed, indented, and divided into chapters and verses.
Likewise, their commentaries in the scriptures, though sometimes difficult to distinguish from the scriptures themselves, are fundamentally reliable and helpful.
This is not a pass/fail task. Rather, it is a “get better and better” process. We owe them a lot of gratitude and a merciful “note” for their work.
Russell G. Waldrop is a retired hospital and prison chaplain, pastoral counselor, and licensed professional counselor in Waynesboro, Virginia.
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