As in every religion, there are varying views and sects that each have their own version of the same Holy Book. The issue, naturally, is the differences in the way the Books were translated from their original texts. Christianity in particular has this problem, due primarily to the varying differences in versions of the Bible–ranging from the King James version, the “message”, the New International Version, as well as many others.
The Biblical passage of Romans 8: 31-39 deals primarily with questioning who would dare to oppose God due to the wonderful things that God has provided. It also cites the death of Jesus Christ as further evidence of God’s greatness, in that he did not place the fate of His own son above any others. In lines 38 and 39, Paul illustrates his view that nothing can separate a person from the love of God. His justification, again, was God’s willingness to sacrifice His own son for the sake of humanity.
There is another direct quote from the lines that can be interpreted in many different ways, and is quite controversial—though it does show up in some form in almost all versions of the Bible. For the purpose of maintaining the direct quote Paul extrapolates from Christ, this is Line 36 from the King James version: “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’”
This is a very harsh quote to be placed inside a verse Paul meant to solidify God’s grace over humanity. Overall, this quote probably causes the most possible contextual controversy in the entirety of the passage due to simple translation and syntax issues. Though there is little doubt the quote itself appeared in Paul’s original drafting of Romans, there are four different versions of it, as well as the context surrounding it, that certainly lend themselves to vastly different interpretations.
Direct examples of this are the vast differences in the interpretations of this quote and the grammar and syntax surrounding it specifically between the King James Version of the Bible, compared to the version used by the sect that calls themselves “The Message”. In the traditional King James version, Paul simply uses the quote to illustrate the fact that no hardship can ever separate a person from God. This is clearly illustrated by taking the full text of lines 35-37 into context:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The King James Version does nothing more than use a very harsh-sounding quote to illustrate his belief in the universal grace of God.
As a direct foil to this idea, the version distributed to members of “The Message” is much more harsh, much more militant, and borderline radical. The quote is varied in this version as well, now saying, “They kill us in cold blood because they hate you…they pick us off one by one”. These much more radical words pushes Christians to isolation, almost with a bounty on their heads constantly. It is this kind of right-wing radicalism that breeds things such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazism. This version clearly gives the impression that Christianity is currently under attack, and one must be militant to be vigilant. Mixing radicalism with religion is no new concept, and is also a scary one indeed.
The ironic part about the entire scenario is that “The Message” was not meant to be a radical interpretation at all, but instead a sort of paraphrasing of the original text so people could better understands the intent. The version was drafted over the course of the 1990’s to strengthen the Christian faith by making it applicable to the times, similar to versions drafted during the Protestant Reformation. The intention of the author in historical context, however, was to assist in the growth of Christianity through message clarification. In this passage though, the original intent was clearly not conveyed for many reasons.
Obviously the King James Version of the Bible is not the words of Paul verbatim. Every version of the Bible has been translated from a translation and so forth, depending much on where in the world the individual Bibles are attained. Eugene Peterson, a pastor as well as a Biblical Scholar, did not have any bad intentions when he presented “The Message” to the world–in fact, he is neither a radical, a racist, nor anything other than a true believer attempting to spread the word of God. However, he did not do a very good job at all.
At closer glance, “The Message” is an abridged and simple version of a version, of a version, of a book that is extremely hard to simplify without subverting some meaning in the process. Much of the problem, especially in the English language, is the lack of an ability to translate certain words. Where there is no English equivalent, words were used to attempt to keep the meaning of the text. Unfortunately, translators are people, and all people are different–hence different messages.
There are many contemporary issues that relate directly to the passage. Again, because of the horrible translation “The Message” puts forth, and the sheer amount of people that have read the text, it naturally lends itself to individual interpretations that subvert even Eugene Paterson’s intentions, clearly pure. Mr. Paterson saw the socio-economic scope of many that could indeed benefit from the teachings of Jesus, and so he decided to try to make the language of scripture more recognizable to more people.
In the process of doing this, which was successful to some extent, he also changed the scope of some of the text overall. The original King James Version uses Romans 8 as a way to solidify God’s presence, regardless of hardships. The quote is used to solidify the point Paul himself was trying to make. Unfortunately, there are many who will now read “The Message” and believe it preaches the opposite of peace.
Possible sermon ideas for Romans 8: 31-39 are very clear when looking at the King James and the New King James Version’s of the text. I would deconstruct social and economic issues plaguing the community, and relate it to the quote Paul used. This would help people keep faith in God during times of hardship especially.