We subscribe to satellite radio in our cars. My wife and I have different favorites. She enjoys show tunes and some talk radio. I enjoy two or three forms of jazz (including “new age” music), some talk radio, and—on the road—satellite broadcasts of Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates games.
Recently, both of us focused on a channel for music from the 1950s. Since these were the years of high school for both of us, we thought it might be fun to re-listen to the music of our teen-age years.
As the music played however, we both noticed something. We became increasingly distressed. The vocalists did not sound familiar. They lacked the smooth sounds we both remembered. And the accompanying music was lesser quality than we remembered as well. Suddenly, we both realized the probable cause: the recordings may not be the originals that we remembered and enjoyed. Instead, they must be re-makes of those songs from the 50’s—with various more contemporary vocalists and ensembles.
We considered the possibility that the tunes were taken from long worn vinyl discs—the most common recording format of those earlier years. But we both think not. These were likely not the original singers or accompanying ensembles we could name and found pleasurable from those years. They were not the original voices.
The Kingston Trio or Four Freshmen were not themselves. The crooning of such voices as Perry Como and Vic Damone were not the same we remembered. And while many Elvis impersonators abound these days, the Elvis songs were most certainly not his original voice.
How do we discover, learn and appreciate the original voices in the Biblical narratives? How do we hear those original voices with clarity? How do we get through the sincere but unavoidable theological prejudices and persuasions of the writers?
Probably the most helpful Biblical tool I received (mostly after seminary) was in the form of “redaction criticism.” This teaching suggests that most of the writings (and especially the gospels) may present actual teaching and events, but also reflect much of the theological bias of the writer. So I need to reverently and carefully listen for the original intended message in the written words. Then, I try to convey these original meanings to others without damaging their often sacred few of Biblical writings.
How do I hear the original power of Moses and not the reverently reflected preferences of Moses’ story- teller? How do I see and understand Jesus’ ministry and mission beyond the redaction of the Gospel writers? I really do want to know the original thoughts of Paul, and not necessarily the preferred emphases of Pauline students.
In my ministry leadership, after a reading from Scripture, I always said: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” The people then responded, “Thanks be to God.” How does the “Word” of God come through the words of various ancient writers over many centuries? For me, this reflects what it means to “hear” the original voices.
I have found that “listening for the original”—and listening for the Spirit—is a helpful, exciting, and energizing way to read Scripture. I may not always get exactly the right sound, but I find deep satisfaction and meaning in the effort. In addition, my faith in the God revealed in Jesus is significantly sharpened and enhanced.
WPA Commission on Archives and History